As I mentioned in my previous post, two basic elements of the conservative philosophy are:
Within individual liberty is the commit to life, for without life one cannot enjoy the liberty to practice the other natural rights accorded to man by his Creator. Within limited government, not its absence, the rule of law protects liberty and the natural rights therein.
Now that I have clarified these two propositions, I am compelled to make the case for abolishing the death penalty, an institution which runs contrary to the two fundamental tenets of conservatism which I have outlined above.
Individual liberty means recognizing the opportunity for individuals to make choices, not just holding them responsible for making bad choices. Individual liberty contains within itself the opportunity for moral improvement. As Dr. Benjamin Rush noted in the early years of the Republic, many criminals who have committed capital crimes later regret what they have done, not necessarily because they were caught. Individual liberty does not absolve an offender from the consequences of committed a crime, but to end a person's life presumes that the offender cannot exercise his liberty properly in the future, undercutting the basic current of individual liberty: choice.
Some contend, as did John Locke, that a person forfeits his right to life when he takes the life of another. I argue that individual liberty is not compromised when the life of a capital offender is not taken in turn for having taken the life of another. One can very well argue that the civil death which occurs as a result of an offender being locked away for life without the possibility of parole to be just as effective a retribution as putting the offender to death.
Others have even stated, as did Kant, that if a society refuses to end the life of a murderer, the value of life depreciates within that community. However, no matter how ardently one codifies the legal right to take a capital offender's life, some one individual has to strap down the death-row inmate, someone has to press the last button, pull the lever, or shoot the gun that leads kills the capital offender. How then will the executioner appreciate human life in the aftermath of having killed a man, no matter how egregious his crime? Even if the circumstances warrant the legality of taking a life, the moral outcome cannot be compromised: an individual, or a group of individuals hiding behind the mandate of written law have taken a life, and for that reason the value of human life is diminished in that community. In effect, the death penalty compromises the very value it seeks to affirm.
In addition to its inevitable nature to compromise the very value it seeks to maintain, the death penalty accords too much power to the State, an imperfect association in which individuals who have not committed capital offenses are inadvertently convicted of crimes, only to be saved by the resolute action of legal advocates fighting within the appellate process. Certainly because of the potential for miscarriages of justice the State should not decide who lives and who dies within its own bounds. Moreover, the State should take steps to protects all of its members, those who commit crimes as well as those who have not, for therein lies the basis for government: to promote individual liberty, all in respect to the rule of law and the sanctity of life, which makes liberty a reality.
Perhaps my opposition to the Death Penalty on conservative principles is too simplistic or idealistic, since I am basing my arguments on two fundamental propositions. Yet we should not shy away from evaluating whether our current legal system operates within the philosophy which our Founders espoused. Even though the Constitution recognizes the Death Penalty, it does not follow that one should support its practice. I merely wish to contend that, contrary to the current conservative consensus, Capital Punishment is not in sync with conservative principles and should be done away with.