Lesson 60 On Moral Courage 论道德勇气
Although truth and justice1 may be the most powerful impulses to show moral courage, there are others. Compassion is one of these. 2Tentatively it can be suggested that this is the main influence upon those who urge the abolition of capital punishment. 3It is recognition of compassion's part that leads the upholders of capital punishment to accuse the abolitionists of sentimentality in being more sorry for the murderer than for his victim. 4This is nonsense but with it some organs of the popular Press played upon the emotions of their readers so successfully that many candidates for Parliament
were afraid to support abolition for fear of losing votes and the result was the muddle-headed Homicide Act of 1957 which made murder with robbery a capital crime and allowed the poisoner to escape the gallows. 5That illogical qualification shows how flimsy is the argument that capital punishment is a deterrent to murder. 6The poisoner always works on a calculated plan of action and therefore is able to consider whether or not his taking another's life is worth the risk of his own; the violent thief is usually at the mercy of an instant emotion. 7The only arguable plea for capital punishment is the right of society to retribution in this world with the prospect of life in another, but since what used to seem to the great majority of civilized humanity the assurance of another life beyond the grave has come to seem to more and more people less certain, a feeling for the value of human life has become deeper and more widespread. This may seem a paradoxical claim to make at
a time when mankind is so much preoccupied with weapons of destruction.8Nevertheless, it is a claim that can be sustained and if compassion animates those who urge the abolition of the death penalty it is not a sentimental compassion for the mental agony inflicted upon a condemned man but a dread of destroying the miracle of life.
When in the eighteenth century offences against the law that today would no earn a month in prison were punished with the death penalty, the severity of the penal code had no serious effect on the prevalence of crime. 10When it made no difference to the fate of a highwayman whether he had killed his victim or merely robbed him of a few pieces of silver, there were no more murders then than there were when men like Sir Fraricis Burdett succeeded in lightening the excessive severity of
the penal laws. 11In those days the sacredness of life on earth was not greatly regarded because a life in the world to come was taken for granted except by a comparatively small minotity of philosophers.
Nor was the long-drawn ordeal of the condemned cell inflicted either upon the condemned man or his gaolers once upon a time. Those who believe in capital punishment may have arguments for its retention, 13but surely no reasonable argument can be found for retention of the sickening mumbo-jumbo that accompanies it from the moment that the judge dons the black cap with what looks like a pen-wiper balanced on the top of his wig, to the reading of the burial service over the condemned man before he is dead. Moreover, it was more merciful to launch the condemned man into eternity twenty-four hours after he was sentenced than to keep him shivering on the brink of that dread gulf for nearly three weeks. 14Hanging is an atrociously archaic way of killing a human being and the self-satisfied modernity of the electric chair is just as atrocious. The administration of a strong sleeping draught to the condemned man every night from which one night he does hot awake, seems a more civilized alternative to our present barbarous procedure, if capital punishment through the influence of backward minds be retained.