Every Day More Wicked: Reflections on Culture, Politics, and Punishment by Death
Journal of Law & Politics, 2006
30 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2006
As part of a larger scholarly effort to rethink and reformulate the terms of our national capital punishment debate by examining the problems for constitutional form and structure that attend the contemporary death penalty dialogue, this Essay confronts cultural and media institutions as factors affecting capital punishment policy and politics. Although these institutions play a vital mediating role in a representative democracy, they also possess extraordinary power - of which they often today take advantage - to influence public perception of and attitudes toward capital punishment. But this often is accomplished through inaccurate and/or incomplete depictions of, and commentary on, the death penalty, which undermines the public's capacity for intelligent self-government on a morally and politically complex issue of law and policy. This reinforces the need for robust representative institutions in order to counter the danger that cultural and media institutions (which are immediately accessible and alluringly democratic) will become dominant mediating forces on policy questions. Representative institutions of government should be the primary mediums for filtering our public passion, but they can do so safely and competently only by retaining essential distance from the people and by refining and enlarging, rather than appeasing, the public view. Modern representative institutions have, however, eschewed this deliberative role, thus enhancing the dangers posed by popular culture and the media that the capital punishment debate exemplifies. This Essay therefore urges a return to formal institutional arrangements that account for the problems of democratic rule.
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