This distinguished constitutional theorist takes a hard look at current criminal law and the Supreme Court's most recent decisions regarding the legality of capital punishment. Examining the penal system, capital punishment, and punishment in general, he reviews the continuing debate about the purpose of punishment for deterrence, rehabilitation, or retribution. He points out that the steady moderation of criminal law has not effected a corresponding moderation in criminal ways or improved the conditions under which men must live. He decries the "pious sentiment" of those who maintain that criminals need to be rehabilitated. He concludes that the real issue is not whether the death penalty deters crime, but that in an imperfect universe, justice demands the death penalty. Originally published by Basic Books in 1979.
"Anger is the passion that recognizes and cares about justice," says political scientist Walter Berns. Anger protects the community "by demanding punishment for its enemies," and this frightening rationale is the basis for Berns' endorsement of capital punishment. He says he was inspired by Simon Wiesenthal who spent his life hunting Nazis "to pay them back." In other words, Berns is advocating a system of justice based on retribution. His study is confusing, hard to follow, and filled with both unexplained and contradictory statements: "Opposition to capital punishment was born of liberalism," he says, never defining "liberalism" except to say that it came out of the 17th century. He concludes that capital punishment is probably no deterrent to crime, but says that prisons are deterrents, and he labels rehabilitation programs as "pious sentiment." Drawing heavily on religion - Jesus' warning to "whoso shall offend one of those little ones which believe in me" is seen as a veiled threat of death - Berns characterizes liberals as "usually anti-Christian," concluding that those basing their opposition on the Bible are actually moved by other considerations. Lengthy quotations from scholarly works - particularly the work of Cesare Beccari, an 18th-century opponent of capital punishment - are just so much clutter, doing little to enhance Berns' argument. It's the eye-for-an-eye mentality masquerading as philosophy. (Kirkus Reviews)