SAGE Journal Articles

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LO 19-1

A critique of contemporary death penalty abolitionism
Description: The Death Penalty Information Center website page that discusses the costs of the death penalty

Abstract: His essay seeks to show what is occluded by contemporary arguments in favor of abolishing the death penalty in the United States. Following an exposition of the arguments advanced by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as those advanced by Hugo Bedau and Austin Sarat, the essay interrogates a pair of presuppositions that are implicit in all. Specifically, the essay first poses questions regarding the contention that death as a punishment is qualitatively different from all others. That contention abstracts capital punishment from the complex of contemporary political forces whose conjuncture goes a long way toward explaining the persistence of the death penalty in the United States. Second, the essay argues that familiar critiques of capital punishment presuppose a specific vision of the state and the form of sovereignty that allegedly defines that state. This vision is anachronistic in so far as it fails to grasp recent transformations in the character of state power in the United States. To fail to acknowledge these transformations is to run the risk of reinforcing the very conception of state sovereignty that now warrants the death penalty as a legitimate form of punishment.