Ron Paul is an American politician who perhaps is not well known, or as well known as he ought to be, on this side of the pond. Recently he wrote this column on the abolition of the death penalty. It is cogent, well argued and passionate, and also has the merit, from my point of view, of being completely right. I do urge you to read it in its entirety.
What makes this interesting is that Mr Paul is a rightwing Republican, therefore not the sort of person you would expect to take up an anti-death penalty position. That he is doing so, and that he is not the only one, is emblematic of an important shift in American opinion on this matter. This trend has been picked up by Channel 4 News, which has an interesting and informative analysis here.
It is good to see, too, how Mr Paul’s approach dovetails with several other positions he holds. He is 100 per cent pro-life, and this pro-life stance extends to those on death row. This is surely not just coherent, but also right: it is true that he focuses on the practical shortcomings of any execution policy, and again, these short-comings certainly should give all thinking people pause. But these practical considerations also apply to abortion. Our abortion law, in Britain, was designed to ‘work’ in specific and restricted instances. Instead it opened the floodgates to abortion on demand, something that most abortion-supporters choose not to confront.
There is another strand to Mr Paul’s thinking, and that is his implied critique of the role of the state. Do we want big government running every aspect of our lives? Of course not: government power must be held in check. Well then, giving government, or at least the judicial arm of it, the right over life and death seems one power too many – especially given government’s poor record at getting things right.
Mr Paul may well seem a maverick libertarian to some, but his fundamental point about reining in the excesses of government is one I find attractive. The less government we have, the more room there should be for personal responsibility. On a separate topic, but surely related one, a Muslim authority has spoken out about the need to acknowledge personal responsibility. When an adult goes off to join ISIS, one should not blame government or the police or shadowy forces on the internet. They took that decision, and they are responsible for it. (Yes, I know no decision is ever taken in isolation, but the fact remains, we are answerable for our actions.) Quite a few others have taken the same line: you can read Douglas Murray in the Spectator, here , in a polemical take on the question; and Frank Furedi, the sociologist, saying more or less the same thing, here.
All of these people may hold very different views on abortion, though perhaps not on the death penalty: but the fact remains, one of the great moral and political questions of our time is the growing role of the state and the corresponding withering away of the role of the individual. We are all for selfish individualism, it seems, when it suits us, but less keen on individual responsibility.