Thursday, December 15, 2011

Capital Punishment Is Not Morally Equivalent To Murder

In a post this morning Maryam Namazie quotes the following statement by Mansoor Hekmat regarding the legitimacy of capital punishment:

Capital punishment is the state’s terminology for murder. Individuals murder each other, but states sentence individuals to ‘capital punishment.’ The demand to end capital punishment and prohibit murder stems from opposition to intentional, deliberate and planned murder of one by the other. That a state or ruling political force is responsible does not make the slightest difference to the fact that we are dealing with intentional murder.

I believe that this view is mistaken in that it doesn't consider the distinction between private and state actors.

Barring exceptional circumstances (i.e. self-defense) a private citizen never has the right to kill a fellow citizen. Such an act is "murder" and is a moral wrong. However, citizens in a legitimately constituted government generally grant that government a monopoly on the use of force. Depending on the exact characteristics of the government's charter this grant may extend so far as to permit the execution of citizens. Therein lies the distinction between murder and capital punishment; in the former case the private citizen acts without my authorization while, in the latter case, the state acts with my authorization. Thus the two are not morally equivalent.

For the record: I believe this is a meaningful distinction but also a largely theoretical one; in the real world the necessary preconditions for the application of capital punishment are never satisfied.

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