Saturday, June 15, 2013

How the pacification of Europe came to an end


 
John Locke: “every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer […] such men are not under the ties of the common law of reason, have no other rule, but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as beasts of prey (source of picture)
 

The last millennium has seen three overlapping trends in Western societies with respect to unlawful violence.

The first one began in the 12th century with the rise of strong States and a growing determination, with the consent of the Church, to punish the “wicked” so that the “good” may live in peace. By the late Middle Ages, the courts were condemning to death between 0.5 and 1.0 % of all men of each generation, with an equal number dying while awaiting trial. There was correspondingly a shift in the cultural environment. The violent male went from hero to zero; even if he didn’t pay the ultimate penalty, his opportunities for social advancement were now much more constrained.

The second trend was a steady drop in the homicide rate throughout most of Western Europe. In England, this rate fell by over a hundred-fold between the 12th and 19th centuries (Eisner, 2001).

The third trend began in the 17th century with a growing unwillingness by the courts to impose the death penalty. Then, from the mid-18th century onward, one country after another began to limit the death penalty or abolish it altogether.

These three trends were interrelated. The first one—the “war on murder”—succeeded all too well. The pool of violent men dried up to the point that most murders occurred only under conditions of extreme stress, jealousy, or intoxication. Violence ceased to be a socially approved way to gain prestige and advance personal interests. It became a mark of shame, condemning those guilty of it to the margins of society, if not to the gallows. Thus, the longer the death penalty was used, the less necessary it became.

The ideological background

But there was another reason, an ideological one. At all levels of society, people began to see the death penalty as being inherently wrong. In the early 19th century, for instance, English law still required hanging for thefts equal to or greater than forty shillings. To get around the law, and save a condemned man, a jury decided that a stolen 10-pound note was worth only thirty-nine shillings. Another jury came to the same decision for a theft of a hundred pounds! (Savey-Casard, 1968).

What caused this change of heart? The usual answer is liberalism, specifically “the Enlightenment”—a philosophical movement of the 18th century that sought to base public policy on reason and science. For many traditionalists today, this is one example among many of how the Enlightenment replaced the old faith in proven tradition with a new faith in unproven ideals.

Yet most philosophers of the Enlightenment accepted the death penalty. This was the case with John Locke (1632-1704), the Father of Classical Liberalism:

[…] every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, which no reparation can compensate, by the example of the punishment that attends it from every body, and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind, hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or a tyger, one of those wild savage beasts, with whom men can have no society nor security: and upon this is grounded that great law of nature, Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed. (Second Treatise of Government, 2, 11)

[…] one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion; because such men are not under the ties of the common law of reason, have no other rule, but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as beasts of prey, those dangerous and noxious creatures, that will be sure to destroy him whenever he falls into their power. (3, 16)

This is the idea of the “Social Contract.” In modern societies, people forego the use of violence for personal ends so that they may enjoy the benefits of a peaceful society. If a man commits unlawful violence, he repudiates this implicit contract and thus loses his immunity from violence. Interestingly, Locke supported the death penalty not just for murder but for lesser offences as well: “each transgression may be punished to that degree [with death], and with so much severity, as will suffice to make it an ill bargain to the offender, give him cause to repent, and terrify others from doing the like” (2, 12). 

The Social Contract was central to an essay by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778):

The death-penalty inflicted upon criminals may be looked on in much the same light: it is in order that we may not fall victims to an assassin that we consent to die if we ourselves turn assassins. […]

Again, every malefactor, by attacking social rights, becomes on forfeit a rebel and a traitor to his country; by violating its laws he ceases to be a member of it; he even makes war upon it. In such a case the preservation of the State is inconsistent with his own, and one or the other must perish; in putting the guilty to death, we slay not so much the citizen as an enemy. (Du contrat social, 2, 5)

Among the philosophers of the Enlightenment, Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) was the only major one to argue against the death penalty:

[…] the laws, which are intended to moderate the ferocity of mankind, should not increase it by examples of barbarity the most horrible, as this punishment is usually attended with formal pageantry. Is it not absurd that the laws, which detest and punish homicide, should, in order to prevent murder, publicly commit murder themselves? (On crimes and punishments, 28)

But Beccaria’s opinion was a minority one. After the French Revolution, his arguments for abolition were presented to the Assembly by several deputies, but the majority remained opposed (Carbasse, 2011, p. 76-77).

Was abolitionism liberal?

The French Revolution actually reversed an abolitionist trend that had developed under the Ancien Régime. From 1750 onward, the courts had become increasingly reluctant to condemn people to death. In Dijon, the death penalty accounted for 13 to 14.5% of all sentences before 1750, 8.5% in 1758-1760, 6% in 1764-1766, and less than 5% after 1770. By 1788, on the eve of the revolution, no executions at all were being carried out in Paris (Carbasse, 2011, p. 70).

