Sunday, January 07, 2007

I would put it a different way, Torq

"If not Saddam, who?"

I think that's why some churchmen have come under such harsh criticism over the Saddam execution and deservedly so. That Saddam Hussein was a case that an ordinary person might think could meet the requirements of a just execution if any case could ... and the reaction from the Vatican was still "no." (And appallingly argued, as Jimmy Akin points out.)

Shea might be surprised to note that I substantially agree with him on the death penalty in the ideal. I accept that the Church teaches what he calls "death-penalty minimalism," and can only think of two cases where I'd absolutely support it (the political tyrant/revolutionary and the already-serving-life case). Or as commenter cmatt put it: "Do we have to?" The problem is that many liberal Catholics and not a few First-World bishops and Vatican curial officials have indicated by their opposition to Saddam's execution that they will never accept "yes" as the answer to that question.

This is why the Church's protests over the Saddam Hussein execution generated such unease among conservative Catholics and outright contempt among non-Catholic conservatives. We are dealing with (1) a country without a stable, secure prison system (a clear presupposition of what John Paul said in EV); (2) a country with significant guerrilla movements, some of which would like to put Saddam back in power when the US leaves; and (3) a man collossally unrepentant to the end (one good thing about the video ... it removes all doubt about that, even assuming the trial itself hadn't). Yes, I accept in principle Shea's distinction between "minimalist" and "abolitionist." But if a self-declared minimalist cannot find the necessity in the case of Saddam Hussein, he will be seen quite justifiably as an abolitionist arguing in bad faith. And, at least potentially, might not be listened to next time, when mercy might actually be the wiser counsel for the secular state. See if you think the following exchange sounds at all outlandish or implausible:
Governor: Smith is scheduled to get the chair next week. Any outside appeals for clemency?
Press Secretary: Well, here's a cable from the Vatican, a Cardinal Martino. Says we should show mercy toward Smith as God does toward us.
Governor: Isn't that the guy who called hanging Saddam Hussein a crime and said that having a death penalty is uncivilized?
Press Secretary: Yep.
Governor: File 13. Anyone else?
Promiscuity devalues more than sex.

It's also surely not irrelevant that this comes at a time when it's becoming harder and harder to credit the good faith of death-penalty opponents. For example, their efforts on the appeals side means it takes decades to execute death sentences. But then in a stunning case of bad faith, death-penalty opponents will then sometimes turn around and argue that these lengthy delays and the associated costs constitute reason for clemency in given cases or even for abolishing the penalty outright.¹ It's hard to avoid the conclusion that we're dealing with an adolescent fit or a game of "heads-I-win-tails-you-lose," not an intellectual argument. That's the reason for some of the conservative exulting -- people were reacting to a clear-cut case of justice being done swiftly, surely and unmistakably, away from the animadversions of the ACLU, the jurist class and the Vatican, which the last 30 years have given us every reason to distrust. To riff off cmatt -- it was refreshing not to have to go through ...
Do we have to?
Yes.
But what about X?
It doesn't matter.
Do we have to?
Yes.
But what about Y?
It doesn't matter.
Do we have to?
Yes.
But what about X?
It doesn't matter.
Do we have to?
Yes.
Have you considered X?
Yes.
Do we have to?
Yes.
But what about Y?
It doesn't matter.
Do we have to?
Yes.
Have you considered Y?
Yes.
Do we have to?
Yes.
Have you considered X?
Yes.
Do we have to?
Yes.
But what about X?
It doesn't matter.
Have you really considered Y?
Yes.
Do we have to?
Yes.
Have you really considered X?
Yes.
Do we have to?
Yes.
Still, Shea being Shea ... I wonder what the logic can be in dismissing imprecision in a statement by the Church as irrelevant ("Yeah, the Vatican statement was not worded with exact theological precision. So what?") while in the same breath drawing conclusions that demand a standard of precise Thomistic reasoning in the reactions of ordinary people ("the overwhelming majority of commentary from the average pro-death penalty comboxer on your average news site [was] marked, not by sober discussions of the nature of Justice according to St. Thomas ..."). Comboxes are held to a higher standard of intellectual precision than Vatican statements?!?!?
-------------------------------------------
¹ And this isn't merely once of a host of cases of bad-faith. The liberals of the world spent years demanding lethal injection (wrongly in my view) as more humane than other execution methods, and then now it has become near-universal, turn around and attack it as barbarous and ... gasp ... painful. They argue from supposed racial disparities to executing nobody, though patently it is at least as good an argument for executing more whites or killers of blacks. They also argue against the inhumanity of SuperMax and isolation prisons, and the lack of parole in dealing with non-capital crimes, though surely life-without-parole has to be the alternative sentence to death in those cases that "deserve" death. The "Innocence Project" lies about what "innocence" means. In the 60s, liberals attacked the death penalty as ad-hoc and standardless, and then when criteria were spelled out in the 70s, they attacked them as automatic and lacking discretion and judgment of given cases. When the subject is race or education, IQ and other standardized tests are socially constructed tests of whiteness that measure nothing other than the ability to take IQ tests and stigmatize those who do badly on them, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the IQ tests of death-row inmates are holy-writ on the somehow-not-socially-constructed notions of "retardation" and "mental age."

