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by Peter Moskos

July 28, 2011

"Justice? Vengeance? You Need Both"

Thoughtful piece by Thane Rosenbaum in today's New York Times:
It’s difficult to have honest conversations about revenge. Seeing someone receive his just deserts often feels righteous and richly deserved, and yet society regards vengeance as primitive and barbaric. Governments warn citizens not to take justice into their own hands, insisting that the state alone has the duty and right to punish wrongdoers — pursuant to the social contract.

...statements of unvarnished revenge make many uncomfortable. But how different is revenge from justice, really? Every legal system, however dispassionate and procedural, must still pass the gut test of seeming morally just; and revenge must always be just and proportionate.


Dana King said...

This puts me in mind of a passage from Adrian McKinty's excellent book, FIFTY GRAND:

For all of recorded history and for the million years before that humans have taken vengeance into their own hands. A simple code. Kill one of ours, we’ll kill one of yours. The simplest code there is. Only in the last century or two have people given this job to outsiders. To police, lawyers, courts. And no one really buys into that 100 percent... Cops and the rule of law are a blip in deep time.
No, we don’t completely believe in them and some part of us remembers revenge isn’t just a right—it’s a sacred obligation.

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

Vengeance is appropriate to criminal law, as long as it is not privatized, either in act or measure. A victim's notion of appropriate revenge is generally going to be far greater than anybody else's. Blood feuds, anyone?

Rosenbaum, I thought, was a bit careless with this distinction. And McKinty is way off. Most of the legal systems that permit private vengeance also permit blood-money.

PCM said...

Agreed: one role of the state is to keep the victim from getting his hands on the criminal.

Blood feuds are best avoided.

But what about blood-money? It seems like something we should be against, but for the life of me I can't figure out what is wrong with the concept.

Hope said...

I really don't like the international coverage of the utøya massacre, so much of it has been about norways justice system, while almost no coverage at all has been given to it in Norway. Many norwegians I have talked to have expressed a fear that the politicians will harshen the laws. I personally think that the political enviroment in Norway is such that any significant harshening of the punishments is unfeasable.

Most norwegians are proud of the justicesystem we have, and are not prepeared to change it. norway has one of the worlds smallest ricidivism rates.

I also have to add that there is possibilites in the norwegian system to keep ABB inside until he dies, he can get 21 years + 5x 5 years, and after that he can get into an open prison for the rest of his life.

PCM said...

Thanks for the comment, Hope.