The calculation is simple even for a numerically challenged person like me. The Nazi murdered 77 people in cold blood. Now that court-appointed psychiatrists have found him sane, the maximum punishment he can receive is 21 years. Let me see: 21 times 12, that’s 252 months. Divided by 77 – yes, that’s right: the vile taking of each human life rates 3.2 months in prison.
Such a risible punishment makes me agree with Breivik who, sensible for once, said that there are only two possible verdicts in this case: acquittal or death. I know which one I’d vote for. But Norway’s courts don’t have the option of the death penalty. Neither can they put the murderer away for life, unless they do find him insane after all and have him committed indefinitely.
The time Breivik will spend in prison will be most civilised. Norwegian prisons aren’t hellholes like Greek ones, and they don’t force inmates to do hard (or for that matter soft) labour, as they do in Russia. Of course, the demographics of Norwegian prisons are almost exclusively – how shall I put this without offending anyone? – multicultural. Considering how forcefully Breivik has conveyed his views on multiculturalism, he won’t last a week if put into general population. That’s why I’d venture a guess that he won’t be put there: to do so wouldn’t be tolerant, humane, liberal or any such commendable thing. So some logistical accommodation will be found, which won’t be hard since Norwegian prisons are half-empty and there’s plenty of space.
When Breivik is released he’ll be 53, with decades of untroubled life ahead of him. But the lives of his victims’ families will never be untroubled again; they’ll for ever be waking up in the middle of the night, pursued by the nightmarish visions of the well-fed monster grinning as he kills those they loved so much. They’ll never find peace, but neither will they find justice, for three months for murder isn’t justice. It’s mockery. That brings into focus the issue of the death penalty.
Contrary to a widespread misapprehension, rather than denying the natural right to life, the death penalty affirms it. The underlying assumption is that the value of a human life wantonly taken is so great that it can’t be balanced against any term of imprisonment. And of course this issue, just like everything else, is these days politicised. To prove that, ask yourself these questions: Is the death penalty a violation of the right to life? Is abortion? How is it that the proponents of the latter are almost always opponents of the former and vice versa, with this right invoked in each case?
The death penalty was never regarded as cruel and unusual punishment in Scripture, the ultimate moral code of the West. When society was more than just a figure of speech, the moral validity of the death penalty was never in doubt. It was understood that murder sent shock waves throughout the community, and the amplitude of those destructive waves could be attenuated only by a punishment commensurate with the crime. Without it, the agitated community would run the risk of never recovering its peace.
That is one salient point in favour of the death penalty; deterrence is another. While the deterrent value of the death penalty is often, and spuriously, disputed, one thing is beyond doubt: it deters the executed criminal. This is no mean achievement considering that since the death penalty for murder was abolished in Britain in 1965, dozens of people have been murdered by killers released from prison after serving their sentence for another murder.
The issue isn’t entirely clear-cut. One may legitimately argue against the death penalty, citing, for example, the corrupting effect it has on the executioner – or else doubting the right of mortal and therefore fallible men to pass irreversible judgement. Such arguments are noble, but they aren’t modern arguments. For it’s not just the death penalty that modernity is uncomfortable with, but the very idea of punishment.
More and more, one hears arguments that people are all innately good and, if some behave badly, they must be victims of either correctable social injustice or a treatable mental disorder. More and more, one detects a belief that justice is an antiquated notion, and law is only an aspect of the social services.
And so it now is, for it appears to be subject to the same inner logic as welfare, whereby a government activity invariably promotes the very mode of behaviour it is designed to curb. If the single-mother benefit encourages single motherhood and the unemployment benefit promotes unemployment, then by the same token it’s the crime-fighting activity of the modern state that makes the crime rate climb.
Breivik is admitting his acts, but not his guilt. There’s no repentance; he’s proud of what he has done – in his mind he has served his cause well. Those of us who disagree only wish he could be disabused of this notion in the most decisive manner.
For there is such a thing as society, and it has a right to defend itself. But to do so properly a society must have the self-confident power of its convictions, for that’s what it takes to stamp out a threat. But we in the West have no convictions left, and therefore no power. Throughout the West the law of self-preservation has been repealed.