Who Deserves to Die?
Constructing the Executable Subject
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
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Table of Contents
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This book grew out of a workshop held at Amherst College in the fall of 2008. We are grateful for financial support from Amherst’s Department of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought and for the skilled research assistance of Tovah Ackerman.
Between the Promise of a Shared Moral World and the Utter Unintelligibility of Death Itself: An Introduction to the Construction of Executable Subjects
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On December 13, 2005, the state of California executed Stanley “Tookie” Williams for the 1979 murders of four people, making him one of more than 1,100 put to death in the United States since the resumption of capital punishment after the United States Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Gregg v. Georgia.1 Williams, who was infamous for his role in founding ...
Part One: What Kind of Self Is the Executable Subject?
Chapter 1: The Medieval Origins of the Supreme Court’s Prohibition on Executing the Insane
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The history of capital punishment holds an unsettling place in the United States Supreme Court’s death penalty jurisprudence. On the one hand, the widespread acceptance of capital punishment in the early Republic is powerful evidence that, however the Eighth Amendment was meant to regulate punishment at the time of the framing, the sentence of death ...
Chapter 2: The Unlucky Psychopath as Death Penalty Prototype
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Much commentary on the death penalty sets out to identify the type of character that American criminal law deems worthy of the death penalty, the set of moral or psychological traits that define the person who, for some deontological reasons, deserves death or whom, for various practical reasons, we need to execute. Some of that commentary is descriptive ...
Chapter 3: Waiving from Death Row
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Even, or perhaps especially, for the most punitive among us, it makes little sense to say that the prisoner who invited and embraced execution got what he or she deserved. Whereas reigning theories of punishment understand privation as a detriment, the martyr makes a triumph of suffering just as the masochist makes pleasure out of pain. Revenge, though ...
Chapter 4: No Remorse
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“Now and then it is possible to observe the moral life in process of revising itself,” Lionel Trilling wrote in the first sentence of Sincerity and Authenticity. Such a shift, he continues, can be seen “perhaps by reducing the emphasis it formerly placed upon one or another of its elements, perhaps by inventing and adding to itself a new element, some mode of conduct ...
Part Two: Constructing the Executable Subject: Sacrifice and the Rituals of State Killing
Chapter 5: The Unsacrificeable Subject?
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Who deserves to die? In a book focused on the death penalty in the United States, a fair assumption is that this question envisages death as a punishment. Recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court have focused the question by limiting the application of the death penalty when defendants are minors, when the defendants are unable to understand the ...
Chapter 6: Last Words: Structuring the State’s Power to Punish
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In the moment of death, the state must reincorporate the condemned into a shared moral community to maintain its legitimacy. If the state executes the condemned without his or her momentary reintegration, the rationale for the execution and by extension the state’s power to punish is jeopardized. Retributive justice, the current constitutional justification for the ...
Chapter 7: The Meaning of Death: Last Words, Last Meals
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What is the meaning of capital punishment? Retribution? Atonement? Euthanasia of the socially undesirable subhuman? Revenge? State-sanctioned murder? The triumph of discipline and technique? Martyrdom? The moment of authentic confrontation with finitude, individuality, and the conditions of autonomy? The final, cautionary chapter of a life-of-crime ...
Part Three: New Perspectives on Selfhood and the Purposes of Capital Punishment
Chapter 8: Executing Retributivism: Panetti and the Future of the Eighth Amendment
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Whom may a state execute? In Panetti v. Quarterman,1 the United States Supreme Court decided that only those defendants who rationally understand why they are being executed are in fact fit for capital punishment. This chapter argues that this purportedly narrow holding lays the groundwork for a new beginning of the Court’s death penalty jurisprudence ...
Chapter 9: Therapeutic Death
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My interest is the therapeutic potential of capital punishment in the United States. A number of recent United States Supreme Court rulings have understood the death penalty to be a form of rehabilitation or cure, a compassionate punishment taken to its logical conclusion. These rulings have been situated within a rhetoric of welfare, care, and concern, producing ...
Chapter 10: The Dead, the Human Animal, the Executable Subject
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When a fallible decision results in an absolute end, by what right is a state allowed to exercise its imperfect judgment? In response to this question, the law has become an instrument of the state that mediates our rage, a tool for those who seek to mitigate the unreasonable desire for justice that makes some of us want to kill those who have killed. Reasonable justice ...
Notes on Contributors
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Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2011