On Monday, Christmas Eve, 62 year-old William Spengler set fire to his home in upstate New York. When four firefighters arrived, he rained down a storm of bullets, killing two of them. He also shot at the police before taking his own life.
That Spengler is now numbered among the dead is cause for rejoicing. However, that his death came at his own hands, and that it didn’t happen years ago, proves that justice was denied her due.
You see, Spengler spent 17 years in prison for having beaten to death his own grandmother back in 1980.
Evil there will always be, but if, as Americans insist, ours is a nation of laws, there can be no conceivable justification for the fact that Spengler continued to enjoy oxygen for one minute, let alone three decades, after he was convicted of this horrific murder. It is nothing short of a scandal that he was released from prison after having served but a 17 year sentence.
As the eighteenth century philosopher Immanuel Kant said, who ever “has committed murder, must die.”
All of the associates of a civil association are related to one another in terms of laws. Unlike decrees, commands, and orders, laws do not tell us what to do. Rather, they merely tell us how we must do whatever it is we choose to do. Laws are the terms of self-governance, that which distinguishes persons from beasts, free agents from slaves and beasts.
Justice is the one and only virtue of a civil association. It is the blood that courses through its veins. Injustice—outlawry—is toxic to it.
Every crime is an injection of poison into the bloodstream of civil association, an assault against each and every associate of whom the criminal declares himself an enemy. Thus, every criminal must be punished to the fullest extent of the law, as we say.
For the actions of the Spenglers of the world, though—the monsters among us—death is the only fitting response.
By way of executing murderers and the chronically violent, the members of civil association resoundingly, unmistakably, affirm their respect, indeed, their reverence, for the only thread that unites them into one body: the law.
Mere imprisonment of heinous and pathological violators of the laws, even if it is supposed to be for life, is unjust. As long as the murderer or the torturer remains alive, far from being vanquished from the association that he threatened, he now becomes its ward: if he lives 100 years or more, every moment of his existence will be courtesy of the associates that now have to subsidize him.
Justice screams for the death penalty, for the most egregious criminals deserve it and their victims—every law-abiding citizen—deserve that they should be subjected to it.
Murderers (and, I would add, torturers and other assortments of pathologically violent criminal offenders) must die.
Although every action taken by the government of a civil association in addressing crime (or anything else) should be motivated by the desire to do justice, it is both possible and desirable that our desire for justice be supplemented by our compassion for those directly harmed by predators.
Compassion and justice, ideally, form a seamless whole. They need not be in conflict with one another. In fact, more frequently than not, we see that our compassion extends most readily to those who have been denied justice.
Personally, my heart aches for those who have been ravaged by the savage. I needn’t lose my three year-old son, wife, mother, or close friend to a murderous thug in order to empathize—genuinely, deeply, empathize—with those who have lost their loved ones. And I needn’t go through any of this personally in order to feel to the depths of my soul the injustice of it all.
It pains me to know that our prisons are jammed pack with vermin who haven’t the slightest regard for human life. Such is my compassion for those who have been reduced to prey, such is my thirst for righteousness, that, in the proverbial “New York minute,” I would gladly offer my services, free of charge, in the capacity of the Hangman.
Many will doubtless recoil in shock and disgust at this. But consider:
If I chose to enlist my resources in the service of killing enemy combatants in a war in which my country was engaged, I would be lionized for my patriotism and heroism. There would be hardly a place to which I could travel where I wouldn’t be “thanked for my service.” Film upon film would be made glorifying my sacrifices and exploits.
Yet while some of the men who I would kill may very well be wicked, each would be doing exactly what I would be doing: fighting for the values of his people and his land.
In contrast, the bottom feeders whose lives I would extinguish as Hangman are the worst of the worst criminals. Unlike the Japanese and Germans in WWII, say, or the Vietnamese and the Iraqis in the Vietnam and Iraqi wars, respectively, they are not driven by any commitment to ideals and causes larger than themselves.
They are evil, and they pose a much larger threat to our civil association than any posed by Al Qaeda,Iran, or any other international entity. But while I am just as much motivated by the love of country, by justice and fellow feeling, to volunteer to be a Hangman as others are to become soldiers, I will not elicit any of the respect or admiration of the latter.
If there was true justice in our world, it is the Hangman, not the Soldier, who would receive the thanks and the glory.