by Jay Johansen | Oct 14, 1995
I was impressed by this moral stance, but I was surprised to see that they failed to apply this logic consistently. For they went on to argue that life imprisonment would be an appropriate penalty for murder.
But, it seems to me that for society to lock someone up in a room against his will and not let him out ... doesn't that make society no better than a kidnapper? If an individual tried to lock someone up like that he would surely be charged with kidnapping?
I presume the ACLU would agree that beatings or torture are also unacceptable forms of punishment. A monetary fine, perhaps? But, for society to take money away from someone against his will, without even giving him any tangible goods in return, why, that would make society a thief.
Clearly, then, if we consistently follow the moral stance that the ACLU has so helpfully laid out for us, we must conclude that it is immoral for society to impose any punishment on a criminal at all.
Of course, the ACLU also explains that capital punishment brutalizes society, probably leading to even more murders. So if we did adopt this no-punishment position, it logically follows that there would be less crime. Once criminals realized that no matter what they did, no one would lift a finger to stop them, why, they'd just be so overcome with the general wonderfulness of their neighbors that they'd naturally be inclined to become upstanding, productive citizens.
All irony aside, perhaps I can help resolve the moral dilemma: I suggest that when one person violates another's rights, he forfeits some of his own rights. If you steal from your neighbor, it is justice that some of your property should be taken away from you as punishment and deterrent. If you kidnap your neighbor, it is just for you to lose some of your own freedom. And if you kill your neighbor, it is just for you to lose your life.
© 1995 by Jay Johansen