The View From 1776
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
The Death Penalty: Legitimate Or Morally Indefensible?
Liberal-progressive moral relativism teaches that the legitimacy of inflicting death is a matter of whether liberal-progressives sympathize with the murderers.
Muslim terrorists, for example, who murder Israeli civilians are heroic freedom fighters in the liberal-progressive halls of our colleges and universities. Israelis who defend themselves are murderers.
Local political enemies like George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, many liberal-progressives declare, deserve immediate and painful death. Meanwhile, many of these same liberal-progressives glory in candlelight vigils protesting execution of convicted, barbaric rapists and murderers who admit to their crimes.
Indians on our frontier who murdered settlers and destroyed villages were Rousseau’s untainted, noble savages. White settlers who fought back were guilty of inexpungable crimes against humanity.
This modern moral relativism was first systematically expounded by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in his immensely influential lectures at Harvard Law School, published in 1881 as The Common Law. In those lectures, Holmes, our first socialist Supreme Court Justice, argued that the common law was rooted in early English governmental regulation to deal with private exaction of vengeance for property and bodily harm. Because circumstances and social attitudes change over time, Holmes contended, our interpretation of constitution law should depend upon what body of opinion at any given time holds sufficient power to impose its will upon the populace.
For a disquisition on the subject, read Rainbows and Electric Chairs on the First Things website.