Capital Punishment: A World View

By James Avery Joyce | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
The Cult of Terror

"The malefactor ceases to be a member of society in violating its laws. . . . Thus the preservation of the State is incompatible with his own; one or the other must perish, and when the criminal is condemned to death, it is less as a citizen than as an enemy."-- J. J. ROUSSBAU, Le Contrat Social ( 1762)

DEATH THROUGH FIRE OR DROWNING, CRUCIFIXION OR HANGING, stoning or throwing from a high rock, boiling oil, the sword or the axe, breaking on the wheel, or quartering by four horses, has been the ancient penalty for serious crimes against the State.

The State--which means, in essence, a community organized for its own defense--has always insisted on terrorizing to the last degree those who oppose or threaten it. And it is with that sort of terror that we are concerned in this chapter. At times, the terror has been conducted on a mass scale--a "reign of terror," as it is usually termed. The dark caverns of man's cruelty have echoed through the centuries with the screams and groans of countless martyrs, traitors, rebels and other "dangerous" persons, as well as common criminals, as adjudged by the standards of their age. Some of the few episodes which are here selected for brief mention from this grim record have been told at greater length long before this. But they may serve to remind us that the roots of violence run deep in individual psychology and social custom. In lopping off a few branches here and there from the Hangman's Tree, the tree itself remains unfelled and continues to poison all life beneath its awesome shadow. The practice of Capital Punishment within the State

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