Ivan Novikov: The logic of life and death

A human life is valuable, because people realize that they are:

- creatures that possess reason, that reasonably use their freedom in their own personal interests;

- creatures that can reasonably restrict the level of their own sufferings;

- creatures that possess a strong instinct of self-protection, but, at the same time, they cannot control the process of their own death.

A human being is a social creature; it can develop and grow only if it is surrounded by other human beings. The supreme well-being of society is the same as for one person: the survival of the society on the whole and its development. That is why personal interests of separate people have a natural restriction; actions that destroy this society are taboo. The social life of a human being implies that society is obliged to efficiently protect itself from attempts on its members’ lives and on the stability of public organization. Therefore, the self-protection of society implies the tough protection of its basis.

In this connection, the death penalty is represented as the strongest punishment possible for the people who destroy the stability and the normal way of development of the society. The fear to be punished with death has always been the strongest instrument that helped to maintain the public order and personal security of society’s members.

It should also be mentioned here that there were certain periods during the history of the mankind when the death penalty was not used for centuries. However, those centuries were the years of celebration of Christian morality, when the personal fear of the judgment of the other world was a lot more scarier for a human being than the fear of death in the real world. Thus, it is the fear of punishment that makes the society stronger and more stable. This is a natural process, because every person has personal freedom and personal interests competing with other people, and, if society fails to restrict the appetites of each separate human being, then such a society will inevitably be destroyed.

The present fashion for the cancellation of the death penalty has its roots in Europe. Humane Europeans call upon the total cancellation of violence and to observe human rights. However, everyone forgot for some reason what the base of that process was. I believe that it is worth remembering.

The Europe of the period of the X-XX centuries was a never-ending string of internal wars, crusades, plagues, peasant rebellions, mass executions, and inquisitions. A place for public executions existed for almost four centuries near the Hyde Park in London; public executions were the most common entertainment for people. There were laws in Great Britain in the beginning of the 19th century that stipulated death penalty for over 200 (!) crimes.

Furthermore, the Europe of the XIV-XVIII centuries is the history of the inquisition and brutal fight against any kind of dissent. The history of the XX century is marked with two wars, the bloodiest wars in the history of the humanity. As a result, we have humane Europeans, who understand the horror of death.

In addition to the horror of death, Europeans came to even more astonishing practical results. The grandest experiment with the genocide of all people that violate public laws resulted in the destruction of the majority of potential criminals, and a totally law-abiding society was formed. That is why Europeans express their sincere surprise about Russia's and non-European countries’ adherence to death penalty. It seems natural for Europeans that there are very few people who roughly break the laws. They cannot understand that noone was destroying their citizens in other countries, trying to form a society that would be free from criminal genes.

The oldest criminal code of Russia did not include a paragraph about death penalty. It only appeared in the XVI century: for cheating, for stealing from a church, for arson, and for stealing a horse. Russian tsars Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great were the only monarchs in the Russian history who applied death penalty without any control, which is why everyone knows them. Therefore, the death penalty in Russia was of unique character. Russian history was absolutely liberal until the year 1917.

Let’s try to imagine that a tsar could institute death penalty in 1900 for calling upon violent subversion of the public order. Do you think that the revolution of the year 1917 could take place in this case? Would 50 million Russian people be destroyed? If a tsar instituted death penalty, then we would now live in a completely different country. Would it be better, or worse, I cannot say, but I think that the influence of the timely institution of death penalty on history is a proved fact.

When is it possible to use death penalty? On which occasions? Is it possible at all? It is very hard to hold back people from committing a crime in the conditions of the present time, when constraining religious motives are very weak, when there is a cult of money, perversion and violence, when there are democratic liberties for everyone. On the other hand, the weakness of the society is about its inability to intimidate people with inevitable and cruel punishment. This is a very good ground for various sects, maniacs, religious fanatics, and degrading people. This situation will inevitably weaken the security of the society and there will appear a serious danger for its stability. In this connection, the institution of death penalty is justified. But society is supposed to carefully control those incidents when death penalty is used. Any innocent person that is executed by the society, will destroy the belief in the fairness of the society itself. Anyone could take that place. So, it would be reasonable to do the following:

- to apply death penalty only pursuant to jury’s decision;

- to use all possible tests to determine the guilt;

- the articles of the Criminal Code that stipulate the use of the death penalty must be separately approved at the national referendum;

- there should be a pardon committee that could apply acts of humanism on separate occasions according to the principle of the public benefit.

Ivan Novikov

Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

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