Capital Punishment Research Proposal

Hugo Bedau’s arguments

Capital punishment is the cruelest and the most terrible punishment that exists nowadays in the world, but some people consider it the only sentence that can stop numerous crimes against people’s lives. There is an opinion that fear of death is the strongest fear. In this work, I’ll analyze two opposite points of view on this controversial problem represented by two prominent scientists: Hugo Bedau and Ernest van den Hagg.

Hugo Adam Bedau stands against the death penalty, and he’s been upholding his principle for many years. A result is a number of his books that make people weigh their position one more time.

Bedau insists that only on the territory of the United States about 250 people are sentenced to death every year, 35 of them are executed. The Furman decision had to improve the process of investigation and the kind of punishment. So now the sentence has to come through two phases before it is executed: the first phase includes hearing the trial and verdict of judges and the second phase is serving of a sentence. Sometimes retrial is possible, but if the members of the jury propose the death penalty and the judge agrees, execution will take place.

In 1976 the state punishment was abolished but “executions resumed in 1977, and as of May 1997, over 3,200 men and women were under a death sentence and more than 360 had been executed.” (Bedau, 232)

Bedau says that the state punishment as a method to avoid further crimes and to intimidate other people isn’t very effective as only 1 percent of murderers are sentenced to death and people who commit such crimes are usually insane and so don’t mind any statistics.

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Another scandalous thing is that according to the constitutional process the death penalty can be unfair as for the same crime persons can be sentenced either to prison or to the death sentence. Racial discrimination is one of the reasons for the state of affairs. The population represented by African Americans is small in the USA but “between 1930 and the end of 1996, 4,220 prisoners were executed in the United States; more than half (53 percent) were black.” (Bedau, 234)

It’s an obvious thing that death penalty is irreversible. It’s important to notice that on average four innocent people are convicted of a murder every year and only after further investigation these people are released. There are also tragic cases: “In 1992, Roger Keith Coleman was executed in Virginia despite widely publicized doubts surrounding his guilt and evidence that pointed to another person as a murderer – evidence that was never submitted at his trial.” (Bedau, 237)

Advantages of the death penalty by Van den Haag

Ernest van den Haag who died in 2002 was the adherent of the opposite camp; he devoted a number of his works such as Punishing Criminals: Concerning a Very Old and Painful Question; The Death Penalty: A Debate to the defense of the death penalty. The scientist denies the fact proposing by his opponent that the death penalty depends on racial or economic groups. Van den Haag insists that the punishment is personal, another question is that nowadays sentences can be not perfect, but it’s only a matter of time. He agrees with Professors Bedau and Radelet who claim that among 7,000 executed during 1900 – 1985 years 25 were innocent, but the supremacy of justice requires victims as all important innovations.

Van den Haag insists on the fact that the death penalty stops other criminals from committing grave crimes, the only he complains that still there is no conclusive statistic. His own words are: “I believe the death penalty, because of its finality, is more feared than imprisonment and deters some prospective murderers not deterred by the threat of imprisonment.” (Van den Haag, 244)

The scientist opposes Brennan who asserts that death penalty is “inhuman,” “uncivilized.” Van den Haag, referring to Immanuel Kant and G. F. W. Hegel considers such kind of punishment human as it gives the convict the possibility to be responsible for his actions. Death is a common fate for all people, and they don’t accept it as something inhuman. The death penalty is a natural reaction to the actions of murders who have forgotten their place and have taken someone’s life. “By murdering, the murderer has so dehumanized himself that he cannot remain among the living. The social recognition of his self-degradation is the punitive essence of execution.” (Van den Haag, 246)

Possible conclusions

Analyzing Von den Haag and Bedau’s arguments for and against the death punishment every person can draw his conclusions.