Elsewhere, abolitionism made the most progress where liberalism was the weakest. In Russia, the death penalty was unofficially abolished during the reign of Elizaveta Petrovna (1741-1762), apparently out of Christian piety. It was then reestablished by Ekaterina II (Catherine the Great), who corresponded with Voltaire and professed Enlightenment ideals (Carbasse, 2011, pp. 74-75). Under the influence of Beccaria, the death penalty was abolished in countries that were nonetheless illiberal by any other standard, notably Tuscany in 1786 and the Hapsburg dominions in 1787. The least progress was made in England, the very epicenter of liberalism:

The only European country where the ideas of penal reform had almost no effect was finally England. English criminal law, whose particular ferocity we have pointed out, remained just as repressive. In the late 18th century, nearly 300 infractions were still punishable by death (Carbasse, 2011, p. 75).  

Who was breaking with the past?

Thus, when debating the rightness or wrongness of the death penalty, most philosophers of the Enlightenment did not break with the past. Medieval views similarly prevailed in secondary debates, like whether this penalty should be motivated by retribution or by the need to maintain public order. The latter, more utilitarian view is often associated with the Enlightenment, yet it had been earlier expressed by medieval thinkers, such as Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274):

[…] it is lawful to kill an evildoer in so far as it is directed to the welfare of the whole community, so that it belongs to him alone who has charge of the community's welfare. Thus it belongs to a physician to cut off a decayed limb, when he has been entrusted with the care of the health of the whole body. Now the care of the common good is entrusted to persons of rank having public authority: wherefore they alone, and not private individuals, can lawfully put evildoers to death.  (IlaIlae, q. 64)

Another secondary debate was whether murderers act out of free will and, if not, whether it is fair to execute them. On this, the philosophers of the Enlightenment denied the existence of free will. All behavior is channeled through constraints that exist either within oneself or in one’s environment, and these constraints are stronger in those murderers who act on impulse and not after sober reflection. Nonetheless, lack of free will is no excuse for a condemned murderer, any more than for a mad dog. He isn’t sentenced to be executed because he “deserves” it and will know better next time. There will be no next time. He is simply removed, permanently, from the community of peace-loving citizens. In this, the Enlightenment was reiterating views held by Thomas Aquinas and other medieval scholars. (Carbasse, 2011, pp. 62-63).

The Enlightenment thus refined ideas that had already taken shape during the late Middle Ages. It was really the 12th century that had broken with prior thinking. Previously, the death penalty had been reserved for exceptional cases, partly because the Church considered it inherently wrong and partly because the State preferred to be an honest broker in personal conflicts that did not challenge its authority. It was only from the 12th century onward that the death penalty came to be seen as a force for good, and this consensus still prevailed among most philosophers of the Enlightenment.

So how did this consensus come to an end? The Enlightenment was paralleled by an ideological change within Christianity itself. The same processes that made the Enlightenment possible—invention of printing, mass distribution of books, rising level of literacy—also allowed more and more Christians to discover the Bible. They soon discovered that this book did not contain the overlay of correction, interpretation, and commentary that had been added during the Middle Ages. Why, they wondered, was this overlay absent from the Holy Scriptures? Surely it must be a sham! And so they discarded the hard lessons that had been learned at much cost. The clock was literally turned back to the Dark Ages—when the Church provided murderers with sanctuary and when the State preferred to be an arbiter between the murderer and the victim’s family.

We associate this rejection of medieval teachings with Protestantism, but it has also been present in Catholicism. In both, there has been a move towards a truncated kind of Christianity … towards “Jesusism.”

It is this Jesus-centered Christianity, much more so than the Enlightenment, that has shaped modern liberalism. For every copy of John Locke’s works, there have been millions more of the Bible, and millions more of writings by people who spurn medieval Christianity as one would an imposter.

Conclusion

Some people have called me a thinker of the “Dark Enlightenment.” Actually, the original one seems fine enough to me. We have not been failed by science and reason. Rather, we have been failed by an ideological change within Christianity that has become secularized and now dominates the modern world view. One might call it “secularized Christianity” or perhaps “Christian atheism,” but neither is really appropriate. It is a changeling. It claims descent from our rich traditions of the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment … while actually owing little to either.
 

References

Beccaria, C. (1767). An Essay on Crimes and Punishments, transl. from the Italian
http://archive.org/details/anessayoncrimes00beccgoog

Carbasse, J-M. (2011). La peine de mort, Que sais-je ?, Paris.

Eisner, M. (2001). Modernization, self-control and lethal violence. The long-term dynamics of European homicide rates in theoretical perspective, British Journal of Criminology, 41, 618-638.

