Condescension, discussed by Kent in the prior entry, has a long and prominent place in the death penalty debate. The language of the debate is itself bloated with condescension.
What is the abolitionists' favorite phrase? "Evolving standards of decency." What this is used to suggest is that anyone whose thinking has "evolved," at least in the direction of "decency," opposes capital punishment. And that is almost certainly what Justice Brennan intended it to imply. Analysis, you see, is not required when your side's conclusion is built into the vocabulary of the discussion before it begins.
This is one reason I often use the following question when debating capital punishment: I will note that the death penalty was not only supported but used by Dwight Eisenhower, George Washington, FDR and Abraham Lincoln (Bill Clinton also supported and used it, but I tend to leave him out). I then ask my debate opponent whether he knows of any reason to believe that abolitionists know more, or are attuned to some Higher Morality, than these men.
You will not be surprised to learn that I almost never get a direct answer, few people being willing to proclaim their moral vision superior to Lincoln's. And I confess I don't ask it to obtain such an answer. I ask it to puncture the facade of moral superiority and the accompanying condescension that is the inevitable backdrop of abolitionism. Once that facade is defeated, and the debate goes forward based on fact (e.g., the increasingly one-sided evidence of deterrence) or the facts of particularly horrible, cruel and merciless murders, the debate's conclusion becomes obvious to fair-minded people.