February 20, 2011


Garland, David, Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition (Cambridge, Massachusetts, & London, England Belknap/Harvard U. Press, 2010) ("The aim of this book is not to challenge the legitimacy of American capital punishment or to show the death penalty being botched, unfairly imposed, or unjustly administered. Rather, it is to describe and explain the peculiar institution of American capital punishment in all its complex, controversial detail and to explore it relation to the society that sustains it." Id. at 7. "Capital punishment must make sense in the culture in which it operates. It has to be made intelligible, legitimate, and, if possible, compelling. This task is accomplished through narrative. . . . " Id. at 60. "In the abundant discourse that surrounds today's death penalty, five basic metaphors supply the institution with its dominant meanings. These are the metaphors of rules, of war, of order and balance, of healing, and of the people's will. Each of these metaphors is challenged by critics who propose counternarratives with which to frame the practice. But taken together, these five frameworks structure much of what gets said about the institution in the mainstream media and the political process. If capital punishment is a public text, these are the narratives that give that text its standard meanings." Id. at 61. "If capital punishment's early-modern mode was shaped by the overriding state purpose of maintaining rule, and its modern mode by the rationalized state purpose of governing crime, the late-modern mode is shaped not by any grand state purpose but by the partisan interests of political actors and their constituents. The day-to-day uses of the American death penalty are grounded in the microphysics of local politics--of group relations and status competition, professional rivalry--rather than being connected to the great ends of state. Petty functions have replaced grand ones, private uses have largely replaced pubic ones. In late-modern America, capital punishment has ceased to be an instrument of state rue or penal purpose and has become, instead, a resource for political exchange and cultural consumption. Id. at 311-312.).