Locke, J. (1690). Second Treatise of Government,
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7370/7370-h/7370-h.htm

Rousseau, J-J. (1762). The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right, transl. from the French
http://www.constitution.org/jjr/socon.htm

Savey-Casard, P. (1968). La peine de mort, Librairie Droz, Geneva.

Thomas Aquinas. Ila Ilae, The Summa Theologica, Benziger Bros (transl. 19474)
http://dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/SS/SS064.html#SSQ64A3THEP1

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Some people have called it "Christian Cultural Marxism":

http://prowesternchristianity.blogspot.com/2013/02/a-pro-western-christian-reading-list.html


..

Roger said...

Steve Pinker says the opposite. He credits the Enlightentment for a massive decline in violence, and blames Christianity for making violence worse. He has become the self-appointed expert on the subject. It would be good to see you directly rebut what he says.

Thursday said...

It's certainly true that at the beginning of the Englightenment, many, like Locke and Rousseau, supported the death penalty. However, thinkers in that movement tended to move more and more against it.

Moreover, Locke and Rousseau were a lot closer to Christianity than those that followed them. Locke wasn't even a deist, let alone an atheist or agnostic. Rousseau too was a theist.

Simple test on this. Compare various measures of people's religiosity to their support for the death penalty, worldwide.

Meditatation 4 Contentment said...

I won't go into details here but atheism is actually the natural outcome of monotheism.

If one deconstructs the monotheism that originated in the Middle East 5,000 years ago it becomes obvious.

Also, the immigration issue transcends race and the more worrying aspect is religion.

Finally I can say that religious freedom and pluralism has arrived in my nation (USA) and we are almost out from under the grip of Christian hegemony.

Import millions of Christians from south of the border and I'm afraid we can kiss our religious liberties goodbye.

Being that most of them are Catholics, its possible the USA could become a satellite colony for the Roman Papacy!

Unless all immigrants disabuse themselves of the incorrect notion that "the US is a 'Christian' nation", and agree to abide by our principles of religious liberty and religious pluralism, we might be looking at a Theocratic State by 2050.

For the first time in our history Protestant Christianity is a minority religion here, and Buddhism is the fastest growing one.

We do not want to reverse this.

mojrim said...

I would argue that the gradual abolition of the death penalty had little or nothing to do with the great thinking of the time; most people were unfamiliar with it. Rather, in a pacified society, people see any killing as repugnant, including that carried out by the state.

Thus, as you said, the pacification project worked "all too well." This is not a bad thing and we have not been betrayed. A society at peace no longer needs a death penalty; all the killing has been weeded out, either genetically or socially.

AWC said...

As I've argued, Christian leaders today have become a bunch of girly men:

http://occamsrazormag.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/are-christian-leaders-today-a-bunch-of-girly-men/

Anonymous said...

"Being that most of them are Catholics, its possible the USA could become a satellite colony for the Roman Papacy!" Considering the trends in Latin America towards snake handling Pentecostalism in Central America and Santa Muerte neo-blood and soil paganism in Mexico, I think worrying about dirty Papists taking over America should be the least of your worries. Unfortunately Eastern Orthodoxy has not made any serious inroads in the Latino community like it has among Evangelical intellectuals who finally realized there was an alternative to Luther and Rome's interconnected errors.

I think much of it too has to do with concepts of God even within traditions. In Russia the idea of the Tsar as god's holy regent on Earth, and perhaps the excessive national parochialism within Orthodoxy, have always been exploited by enemies of the Church to sow discord and destroy the faith. It would seem under Putin for example there is a swing towards the Tsarist idea, but at the same time the militant secularist attack by P---y Riot, FEMEN and other Western cultural Marxist fronts funded by the usual CIA cutouts such as George Soros is real. So what to do? Shall we return to the worst excesses of the Tsarist regime and ignore the positive reforms of the Church that coincided with its greatest flowering in terms of art and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Or shall we follow the West into the cultural Marxist abyss? It seems many Russians -- even those who attend liturgy only on Christmas or Pascha like their respectable 19th century forebears -- would take the former over the latter, even if they are hypocritical in their personal lives (and it was this hypocrisy that the monks said as the Revolution approached that would allow Russia to fall into the Bolsheviks grip).

Average Joe said...

A society at peace no longer needs a death penalty; all the killing has been weeded out, either genetically or socially.

The problem is that many of the immigrants coming to the United States - such as Hispanics and Muslims - remain unpacified.

Anonymous said...

On the one hand I welcome the return of Orthodoxy to a prominent place in Russian life -- despite all the hypocrisies such as Putin's divorce or rumored relations with younger women. Hypocrisy remember is still the tribute vice pays to virtue.

Now in America with the HHS mandate and other cultural Marxist lawfare being waged against all Christians we have the virtuous or those pursuing virtue being forced to literally pay tribute to vice -- to pay for the birth control or even abortions of Lena Dunham et al.

