Cover image for The killing state : capital punishment in law, politics, and culture
The killing state : capital punishment in law, politics, and culture
Sarat, Austin.
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xi, 263 pages ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1540 Lexile.
Added Author:
Format :


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KF9227.C2 K56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
KF9227.C2 K56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Over 7,000 people have been legally executed in the United States this century, and over 3,000 men and women now sit on death rows across the country awaiting the same fate. Since the Supreme Court temporarily halted capital punishment in 1972, the death penalty has returned with a vengeance.Today there appears to be a widespread public consensus in favor of capital punishment and considerable political momentum to ensure that those sentenced to death are actually executed. Yet the death penalty remains troubling and controversial for many people. The Killing State: Capital Punishmentin Law, Politics, and Culture explores what it means when the state kills and what it means for citizens to live in a killing state, helping us understand why America clings tenaciously to a punishment that has been abandoned by every other industrialized democracy.Edited by a leading figure in socio-legal studies, this book brings together the work of ten scholars, including recognized experts on the death penalty and noted scholars writing about it for the first time. Focused more on theory than on advocacy, these bracing essays open up new questions forscholars and citizens: What is the relationship of the death penalty to the maintenance of political sovereignty? In what ways does the death penalty resemble and enable other forms of law's violence? How is capital punishment portrayed in popular culture? How does capital punishment express the newpolitics of crime, organize positions in the "culture war," and affect the structure of American values? This book is a timely examination of a vitally important topic: the impact of state killing on our law, our politics, and our cultural life.

Author Notes

Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College. He has written and edited many books and articles on the theory and practice of law, and was recently elected President of the Law and Society Association.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Larger libraries serving patrons interested in capital punishment and other legal issues will want to consider this collection of critiques of "the killing state": essays that focus on capital punishment's effect on democracy, the legal system, and U.S. culture. Editor Sarat, an Amherst College professor of jurisprudence and political science, is president of the Law and Society Association; most other contributors are professors of law, philosophy, political science, or anthropology, from nearly a dozen respected universities. Essays on democracy and the death penalty place the ultimate punishment in historical and international perspective. Those on capital punishment's impact on legal values stress the conflict between the law's theoretical openness to additional evidence and execution's irreversibility. The book's last section sees capital punishment as a symbol in our current cultural wars "over the integrity and stability of ideas of free will and responsibility," and then considers the unarticulated assumptions about the death penalty and the crimes it punishes, in films such as Dead Man Walking and Last Dance. --Mary Carroll

Choice Review

The essays in this collection discuss the meaning of execution in American law and culture. The four essays in section 1 focus on the politics of state killing. Anne Norton's essay, for example, discusses the historical and symbolic meaning of the death penalty from the perspective of political power. Hugo Adam Bedau examines social norms such as the "right to life" and "cruel and unusual punishment." He also explains the position of the retributivists and demonstrates some weaknesses in that position. Julie Taylor moves the discussion to Argentina. The reality of a "police state" where people disappear provides a challenging context to explore the impact "a killing state" can have on the social existence of violence. Jonathan Simon and Christina Spaulding's review of aggravating factors that appear to make the death penalty constitutionally legitimate is extremely well done. The three outstanding essays in section 2 focus on the meaning and impact of the death penalty in terms of constitutional and legal values. The remaining three essays look at the meaning of the death penalty in relation to democratic pluralism, the nature of "responsibility," and culture as represented in two recent movies about the death penalty, Last Dance and Dead Man Walking. This collection belongs in all libraries. M. A. Foley Marywood University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Contributorsp. xi
Capital Punishment as a Legal, Political, and Cultural Fact: an Introductionp. 3
I The Politics of State Killingp. 25
1 After the Terror: Mortality, Equality, Fraternityp. 27
2 Abolishing the Death Penalty Even for the Worst Murderersp. 40
Notesp. 53
3 A Juridical Frankenstein, or Death in the Hands of the Statep. 60
Notesp. 77
4 Tokens of Our Esteem: Aggravating Factors in the Era of Deregulated Death Penaltiesp. 81
Notesp. 110
II Captical Punishment and Legal Valuesp. 115
5 Always More to Do"""": Capital Punishment and the (de)composition of Lawp. 117
6 The Executioner's Dissonant Song: on Capital Punishment and American Legal Valuesp. 137
Notesp. 147
7 Selling a Quick Fix for Boot Hill: The Myth of Justice Delayed in Death Casesp. 148
Notesp. 165
III The Death Penalty and the Culture of Responsibilityp. 185
8 The Will, Capital Punishment, and Cultural Warp. 187
9 Beyond Intention: a Critique of the """"Normal"""" Criminal Agency, Responsibility, and Punishment in American Death Penalty Jurisprudencep. 206
Notesp. 221
10 The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment: Responsibility and Representation in Dead Man Walking and Last Dancep. 226
Notesp. 248
Indexp. 257