American Oresteia: Herbert Wechsler, the Model Penal Code, and the Uses of Revenge

47 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2009 Last revised: 13 Sep 2010

See all articles by Anders Walker

Anders Walker

Saint Louis University - School of Law


The American Law Institute recently revised the Model Penal Code's sentencing provisions, calling for a renewed commitment to proportionality based on the gravity of offenses, the "blameworthiness" of offenders, and the "harms done to crime victims." Already, detractors have criticized this move, arguing that it replaces the Code's original commitment to rehabilitation with a more punitive attention to retribution. Yet, missing from such calumny is an awareness of retribution's subtle yet significant role in both the drafting and enactment of the first Model Penal Code (MPC). This article recovers that role by focusing on the retributive views of its first Reporter, Columbia Law Professor Herbert Wechsler. Though a dedicated utilitarian, Wechsler became increasingly aware of retribution's value to sentencing over the course of his career, using that awareness to guide both the development and adoption of the MPC. Recovering his view helps us to contextualize and perhaps even better appreciate the current revision's emphasis on proportionality.

Keywords: herbert wechsler, criminal law, model penal code, retribution, sentencing, death penalty, capital punishment, nuremberg

Suggested Citation

Walker, Anders, American Oresteia: Herbert Wechsler, the Model Penal Code, and the Uses of Revenge. Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2009, p. 1018, 2009, Saint Louis U. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-02, Available at SSRN:

Anders Walker (Contact Author)

Saint Louis University - School of Law ( email )

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St. Louis, MO 63101
United States

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