In deeply original essays, the authors build on the seminal work of Robert Cover--one of the few legal scholars ever to consider the question of law and violence. In striving to situate his insights within current political, social, economic, and cultural contexts, they contemplate diverse and interrelated subjects surrounding the theme of law and violence. Among these are the purpose of law as punishment, the increasing number of executions in the United States, prison violence, racial disparity in sentencing, and the meaning of torture. The result is a remarkable volume that stimulates us to reconsider connections that we too often leave unexplored. In addition to the editor, the contributors are Marianne Constable, Peter Fitzpatrick, Thomas R. Kearns, Peter Rush, Jonathan Simon, Shaun McVeigh, and Alison Young.
Sarat unflinchingly exposes us to the realities of state killing. He examines its foundations in ideas about revenge and retribution. He takes us inside the courtroom of a capital trial, interviews jurors and lawyers who make decisions about life and death, and assesses the arguments swirling around Timothy McVeigh and his trial for the bombing in Oklahoma City. Aided by a series of unsettling color photographs, he traces Americans' evolving quest for new methods of execution, and explores the place of capital punishment in popular culture by examining such films as Dead Man Walking, The Last Dance, and The Green Mile.
Sarat argues that state executions, once used by monarchs as symbolic displays of power, gained acceptance among Americans as a sign of the people's sovereignty. Yet today when the state kills, it does so in a bureaucratic procedure hidden from view and for which no one in particular takes responsibility. He uncovers the forces that sustain America's killing culture, including overheated political rhetoric, racial prejudice, and the desire for a world without moral ambiguity. Capital punishment, Sarat shows, ultimately leaves Americans more divided, hostile, indifferent to life's complexities, and much further from solving the nation's ills. In short, it leaves us with an impoverished democracy.
The book's powerful and sobering conclusions point to a new abolitionist politics, in which capital punishment should be banned not only on ethical grounds but also for what it does to Americans and what we cherish.