Sic semper tyrannis


Is it possible to oppose the death penalty and still be in favor of killing tyrants? That is, I think, my own position, but the botched execution of Saddam Hussein, which looked more like savage revenge than impartial justice, made it much harder to hold on to both those views. Still, they seem to me contradictory but not incompatible. I don’t believe that the state should kill people convicted of crimes against other people, even of terrible crimes. Except when it is resisting military attack or helping others who are under attack, the state should not be in the killing business; its first commitment is to the preservation of life. But a tyrant has committed crimes not simply against individuals but against the solidarity of the citizens, against the commonwealth, against the very idea of a political community. And that seems to raise the stakes; a tyrant is not an ordinary criminal.

more from Dissent here.