The death penalty, so ancient and undeniably present, is still considered by some as the just punishment for heinous crimes.This is why culturally and socially diverse countries recognize and implement the death penalty in different ways, in the name of a need for general prevention, deterrence, with a public display, which reminds us in some ways of the execution of Robert François Damiens, which should have led the people to not follow his example.
In Europe the only country to practice it is Belarus, with a use that’s shrouded in secrecy; in Asia it’s widespread; in the United States it’s still enforced in some States and even in Africa, where chatting about the abolition of the death penalty is the equivalent of speaking of a minor problem. The death penalty was born with the establishment of society:It’s the proper punishment for those who break the rules of the community. Especially in ancient societies, the biblical law called for the death penalty for premeditated murder, the kidnapping or sale of people, the crime of witchcraft, human sacrifices, adultery and idolatry. In the transition from the customary norms of the right to written codifications, the death penalty was included in all codes of ancient societies. The death penalty was provided for in the polis of ancient Greece, but in Athens it was recognized as not merely a vindictive function, but also educational for the community. Even in ancient Rome the public criminal law provided for the death penalty for high treason and sacrilegious acts. And right besides this is a private criminal law that leaves space to forms of private revenge for certain types of offenses against individuals. During the principality and the empire, the use of the death penalty increases, especially in persecutory functions against the spread of the Christian religion. The Middle Ages is characterized in Europe with the heightened power of the Church. Christianity presents ambiguity about the death penalty. If the Christian empire exerts a relatively moderate action against the abuse of torture, on the other hand, the Constantine Church expresses itself in favor of the use of the death penalty in the name of fighting against heresies.This position influences the period of reorganization of medieval society.
The Renaissance era sees a progressive secularization of the state. The modern conception of natural and positive rights, which takes precedence over those of the divine right, once again sheds a different light on the issue of penalty, and as such the death penalty. The legitimacy of the death penalty is reinforced for reasons that are mainly utilitarian (to protect and safeguard civil harmony); but on the other hand the first dissenting voices start speaking up and as such the debate around the subject commences.
The real turning point came about in 1764 with the publication of the book by Cesare Beccaria, "Crimes and Punishment", which argued the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a means of crime prevention while highlighting the possible miscarriage of justice.
Beccaria affirms that if the intention of the penalty is to "prevent the offender from doing any further damage and dismiss others from doing so as well", then it is preferable to impose less cruel penalties, albeit intense and prolonged over time. Beccaria’s thesis gives life to a larger philosophical debate that will also involve Kant and Hegel who will argue the admissibility of the death penalty, backing it essentially on the basis of remuneration. But we should also bear in mind one of the first important political turns: in 1765, Leopold I abolishes the death penalty from the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Throughout the entire nineteenth century there is a constant fiery debate that is enriched by the stance of the abolitionists with their socialistic mindset and that of the individualist-anarchist.
Even to this day the debate is cyclically sparked, particularly in conjunction with heinous crimes and key intentions during electoral campaigns. In this debate we shouldn’t however forget that everything in this world is a work of man, creating and destroying each and every day, nevertheless there is one thing in this world that is not a work of man: man itself.
It’s important that we make a fundamental choice "between a personal concept of the inviolability of human life and the utilitarian conception of exploitation, including that of human life for the purpose of criminal policy" (Mantovani V.).
This is, in fact, a matter of great interest, as is demonstrated by the proliferation of considerations on the subject which is the reason for which this paper deals with the death penalty in a social justice perspective, in which the analysis of its application internationally and the different means of execution is inscribed with the intent to read and ponder on the death penalty through the tools that produce it.