Personally, I stand against such kind of punishment, and I support Professor Bedau. There is an ancient proverb, which states that it’s better to forgive ten guilty than to punish one innocent. The truth, stated in this proverb must be the basis of warranting a guilty verdict, especially when it comes to death penalties. Penalty death is unnatural action as any killing. It’s wrong morally; it’s against all principles of the humanity. It’s even against the laws of nature, and I won’t even mention The Bible and its interpretation. Taking human life is inhumane, we live among people, not animals, and human laws must guide us. Capital punishment is just another formulation of killing to avoid calling names in their real names. It’s God’s privilege and no one even the state can take such responsibility and administer justice and mete out punishment.

To prove my point of view, I’ll examine the case in Arkansas. Six to five representatives of the federal appeals court in St. Louis voted for the execution of the insane. The matter of the fact is that this person will have to take antipsychotic medicines to be sane enough to execute.

Bedau rejects the possibility to kill any person, but when the things are heading toward the execution of an insane person, his position is even stricter. People convicting crimes insanely can’t be judged in full measure and especially be measured to the state punishment. I accept his opinion and will never vote for such execution.

Analyze Habermas’ critical theory

Speaking about the application of Habermas’s critical theory in the study of international relations I would like to note that it attempts to predict how the countries would work, communicate and cooperate in the international arena.

From Habermas’s theory one can see the following actions take place in the international arena as depicted below:

  1. Small states would unite together to form stronger unions and alliances to push forward their opinions and promote their interests.
  2. The states that already have certain power at their disposal would also form alliances and interest groups to assure that their power and interests are maintained in the wake of unification of smaller states into more powerful blocs and alliances (Gills, 2000).
  3. Each powerful state in the absence of alliances would strive to increase its strength and global dominance to assure accurate pursuit of interest.
  4. Individuals that populate each state would unite into interest groups and form potent blocks within the state. These individual groups pursuing their interests would influence the government in pursuit of popular vote and support.
  5. In the wake of commercial mass media, the power of the individual interest groups will be somewhat diminished due to the popularization of mass media (Habermas, 1987).

From these points above one can see and predict the behavior of different states at different time periods of their development as well as potent form strategies of international cooperation. It appears that in the case when the foreign government cannot be influenced directly through negotiations, the most powerful approach is to influence it through NGOs, public organizations, societies, communities, and the interest groups. The USA during its expansion stages and war periods would actively cooperate with the local organizations, sponsor their democratic choices, and help to solidify its support at the voter/citizen level (Bieler et al., 2003).

Speaking of Frankfurt School and Habermas’s critique of positivism, I would like to note that knowledge is defined by the objects of experiences and by a priori categories of knowledge. The knowing subject is social, i.e., able to secure the foundation of sociology and to show how social factors and experience influence knowledge. The validity of reflection without turning to God or other higher beings, while stating that the power of reason is grounded in the process of reflection. The concept of bad science has its roots in the cognitive attitude of positivist sciences, therefore, the modern culture and science, by being rooted in positivism cannot be reflective, as Habermas notes, without efficiently abandoning the ideology of objectivity. Critical theory of Habermas, on the other hand, can recognize the telos of the society and its way towards fulfilling that telos. Indeed, the modern scientific advances beside being directed exclusively to the money-generative projects also boast a great number of subjective judgment and statements about the moral and ethics of each particular project. While it may also sound rather silly and too extreme to study or research something just for the sake of knowledge only to pursue purely objective results, positivism is the force that turns scientists away from the objectivist direction in science, politics, and knowledge (Gilpin, 1987).

Speaking about Habermas’s view of social theory and its relationship to social change I would like to note that Jurgen Habermas wrote primarily on the concept of the public sphere where he distinguished between the process of looking at public sphere as a concept and as a historical formation. Therefore, the idea of the public sphere is about distinct private entities drawn together for the common purpose via rational deliberation, making decisions that would ultimately influence the state. The public sphere due to its peculiarities and interests would be different from family, business and the state.

The public sphere just like any other human-made structure is viewed as dynamic and ever-changing, let alone prone to decay and degradation. Structural forces and commercial mass media contributed to the fact that media is viewed more of a commodity, something that needs to be consumed rather than a tool for public discourse to effectively manage the state. Some of the critiques of such approach stated that public sphere as a place of rationally independent individuals with free debates could never exist. Just like on the international arena, domestic social change typically can be achieved through the process of gradual approval by individual citizens and their unity with other like-minded citizens into the interest groups that would actively and eagerly pursue that matter pushing the upper-level decision makers to implement that particular change into law when applicable (Gill, et al 1997).

