Monday, November 30, 2009

1868 Russian reflection on capital punishment

from Dostoevsky's novel, The Idiot, as the main character discusses the French guillotine, remembering having seen a criminal cry as he stepped up to certain death --

"... the chief and worst pain may not be in the bodily suffering but in one's knowing for certain that in an hour, and then in ten minutes, and then in half a minute, and then now, at the very moment, the soul will leave the body and that one will cease to be a man and that that's bound to happen; the worst part of it is that it's certain.
... To kill for murder is a punishment incomparably worse than the crime itself.  Murder by legal sentence is immeasurably more terrible than murder by brigands... Anyone murdered by bringands... must surely hope to escape till the very last minute.  But in the other case all that last hope, which makes dyingten times as easy, is taken away for certain.  There is the sentence, and the whole awful torture lies in the fact that there is certainly no escape, and there is no torture in the world more terrible.
... Who can tell whether human nature is able to bear this without madness?"

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