16 comments:

Donald R. McClarey said...

The death penalty switch is a problem doctrinally if the Church was saying for almost 20 cenuries that capital punishment was licit and that suddenly in the last pontificate it became illicit. That problem is avoided by the Church saying that while capital punishment is licit its application is not prudential in the modern world unless certain conditions are met. So far so good. The Church has often attempted to limit the application of capital punishment in the past. The problem arises that many clerics obviously do not believe this teaching as demonstrated by their statements. They now believe that capital punishment is not morally licit and never can be, and they wish this to be the teaching of the Church. That is not the teaching of the Church, has not been the teaching of the Church and will never be the teaching of the Church. The furor over the hamhanded Vatican statements regarding the just execution of Saddam is a great opportunity for orthodox Catholics to raise this point loud and clear.

Pauli said...

Really good example with the Governor, the Cardinal and "file 13".

Victor: "It's also surely not irrelevant that this comes at a time when it's becoming harder and harder to credit the good faith of death-penalty opponents."

IMHO, this is the most relevant problem with the abolitionist side. I suppose I could be called a minimalist; I have enormous problems with widespread use of the DP, but it would be much easier for me to raise my voice against it if the other voices weren't always picking inmates who represented the best arguments pro-DP as their poster children. Remember the goody-goody Hollywoodies pleading Tookie Williams' case? The man ordered people killed from prison! Yet no lefties were shedding a tear a week later when some 70-year guy who had gone blind waiting in the row got buzzed. Obviously he didn't have Tookie's charisma.

(But I'm being cynical -- these Hollywood protesters value ALL human life so much....)

Anyway, Jimmy Akin is right as usual; if this text-less Vatican position is "quoted" but not the Pope, then it implies that the Holy Father did not comment. And if this headless mythical entity called "the Vatican" by the press doesn't try harder to clarify the position of the Church and distance itself from these agenda-driven DP abolitionists, it will more and more be seen as purely political. Sadly, the real Vatican, i.e., the Pope, may lose moral authority as a result.

"But the IQ tests of death-row inmates are holy-writ on the somehow-not-socially-constructed notions of 'retardation' and 'mental age.'"

A brilliant point also.

Art Deco said...

I think your argument that 'bad faith' is characteristic of arguments against capital punishment is true for individuals and corporate bodies who have advanced inconsistent positions ad seriatim. However, it is not altogether fair to hold organization x responsible for an argument advanced by organization y in 1966.

Anonymous said...

JOSEPH D'HIPPOLITO SAYS...

The distinction between being a death-penalty "minimalist" and an "abolitionist," as far as Shea applies those terms, doesn't really exist. Like Martino, Shea went on record on his own blog as saying that he opposed Saddam's execution. If a barbarian like Saddam is the test example for distinguishing between a "minimalist" and an "abolitionist," then it serves only as an example of rendering words meaningless by playing with them.

Shea tried to have it both ways when he made the following statement on Jan. 2:

I don't think the execution met with present Church teaching. Nor do I think it a wise move. But what's done is done. Saddam has received justice.

Well, Mark, if Saddam "received justice," then not only was his execution wise but it met with Church teaching. If his execution didn't meet "with present Church teaching" then it wasn't just. Which is it, big guy?

It's these kind of arguments that people like me who support executing murderers cannot take seriously.

It's these kind of arguments, however, that will destroy the Church's moral credibility if Catholics take them seriously.

Anonymous said...

JOSEPH D'HIPPOLITO SAYS...

One more thing, Mark...

If Saddam's execution was just and wise, and the Church opposes it,then something is seriously wrong with the Church's moral compass.

Pauli said...

Joseph, you might be just the person to clear this up. I had heard that there was a corrupted English translation of Evangelium Vitae that was being used as a standard by the so-called minimalists. Basically, it takes a lot of liberties especially in the death penalty passage in order to make JPII's language on the DP closer to his language on abortion and euthanasia. That way, the moral offensiveness is seen to approach an absoluteness which the Holy Father did not intend.