In fact I fully expect the line between Russophiles and rabid Russophobes over the next few years to fall along cultural lines. Look it's already started with the spiritual fatherland of the Manosphere led by Roissy, Vox and CH being Russia/Poland/Ukraine. Meanwhile those who hate Russia will become ever more depraved in their attacks on the Church and rationalize that since it has blessed some of the State's efforts that violating the rights of believers is a-ok. The Pussy Riot episode was a perfect example of this -- no one condemned the German government for doling out a nearly as harsh sentence to a man who committed blasphemies during a service at the Catholic Cologne cathedral. And while I do think blasphemy laws could backfire by making martyrs out of neo-Bolsheviks, I also cannot accept the state doing nothing to protect believers' rights either.

In my ideal scenario Pussy Riot would've been given a Western style sentence -- picking up trash along the highways, or something like that -- the same type of sentence someone who invaded a Baptist worship service in Arkansas would've received. It would've shamed the Western Russophobes but they probably would've just found another pretext to attack Russia's sovereignty.

Anonymous said...

And why will Orthodoxy survive? Because as the global economy continues to break down, the West exposes its hypocrisy on human rights by creating a police state etc we will see the rise of 'Orthodox siloviks' within Russia. That is to say, a great number of both the military and security services will become more pious and look to the Holy Rus warrior traditions of Dmitry Donskoi and Alexandr Nevsky as the West led by the Anglo-Americans get more aggressive in their Great Depression 2.0 convulsions. The looming proxy war in Syria which could see American and British soldiers/Marines in Jordan killed by Russian Iskander missiles and NATO special forces inside Syria directly clashing with spetsnaz advisors to the other side is a very frightening portent of the era we're entering.

Instead of confronting an atheist Soviet Russia, which led to even Muslims allying with the West against the USSR, we will instead see proud reactionaries and cultural dissidents (including Manosphere thought leaders) within the West accused of being Russian agents and provocateurs by the 'superhawk' eternal Cold Warrior Right simply because their views get a sympathetic airing on Russia Today. These are trends we're already seeing! It's already underway! Instead of leftists/pinkos/Reds 'go to Russia!' it will be 'insurrectionists, right wingers, bitter clingers, leakers' 'go to Russia!' Irony of ironies!

Meditation 4 Contentment said...

"Being that most of them are Catholics, its possible the USA could become a satellite colony for the Roman Papacy!"

Anonymous replied,
"Considering the trends in Latin America towards snake handling Pentecostalism in Central America and Santa Muerte neo-blood and soil paganism in Mexico, I think worrying about dirty Papists taking over America should be the least of your worries."

> That's equally problematic. My point was that my country is finally and currently in a post-Christian-hegemonic era and we want to keep it that way.

Religious liberty is of utmost important and Christianity's very ideology is anti-freedom of religion.

Now, with regards to Eastern Orthodoxy, I became familiar with the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala, South India during my stay there and I have to say I was impressed that they were indistinguishable in culture from the Hindus.

They have been in Kerala for almost 2,000 and are an interwoven part of the tapestry.

I am not opposed to living side by side with Christians who approach their faith as one among many that I have the legal, human and divine right to choose from.

But too often than not Christians have a missionary agenda, and it is often neither subtle or benign.

I am willing to concede that Eastern Orthodoxy may be different. My only experience with it has been in Kerala.

Om Tat Sat

Anonymous said...

Agree overall but

"Violence ceased to be a socially approved way to gain prestige and advance personal interests. It became a mark of shame, condemning those guilty of it to the margins of society, if not to the gallows."

I don't think this is entirely true. It was consciously channeled into culturally approved ways: boxing, rugby, military patriotism etc and the selection process was applied to those who couldn't *control* their violence.

Anonymous said...

The difficulty I have with this post is that to some extent it seems to posit that European secular philosophy, which flowered with the Enlightenment, also stopped with the Enlightenment.

Of course, it did not. Certainly no one in the 19th century thought that the Enlightenment was "good enough" and stopped thinking.

And that subsequent European history is the playing out of these Enlightenment ideas (inheritors of the European tradition) against the Bible.

Of course, it was not.

So perhaps it is worth examining the role of later philosophers, the followers of the tradition of secular philosophy, begun by the Enlightment - such as Mill, Sedgwick, Bentham, Hegel, Kirkegaard, etc.

What role did they and their ideas have to play in all this?

For example, "Jeremy Bentham... the founder of modern utilitarianism... advocated... the abolition of the death penalty".

Surely this is not "Jesusism"?

My perception is that capital punishment abolitionist movements draw essentially nothing from Jesus, but do draw from other sources, such as a desire to remove the power over life and death of its citizens from the hands of government.

Simon in London said...

