The Penalty Of Death Essay

1502 words - 7 pages

H. L. Mencken’s
“The Penalty of Death”

Angelo Bolden
A Mencken Cornucopia by Gibbons Burke
Death Penalty – Internet Articles (Google)
Capital Punishment – Internet Articles (Google)
Sociology 100 - Wayne County Community College Text

H. L. Mencken is an author and critic who write about societies need for katharsis. First, Mencken uses logical symbolism to justify the validity of capital punishment. Secondly, Mencken presents social policy in a manner that advocates contrary to the constitution and religious beliefs. Finally, Mencken uses his false sense of our governments and judicial systems inadequacies to support his form of efficient ...view middle of the document...

Mencken says, “Their fundamental error consists in assuming that the whole aim of punishing criminals is to deter other (potential) criminals” (3). Mencken debates that the abolitionists conclude that the primary focus of the death penalty is deterrence. In contrast, Mencken thinks there are several other aims of punishment and one, which is much more important. Mencken composed “Commonly, it is described as revenge, but revenge is really not the word for it. I borrow a better term from the late Aristotle: katharsis. (3)”. Mencken describes katharis as “means a salubrious discharge of emotions, a healthy letting off of steam. Mencken then compares the emotional discharge of an individual seeking vengeance to that of a kid playing a cruel joke on their teacher. Mencken references both acts as katharsis. Mencken wants you to see the similarities in the acts; that really, does not exist. Seeking someone’s life versus placing


a thumbtack in a teacher’s chair is based on different motives. Mencken is saying that both acts are a healthy release of stress. In contrast, the intentions are not the same and are in fact: worlds apart. Seeking someone’s life versus placing a thumbtack in a teacher’s chair is based on different motives. Mencken writes “What I contend is that one of the prime objects of all judicial punishments is to afford the same grateful relief (a) to the immediate victims of the criminal punished, and (b) to the general body of moral and timorous men. (3)”. What Mencken is really advocating is dictatorship where members of society have no constitutional rights to a fair trial or an appeal process.
Secondly, Mencken utilizes rhetorical devices to support his argument for katharsis. Mencken writes, “What they want is the peace of mind that goes with the feeling that accounts are squared (4)” and “Until they get that satisfaction they are in a state of emotional tension, and hence unhappy (4)”. Mencken wants to convince you that victims of crimes are incapable of rational thinking and consumed with the need for revenge, bypassing the grieving process. Mencken says, “Simply argue that it is almost universal among human beings (4)”. Mencken places all members of society in this classification of needing instant gratification and acting on impulse without regarding the consequences of their action. Mencken has a total disregard for the laws and customs that form society and plays on an individual’s emotional state (anger) to justify it. Menken writes, “But when the injury is serious, Christianity is adjourned, and even saints reach for their sidearm’s (4)”. Again, Mencken disregards individual rights to practice spiritual principles. He affirms if the crime is severe enough; even the most devout Christians will set aside their belief in Jesus Christ, which they firmly believe to be sacred and out of rage seek revenge. Mencken believes that religion, generally speaking, has been curses to...

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