Last week, I posted a George Will column opposing capital punishment and my brief critique of Will’s analysis. Now, the estimable Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review takes Will on. Actually, Ponnuru doesn’t take a position on whether the death penalty should be abolished, but he argues that Will’s reason for urging abolition — the possibility of error — is unsound. Ponnuru reasons that “if the death penalty is justified on the ground that deters murder or imposes an appropriate degree of retribution, then the rare execution of innocent people is an unavoidable side-effect of pursuing that worthy end.”
Actually, one of the problems with choosing sides in the death penalty is that the abolitionists can’t prove that innocents are being executed (as Ponnuru points out, there are no proven cases in which we have actually executed innocents in the last century), while the proponents can’t prove that the penalty (sporadically used, as it is) is actually deterring anyone. One can make moral arguments that don’t depend on mistake or deterrence rates, but at that level a reasonable case can be presented by both sides. That’s why I have suggested that one’s stance on the question is, in a sense, a matter of aesthetics (or for some, religion).
By the way, I oppose abolishing the death penalty.
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