"I would argue that the gradual abolition of the death penalty had little or nothing to do with the great thinking of the time; most people were unfamiliar with it. Rather, in a pacified society, people see any killing as repugnant, including that carried out by the state."

I think that's right - when I was young and foolish I remember feeling that way - in Northern Ireland in the '80s, not a particularly peaceful time. But opposition to the death penalty was very much lead by the ruling elites who were in a sense responsible for carrying it out. The elites could no longer stand the idea of killing captured murderers. The common folk still wanted those murderers dead; to be rid of them, for revenge, and to deter others.

Simon in London said...

AFAICT Chriatianity took from the Romans the idea that killing was a serious thing, so (a) the death penalty should be rare and (b) murderers had to die.
The alternative view, of mediation, weregild, and short imprisonment terms was common in pre-Christian Europe and survived in more savage lands. While Protestants might theoretically have picked up this attitude from savage parts of the Old Testament, I don't see any evidence of this. Rather than going back to "killing is unimportant", modern Europeans went forward to "killing is so terrible even the State shouldn't be allowed to do it".

Sean said...

Once the state imposed strong punitive measures that suppressed male personal aggrandizement by using or threatening violence, an ideology of gentleness can come to the fore, thereby promoting genetic pacification of the society through gene culture coevolution. The dominant ideology of the latter Roman system mandated empathy and acceptance to all; including unpacified non Romans. Imperial Rome collapsed as a result of non resistance to external population pressure, and Europe entered the Dark Ages.

Beginning in 12th century Europe the Church acquiesced in a 'one crime and you're dead' policy that often included forced confession though torture (though as de Maistre noted such a regime was incompatible with Christian principles). An intensive pacification process began, and--as with Rome--the ideology altered in character over many generations; leading to a population with strong propensities for viewing the recalcitrant in a sympathetic light.

By the Enlightenment an intellectual climate of peace and love in which the most empathetic philosophies had the greatest prestige, led to the abolition of the punitive system. Enlightenment ideology saw particularisms such as religion and nation-state allegiance as the taproot of tyranny, and sought to alter societies to remove all influence of such beliefs.



Henry Sidgwick's worry was that the decline of religion would leave morality unsupported, andt society would become ever more nasty and brutish. Good people would act in accordance with morality, but why would anyone want to be good?

Being pacified doesn't make you immune to intimidation. Incomers will turn pacified areas into a landscape of fear for pacified males.

RCDP said...

"AFAICT Chriatianity took from the Romans the idea that killing was a serious thing, so (a) the death penalty should be rare and (b) murderers had to die."

We took it from Genesis 9:6.

Toddy Cat said...

Let's be clear - the Church never regarded the death penalty as "inherently wrong". St. Ambrose defended capital punishment at the very beginning of the Dark Ages, and this never changed - the only debate was as to when the application of the death penalty was just. Also, there is plenty of support for the death penalty in the New Testament (Romans 13, 1-4, anyone?) and there was also plenty of execution and torture under the late Roman Empire, just read a history of the period. The thesis expressed in the essay above is interesting, but flawed.

Peter Fros_ said...

Roger,

Too many people see the past through the lens of the present. Since present-day liberals see themselves as the heirs of the Enlightenment, they assume that the Enlightenment anticipated their own beliefs, if only in a more rudimentary form. But history is not so simple. Present-day liberalism is not a more evolved form of classical liberalism. At the risk of simplifying things, people have usurped the word “liberal” as a way of gaining legitimacy for ideas that are neither liberal nor a direct outgrowth of classical liberalism. “Liberal” is simply a brand name, just like “Conservative.” And both can be bought.

Thursday, Anon,

Jeremy Bentham believed that people should act in a way that provides the “greatest good to the greatest number.” In this, he was radically opposed to the doctrine of natural rights of John Locke and most thinkers of the Enlightenment. He was in fact advocating a kind of unrestrained moralism, where the individual is called upon to assist everyone else, regardless of how irresponsible or heinous they may be. This is more than just “Give until it hurts.” It’s “Give until you become a slave to everyone else.” Such thinking has its origins more in Christian Pietism than in the Enlightenment.

“Locke and Rousseau were a lot closer to Christianity than those that followed them”

Christianity changed considerably during that time. In the 18th century, various forms of Theism predominated among the educated elites. This was the case with Jefferson and other leading Americans. Locke was not a Theist but close to being one. He was a “latitudinarian,” i.e., someone who considers it sufficient to accept Jesus as the Messiah and be willing to live a Christian life. It’s questionable whether he believed in the divinity of Jesus. This completely changed with the reaction to the French Revolution, the rise of Christian revival movements, and the growing influence of the Bible in popular culture.