I'm sure all the Catholic bloggers are fluent in Latin and don't even read the English translations, but regardless, this may have influenced some of the unwitting faithful.

Anonymous said...

JOSEPH D'HIPPOLITO SAYS...

Pauli, this is the first that I've heard about a possible corrupted English translation. I don't read Latin so I could never give the original encyclical its due as a translator. Nevertheless, you raise a good point. Perhaps somebody fluent in Latin can translate the original to clear up this mess?

Phillip said...

Mark's most recent rant is up. In it he claims that on this site he is called "the epitome of evil." I can't find it anywhere in the comments on the past two posts.

So, in an effort to give Mark some credibility here it goes: Mark is the epitome of evil.

Now he can say it truthfully. Too bad much of what he says doesn't have equally documentable sources.

Paul Zummo said...

Granted this is not exhaustive, but the only google hits for "mark shea" and "epitome of evil" or "epitome of evile" and "coalition for fog" show one post which is quoting Shea as saying he doesn't think Michael Ledeen is the epitome of evil.

Anonymous said...

JOSEPH D'HIPPOLITO SAYS...

This is nothing but another attempt by Shea to cloak his inability or refusal to confront legitimate opposing arguments in an aura of personal victimization.

Perhaps his blog should be renamed, "Individual For Fog"?

OregonMuse said...

Statements on the subject of capital punishment in general and specific executions in particular I've been hearing in recent years from representatives of the Catholic Church remind me of a friend of a friend, a Mennonite guy who would go on and on about how war is evil and violence is evil and guns are evil, and etc. So my friend asked him if he was a pacifist defending the pacifist position, and he replied no, he wasn't. So she argued back and forth with him for a long while, trying to pin him down when exactly he thought it'd be OK to fight. And basically, it turned out that it was not until the bad guy had broken into your house, come into your room, had his hand sround your neck, and a knife at your throat, only then were you permitted to take forceful action, in his view.

Such a position is actually de facto pacifism.

Similarly, I think the Catholic Church in recent years has become de facto anti-CP. As Victor has suggested, there is simply not a conceivable set of real-world conditions that would be acceptable to the Vatican by which an excution could legitimately take place. Because we live in a very imperfect world, any execution that could possibly happen would always have some circumstances about it that aren't right, that the Vatican, or human rights groups, or anybody else, could complain about.

As an aside, the problem with my Mennonite friend, in my opinion, was that he wanted to be a pacifist without having to assume the additional (difficult) obligation of having to defend pacifism as a moral principle. I don't think this is the Church's problem, but it does not become an organization, with such a hefty intellectual tradtion, to have its leaders making these sorts of distinctions that are seemingly without a difference.

Anonymous said...

I would consider myself an abolitionist, at least with regard to the United States. But I'm not really a fan of the anti-death penalty activist types, who have a tendency to make outrageous statements both about individual cases and about pro-death penalty folks.

For example, in the Saddam comments thread Mark went so far as to compare the pro-death penalty folks at Little Green Footballs to Hitler. Yes, Hitler. I don't have the tech-wiz-knowhow to link to the individual comment, but it's in the comments to this post:

http://markshea.blogspot.com/2007_01_01_markshea_archive.html#116785252745291251

An excerpt:

"I think those who salaciously rejoiced in [Saddam's] execution, who earnestly desired pay per view access, who gleefully hoped that he would rot in hell, are different in degree, not kind [from Hitler]. A Thomist could be "satisfied" in the technical sense that justice had been done without feeling the need to glory in the sheer joy of death. The LGF folk do not come across like Thomists. They come across like, well, Hitler as he sat and giggled while watching the films of the execution of the July 20 conspirators as they strangled on piano wire. Hard to tell the two apart really." 1/4/06 2:24 p.m.

"Seriously, why is Hitler's gleeful rejoicing in the piano wire strangling films an archetype of evil, but the LGF comboxers are just nice people who are being maligned by a mean guy like me?" 1/4/06 5:12 p.m.

-Josiah

Victor said...

Because, silly Josiah, Shea's manners, intellectual integrity and relationship to truth are by definition "minors" compared to any subject he writes about. Are you trying to major in minors? Have you stopped beating your wife?

Donald R. McClarey said...

"Seriously, why is Hitler's gleeful rejoicing in the piano wire strangling films an archetype of evil, but the LGF comboxers are just nice people who are being maligned by a mean guy like me?"

Maybe because Hitler was gleeful over the death of men who were trying to stop him from adding more innocent victims to his huge body count, while the LGF commenters are ordinary men and women taking satisfaction in justice done to a mass murderer? Even bringing up the analogy shows how far down a very dark road of moral equivalence Mark has already traveled.

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