Capital Punishment: A World View

By James Avery Joyce | Go to book overview

Introduction

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT WAS UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTED AS THE ultimate weapon in the defense of the State long before Mary Queen of Scots perished by the axe on Tower Hill. And still, today, when the news breaks that an Imre Nagy has been silently done away with by the Russian masters of Hungary at some place or on some date unknown, or that a score of Algerian "rebels" have been guillotined in metropolitan France, or that rival generals in the Congo have sentenced their political opponents to the firing squad, few would question that the same dread penalty remains the final sanction of State authority in a world that has risked its collective survival on the efficacy of physical violence.

Yet political executions, as such, have somehow become separated in the public mind from the selfsame punishment when it is prescribed by the modern State for civilian offenses, with the result that many countries, while retaining the death penalty for spying or other offenses against the State, have abolished it as outmoded for "civil" crimes.

No less an authority than Sir Ernest Gowers has declared in A Life for a Life that he came to favor the abolition of Capital Punishment as a direct result of his experience as Chairman of the British Royal Commission Capital Punishment. But he

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