“Simple test on this. Compare various measures of people's religiosity to their support for the death penalty, worldwide”

Religiosity? Worldwide? Are we still talking about modern Western Christianity? Let me restate my point. Over the past five centuries, mainstream Western Christianity has shed its accretions of tradition and become centered on Jesus and his teachings. This process has emancipated certain beliefs (universalism, redistributionism, utopianism, mind-body dualism, etc.) that were formerly held in check or even rendered dormant by Christian tradition. This form of simplified Christianity has shaped the modern world view, so much so that many modern Christians no longer feel a need to identify as such. To identify as “Christian” is to be un-Christian, since it compromises the goal of creating a single humanity.

Peter Fros_ said...

Meditation,

Would you be happier if all immigrants to the U.S. were Protestant? Actually, a lot of immigrants are Protestant. Check out your local church if you don’t believe me.

Mojrim, Average Joe,

You’re highlighting a point I should have discussed at greater length. When a population becomes pacified to the point that violence occurs only under extreme conditions (stress, jealousy, alcohol), the death penalty becomes seen as being excessive and unjust. And rightly so. It thus seems more sensible to correct these extreme conditions.

This is how most well-meaning people think today in Western societies. We have trouble imagining that other human societies operate differently.

Anon,

In Russia, and Eastern Europe in general, Christianity is more traditional because it was sheltered by the Iron Curtain from ideological changes in the West. When I was studying in Russia, I attended a local Protestant church. It was just like the Protestantism I knew as a kid in the 1970s. The sermons were centered on personal ethics and family values. There was none of the radical chic and naïve politics that has become standard fare here.

Time will tell whether Putin will lead Russia down the right path. He is certainly better than Yeltsin (but that’s not saying a lot). There are strong globalist factions within the Russian government and the local business community, as is the case here in the West.

Anon,

“Violence” was consciously channeled into culturally approved ways: boxing, rugby, military patriotism etc”

In State-pacified societies, violence is limited to (a) self-defense and (b) State-organized military or police action. A third exception might be organized sports, but they didn’t become socially acceptable until the late 19th century. This was the case with rugby, football, and hockey. Boxing existed before that time, but it was subject to restrictions of different sorts, a bit like prostitution.

Simon,

In Canada, the death penalty was abolished de facto before being abolished de jure. A strong argument was the view, as you put it, that “killing is so terrible even the State shouldn't be allowed to do it". But there was a second argument that made sense: almost all murders take place under extreme conditions (stress, jealousy, alcohol, etc.), and the death penalty does nothing to remove such causal conditions.

That was more or less true for Canada a half-century ago. It’s no longer true today. There are now a lot of people who will kill under conditions of normal life. But this is something that nice Canadians have trouble believing.

Sean,

Yes, ultimately, pacification is self-defeating. A pacified society will embrace a pacifist world view and eventually lose all means of dealing with societies that are organized along different lines.

RCDP,

But the Hebrews did punish murder (and even lesser crimes) with execution.

Toddy Cat,

Ambrose condemned violence even in self-defense!

“… a Christian man, a just and a wise man, ought never to try to save his own life at the cost of death to someone else. Indeed, even if he encounters an armed robber, he is not at liberty to hit back when his assailant hits him, lest in his anxiety to defend his own life he mar the sense of obligation he ought to feel towards the man. The principle given to us about this in the gospel records is crystal clear: ‘Put away your sword: for everyone who strikes with the sword shall perish by the sword.’ Could any robber ever be more loathsome than the persecutor who had come to slay Christ? Yet Christ would not let anyone defend him by inflicting wounds on those who persecuted him: his desire was to heal all by being wounded himself.” Ambrose. De officiis 3.4.27

Sean said...

I think Peter is saying that tendency does not derive from Christianity or the Enlightenment, and his point is that genetic tendencies become increasingly for pacifistic modes of thought when high rates of execution stopped genes for thuggery being passed on.

Ambrose's view was not Church teaching, but during eras of punitive law enforcement, Church opinion was increasingly against killing in general, so the death penalty was acquiesced in rather than approved of in Roman and medieval times (when the Church was strongly opposed to the non-lethal chivalrous tournaments).

An additional reason that hereditary pacifistic frame of mind has became dominant in modern thought: the higher socio economic class are the most pacified--they run the show.

Anonymous said...

Peter Frost

"In State-pacified societies, violence is limited to (a) self-defense and (b) State-organized military or police action."

Yes my point was violence was still idealized within that context. Violence itself wasn't shamed - only certain forms of it were. Most books and films illustrate this.

My point being the western world isn't completely pacified. The impulsive form of violence was heavily selected against but the self-controlled form is still there.

"A third exception might be organized sports, but they didn’t become socially acceptable until the late 19th century."

Yes, that's my point. Coincidence that so many organized sports were developed in a nation undergoing very rapid pacification from a very violent starting point? I think they are/were a by-product of that pacification process.

