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The USA is in the same category as ... ?

| 6 Comments
Yesterday I posted a comment, the 16th, to Bill's August 30 post "Is the United States Isolated in Using the Death Penalty?"  Knowing that comment threads have diminishing audiences, I thought I would copy it as a post:

In death penalty debates, the anti side regularly asserts that having the death penalty places the United States in the same category with despotic regimes. Nonsense.

Any rational system of classification begins with the most important distinctions at the top, separating the major categories. Biological classification, for example, begins with separating plants from animals, only later gets down to separating felines from canines, and later still separates dogs from wolves.

If you wanted to classify countries by their legal systems, you would begin with such major distinctions as (1) providing due process of law, (2) not criminalizing political dissent, free exercise of religion, etc., and (3) democratic adoption of the governing laws.

In a classification tree of countries' legal systems, then, by the time we got down to whether a system had capital punishment or not, the United States would be in the same category as Japan, and perhaps India and Taiwan. (I don't claim to be knowledgeable on their legal systems, so I hedge on that.)

Should it bother us that we are with Japan rather than Italy? Doesn't bother me in the slightest.

6 Comments

That is a perfectly reasonable view. However, I think it is also true that if you go down that classification tree there would be far more countries without the death penalty in the group that is otherwise similar to the United States and that is the argument that abolitionists make when comparing the U.S. to other countries--that most countries with similar political and judicial systems don't have the death penalty. You may or may not find that argument compelling, but it seems like a perfectly legitimate one under your analysis. The original post you are referring to implied that it was illegitimate, and even racist because, if you go down the classification tree you describe, the countries similar the United States would be, to quote the original post, "predominately white countries."

It is a legitimate though noncompelling argument, but it is not the one I hear when I participate in death penalty debates. What I hear is as described at the top of the post.

The idea that we should conform to what other western countries do simply for conformity's sake seems to me to be an exceptionally weak argument.

For example, all the European countries except France have their chief executive chosen by and removable by the legislature, with no real separation of powers. Is that fact alone a reason to dump our separation of powers and adopt a parliamentary system? The relative merits of the two systems are debatable, but merely going along with Europe would be way, way down the list of reasons for one choice versus the other, to the point of being insignificant. So it is here.

-- What I have pointed out, and you continue to whistle past, is that simply counting countries, whether "similar" in your view or not, is ridiculous, because most of the "similar" countries are very small compared to the USA, not to mention the other large countries that have the DP. When one counts people rather than countries, the idea that the United States is isolated in using the DP is not merely mistaken but absurd.

-- What I said is that the industrial countries without the DP are "predominantly white countries." And that's true, isn't it? Yes or no.

-- Christianity is more skeptical of the DP than Islam. Is it your view that Islam is backward?

-- India is the world's largest democracy and Japan one of its most advanced. Both have the DP. Are they backward?

-- If I wanted to list the non-democratic countries that DON'T have the DP, I could make this comment a great deal longer, no?

-- Some of your earlier remarks were to the effect that we can't know that the people of China, the world's largest country, support the DP because they do not have a democratic government. But there are democratic governments in surrounding and in important ways similar countries such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Given that, let me ask if you have any evidence at all that a majority of the Chinese people oppose the DP?

-- I will also add to Kent's point: Many Western European countries have an inquisitorial/civil law system rather than an adversarial/common law system, and thus do not have an independent judiciary in anything like the same sense as the United States.

Three things.

1. What you said was "Now if abolitionists wanted to ask whether the United States is isolated among predominately white countries in using the death penalty, there would be a different answer. But being politically correct, they prefer to avoid that question."

2. The point on which Kent and I agree and you seem to disagree is the one that he made above "Any rational system of classification begins with the most important distinctions at the top, separating the major categories." So in what way are the countries with the death penalty similar to the United States such that the fact that they have the death penalty is in some way relevant to the question of having the death penalty in the United States.

3. If you look at the population of US states that do not have the death penalty or have not had an execution in the last 10 years it is a majority of the population of the United States.

1. Correct, that is what I said. What part of it do you think is false?

2. "... in what way are the countries with the death penalty similar to the United States such that the fact that they have the death penalty is in some way relevant to the question of having the death penalty in the United States."

That they, despite being agricultural, or having darker-skinned people, or being mostly non-Christian, consist of human beings who, like us, seek justice, and who know that, for some grotesque crimes, only the DP even approaches justice.

3. You would have to take this up with Gallup, who has found that support for the DP among the people of the United States has been at or above 60% for more than four decades. A strong plurality thinks the DP isn't imposed enough.

4. Since you declined to answer, and instead just press ahead, I'll ask again:

a) Christianity is more skeptical of the DP than Islam. Is it your view that Islam is backward?

b) India is the world's largest democracy and Japan one of its most advanced. Both have the DP. Are they backward?

c) If I wanted to list the non-democratic countries that DON'T have the DP, I could make this comment a great deal longer, is that not correct?

d) Do you have any evidence that a majority of the Chinese oppose the DP?

a) No, but I have not used the word backward at all. Do you think that certain sects of Christianity, or Reform and Conservative Judaism for that matter, are backward for not supporting the death penalty?

b) Again, I have not used the word backward so no. Do you think that all of Western Europe is backward for not supporting the death penalty?

c) You could, but what would that prove? Again, since those countries are not similar to the United States in their legal systems the comparison seems specious.

d) No, but I did not argue that China having the death penalty was evidence of anything, you did, so the burden is on you, not me, to support that argument.

Since we are asking questions, here is one for you: Looking at your original list of high population countries that have the death penalty, what aspects of their legal systems other than having the death penalty do you think the US should adopt. Do you find the Chinese legal system admirable in any way other than they execute a tremendous number of people?

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