Wednesday, December 17, 2003

isn't it nice that you're so smart? 

Interesting article from The New Republic on the death penalty in Europe:
Differences between European parliamentary government and the American separation-of-powers system also play a role. Parliamentary government may provide voters with more ideological variety, but it is much more resistant to political upstarts, outsiders, and the single-issue politics on which the death penalty thrives. In parliamentary systems, people tend to vote for parties, not individuals; and party committees choose which candidates stand for election. As a result, parties are less influenced by the odd new impulses that now and again bubble up from the electorate. In countries like Britain and France, so long as elite opinion remains sufficiently united (which, in the case of the death penalty, it has), public support cannot easily translate into legislative action. Since American candidates are largely independent and self-selected, they serve as a much more direct conduit between raw public opinion and actual political action.

Basically, then, Europe doesn't have the death penalty because its political systems are less democratic, or at least more insulated from populist impulses, than the U.S. government. And elites know it. Referring to France, a recent article in the UNESCO Courier noted that "action by courageous political leaders has been needed to overcome local public opinion that has remained mostly in favour of the death penalty." When a 1997 poll showed that 49 percent of Swedes wanted the death penalty reinstated, the country's justice minister told a reporter: "They don't really want the death penalty; they are objecting to the increasing violence. I see this as a call to politicians and the justice system to do more."
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