Speaking about why Habermas’s discourse ethics is important to the realm of International Relations I would like to note that it is important for its ability to predict the course of international relations between different states and the policies that such states are likely to implement. Habermas’s discourse provides a potent tool for looking in the future of each chosen state through the lenses of social interactions and communication (Germain 1998). By identifying the power groups that exist in the country, one can accurately predict how the state will respond to certain internal or external stimuli. Thus more conservative groups will likely focus solely on the state’s affairs and will strive to maintain the status quo as based on the past experiences of the state and traditions. More liberal groups will guarantee that the state will be more open to different external influences, teachings, religions, technologies, and impacts. Radical groups are likely to cause the state to act more aggressively towards what is accepted as a danger to the state either inside the state borders or the outside it. Lack of potent interest groups might mean that the state is under the authoritarian rule and personal freedoms are not supported there. If the interest groups inside the country are represented purely by wealthy individuals (oligarchs), one could expect the state to be rather corrupt, and the decisions will cater the needs of these oligarch groups. Those who apply Habermas’s discourse ethics will be equipped with the necessary tools to foresee the state’s actions on the international arena and will be ready to communicate with the state more productively and efficiently (Chin, 2000).

Speaking about Habermas’s critique of Enlightenment reason, I would like to note that on the contrary, Habermas seems to have supported Enlightenment reason in the wake of communism and fascism that during his time were already eroding the human freedoms and took control of various societies. While Habermas seems to be aware of the dangers and the dark sides of the enlightenment as represented in the single-minded pursuit of progress and control he also understands the ideals of freedom justice and individualism comprising the period of enlightenment (Cox, 1981).

The only critique is seen in the assumption that as a conscious and interest-guided industry, the mass media would manipulate a passive and irrational public, focusing their attention on the following: (1) media’s opinion about what should be in the society and (2) the very approach in which the mass media would encourage people to think about the mass media and their individual lives. The idea of enlightenment is used to show how capitalist and western civilization principles are formed and sustained (Gramsci, 1971).

Speaking about whether or not there can be the possibility of judgment across the signifying divide of culture I would like to note that indeed there can be. The gap of culture is nothing more but a stratification and segmentation of the social groups into like-minded strata which occupy either same or different territory than the rest of the population (Burnham, 1991). Due to their constant interaction with the like-minded individuals and absence of external influence which they would consider superior or appropriate for their groups, they will represent a culture within a culture. Different Chinatowns, ghettos, and secluded communities, as well as sects and religious organizations, are good examples of the divide of culture in the same country or the city. The split of culture is just the opposite from cultural assimilation, a process through which immigrant groups fully adopt the host country’s culture, habits and traditions becoming a part of the culture and calling themselves as members of that culture and society.

In the modern globalized world, divide of culture starts to slowly disappear as people of different cultural groups in pursuits of better employment opportunities and living conditions open up to new cultures, work practices and habits demanded by their employers, other interest groups and location and thus ultimately leave their initial cultural group and join another which guarantees them better standards of living and employment opportunities. The other scenario can be for some particular cultural group to develop to the point of self-sufficiency and self-containment to provide its members with the benefits and burdens they agree to accept (Birchfield, 1999).

Speaking about how claims to knowledge related to specific interests and power relations in social practices I would like to note that they refer to the similar framework as the interest groups form and interact. Social methods according to the critical theory are created and enforced only through the interest groups with the help of mass media and higher level officials and decision makers. The interaction between the interest and power groups is based purely on the majority-wins principles as those who represent the absolute majority appear to be more influential politically and socially and thus dominant. The interest and power groups can unite together into greater blocks and pursue their goals along with other interest groups. In some cases, such interest and power groups become a political party or a non-government organization.

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