August 13, 2016

Source: Bigstock

There is a lot of pecksniffery in all of this. I am not myself in favor of the death penalty because to put to death the innocent”€”as every jurisdiction, no matter how scrupulous it has tried to be, has done when the death penalty was a possible punishment”€”is an abominable thing, so abominable that no utilitarian argument about its deterrent effect could compensate for it. Moreover, the death penalty in a country in which it is possible at a stroke to dismiss a large proportion of the judiciary is not likely to be imposed by that country with much scrupulosity. People will be done to death for political reasons.

Still, it is worth remembering that the death penalty was abolished in France only in 1981, a quarter of a century after the creation of the EEC, and hardly an aeon ago, let alone an aeon before Turkey abolished it. For twenty-five years the European community did not find the death penalty in France so contrary to its principles that it considered expelling France. It is right that France abolished the death penalty (though the decision was an undemocratic one, insofar as the majority of the population was against it), but it is wrong that we should forget our own history. The man under whose presidency it was abolished, François Mitterrand, was almost certainly the practicing European politician under whose aegis (in the 1950s) the most executions were carried out. In other words, no man in Europe had, as Minister of Justice, overseen and approved as many executions as Mitterrand. Some people credit him with a desire to atone for his previous activity as executioner-in-chief of the French Republic, but I think this is to do him an injustice. As a convinced and brilliant Machiavellian, he didn”€™t have a conscience, he had a political compass that pointed in the way he should go to further his career. This explains why he was both a Vichyite and a worker for the resistance, both an advocate of French Algeria and an ardent Third Worldist, both an executioner and an abolitionist of the death penalty. Conscience had nothing to do with it: He was the modern Talleyrand.

Of course, detecting the hypocrisy of others is easier (and better fun) than being good oneself. That is why Mr. Erdogan can detect our failings without seeing his own.


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