RCDP said...

"But the Hebrews did punish murder (and even lesser crimes) with execution."

My only point was that capital punishment was one of the earliest mandates in Scripture and Christians didn't get the idea from the Romans.

Good post though. Christians and non-Christians alike used to argue from natural law. Natural law is not very compelling to post-moderns though.

breviosity said...

Brilliant ideas, much food for thought.

One flaw: people in general don't oppose the death penalty for murder. Majorities in opinion polls commonly support it, even in Canada where it has long been unused.

Rather than Christianity or Enlightenment, these majorities are I think moved by a more primordial moral sense of justice as reciprocity (an eye for an eye).

But you may well be right about the source of elite attitudes.

Anonymous said...

This is how most well-meaning people think today in Western societies. We have trouble imagining that other human societies operate differently.

A majority of Americans support the death penalty:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/144284/support-death-penalty-cases-murder.aspx

As recently as 2001, a majority of Britons supported the death penalty:

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/13/opinion/europe-s-view-of-the-death-penalty.html

Anonymous said...

This is how most well-meaning people think today in Western societies. We have trouble imagining that other human societies operate differently.

From “Death in Venice: Europe’s Death-penalty Elitism" by Joshua Micah Marshall:

http://books.google.com/books?id=KPIf6dPJ_jQC&pg=PA639&lpg=PA639&dq=%E2%80%9CDeath+in+Venice:+Europe%E2%80%99s+Death-penalty+Elitism%22&source=bl&ots=pgmOwy67Zc&sig=uuCzBIr4mfS34G5tviceRKWhSWM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8QDAUcCwCuTI0gGrg4DYCw&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%E2%80%9CDeath%20in%20Venice%3A%20Europe%E2%80%99s%20Death-penalty%20Elitism%22&f=false

"In fact, opinion polls show that Europeans and Canadians crave executions almost as much as their American counterparts do. It's just that their politicians don't listen to them. In other words, if these countries' political cultures are morally superior to America's, it's because they're less democratic."

"[P]ublic support for the death penalty runs only slightly lower in Canada than in the United States: polls consistently show that between 60 percent and 70 percent of Canadians want it reinstated."

"[E]ven if you ask the death-penalty question in the more restricted sense that Americans generally understand it - "Do you support the death penalty for aggravated murder?" - you find very few European countries where the public clearly opposes it, and there are a number where support is very strong. In Britain, the world headquarters of Amnesty International, opinion polls have shown that between two-thirds and three-quarters of the population favors the death penalty - about the same as in the United States. In Italy, which has led the international fight against capital punishment for much of the last decade, roughly half the population wants it reinstated. In France, clear majorities continued to back the death penalty long after it was abolished in 1981; only last year did a poll finally show that less than 50 percent wanted it restored. There is barely a country in Europe where the death penalty was abolished in response to public opinion rather than in spite of it."

Sean said...

Those running society are far more pacified than those 'difficult' people they, in effect, rule. The pejorative term 'populism' is aimed at politicians who try to represent the powerless numerical majority.

Violence for the purpose of personal aggrandisement has a different root to participation in state sanctioned 'violence'. Demanding a measure of 'respect' (ie fear) for self or family is really the opposite of allegiance to a wider community which, even in a homogenous nation state, is basically allegiance to a symbolic community.

Anonymous said...

Those running society are far more pacified than those 'difficult' people they, in effect, rule.

Sean,

Those "running society" over the past few generations in the US, where two-thirds of the population supports the death penalty, have been drawn predominantly from middle/working class backgrounds:

http://racehist.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-american-ruling-class-2005.html

Anonymous said...

"polls consistently show that between 60 percent and 70 percent of Canadians want it reinstated."

"In Britain... opinion polls have shown that between two-thirds and three-quarters of the population favors the death penalty"

In the modern world upward social mobility mostly comes via education. Therefore impulsiveness makes upward social mobility very difficult and impulsive violence makes it practically impossible (except occasionally via sport). So membership of the upper middle class in the modern world more or less requires above average levels of pacification.

(This may have applied much less in the fairly recent past before university accreditation became so dominant.)

(This doesn't apply to self-controlled sociopaths but they will only be a minority of the upper middle class).

Not only will pacification apply most strongly to the upper middle class the opinions of the upper middle class have more political weight so that distorts the political process in their favor.

So i think the general point stands as long as you take into account the class differences with the upper middle class being early adopters.

Toddy Cat said...

Peter,
Ambrose did not approve of violence in self-defense, but he DID support the death penalty, which is what I stated. They are two different things.

"The death penalty had support from early Catholic theologians; Saint Ambrose encouraged members of the clergy to pronounce and even carry out capital punishment; Saint Augustine answered objections to capital punishment rooted in the fifth commandment in The City of God. Augustine's argument is as such: "Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand [of God], it is in no way contrary to the commandment `Thou shalt not kill' for the representative of the state's authority to put criminals to death".

Sean said...

Anon, I phrased the idea as "they, in effect, rule" meaning the rule was not asserted to be obvious--until you look at the course of events.

Tooddy Cat, Ambrose was not in an ivory tower he was an important state official who could hardly have spoke against capital punishment in all circumstances. Ambrose acknowledged there was an obligation to use violence where necessary to protect another person, but he did place a lot of emphasis on mercy and turning one's own cheek. Ambrose's temperament would have disqualified him from any leadership position in Homeric Greece.

Peter, eliminating competition between individuals (personal aggrandizement though violence) would lead to greater group selection?

Anonymous said...

So i think the general point stands as long as you take into account the class differences with the upper middle class being early adopters.

The point doesn't stand on this polling data. It may stand on other data, but not on this polling data.

The implication of Peter's original point was that pacification has proceeded to such an extent in Western populations that Western populations now disfavor the death penalty.

The polling data suggests that it's not the case that Western populations in general disfavor the death penalty.

When new data comes in, you update your priors.

In this case, there are a number of different ways Peter's original point could be updated. Perhaps pacification hasn't proceeded as originally believed. Or perhaps it has, but has little or no effect on people's opinions on the death penalty. Etc.

Anonymous said...

@anon 4:27
"The point doesn't stand on this polling data. It may stand on other data, but not on this polling data."

Fair point, it's my opinion based on other polling data e.g.

http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/2348

"Looking at the cross breaks there was an interesting class divide – 81% of respondents in social class DE supported the death penalty compared to 56% of respondents in social classes AB."

If pacification is a genetic process then unless the selection pressure is evenly applied across the whole of society you might expect potentially dramatic divergence on an issue like this according to that differential selection pressure.

If that differential selection pressure led to the most pacified part of the population becoming a majority of the upper middle class then in the majority of political systems they can impose their view on the majority because their political weight outweighs their numbers.

If the pacification process continued then the rest of the population would slowly follow suit however if the pacification of the politicaly dominant upper middle class led to excessive softness then
- allowing conjugal visits for violent criminals
- allowing gang cultures to develop which replicate environments where violence is reproductively successful
- allowing immigration of populations with much higher levels of violence traits
etc
then pacification might halt or go into reverse.

Peter Fros_ said...

Breviosity and others,

Abolitionism began at a time when the death penalty existed for a wide range of crimes, and not just murder. The trend over time has been to limit the death penalty, and then to limit the circumstances of murder where it can be applied. The final step has then been to abolish it altogether.

I agree that this trend has been elite-driven, but even the majority has been affected by it, if only to a lesser extent.

Today, most people still favor the death penalty, but only under limited circumstances. According to Gallup, only 19% favor the death penalty for murderers who are mentally ill and only 13% for murderers who are mentally retarded.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/1606/death-penalty.aspx

Such a death penalty would be worse than useless. When a sane intelligent person commits murder, it is typically under conditions of extreme stress that may not happen again in that person's lifetime. The situation is different with someone who kills because he has weak impulse control or simply because he cannot understand the serious nature of his act. Such a person is a permanent danger to society.

Toddy the cat,

"Saint Ambrose encouraged members of the clergy to pronounce and even carry out capital punishment"

You're sadly mistaken. I deal with this question at some length in one of my articles:

http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP08376389.pdf

Anonymous said...

When a sane intelligent person commits murder, it is typically under conditions of extreme stress that may not happen again in that person's lifetime. The situation is different with someone who kills because he has weak impulse control or simply because he cannot understand the serious nature of his act.

I think there may be an issue here where most people on the street, who are being questioned on this, would call Murder Inc types (hitmen, gangsters, men who beat their wives to death) sane but bad, whereas you (and perhaps the psychology industry) might call them mad but not bad.

When the public say that sane people who murder should be killed, they are talking about it being right to kill folk like Kuklinski (who is, you'd note, someone who could show a sane veneer and married and reproduced), but not really right to kill someone like the Canadian bus cannibal, who is likely schizophrenia (and who, you might note, probably would not attract a mate).

Anonymous said...

If pacification is a genetic process then unless the selection pressure is evenly applied across the whole of society you might expect potentially dramatic divergence on an issue like this according to that differential selection pressure.

The polling data you cite notes that majorities of both classes and the majority of the population support the death penalty.

I'm not sure that opinion on the death penalty is a good measure of pacification.

Sean said...

What would Jesus do?

Average Joe said...

One might call it “secularized Christianity” or perhaps “Christian atheism,” but neither is really appropriate.

I think what we are really seeing is the increasing influence of Ashkenazi Jews on European and European-American culture.