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Emile Durkheim was a French sociologist whose works have been greatly appreciated in Sociological sciences as revolutionary. He came up with the Sociological Theory which he tries to look at the society as a possible influence in the lives that people live. He posits that sociology is an autonomous science through his identification of social facts that separates him from many other sociologists. Social facts are the day to day activities and practices that human beings undergo which is general to a given society (Durkheim & Emirbayer, 2003).
Tenets of Sociological Theories according to Durkheim
Durkheim is of the opinion that in order to understand a society and the way human beings behave, it is first of all essential to fully understand the role that the environment or social set up has on people’s way of life. He goes ahead to state that at the end of the day, social facts will dictate the actions of individuals that make up a society.
Much as the individual has a role to play in ensuring that his actions are consistent with the set norms in a given society, he has no control over whatever actions he can take since it is by and large determined by an external factor superior to him. In this regard, Durkheim identifies the various factors that make up a society. Laws and regulations, religion, education and family norms are some of the major factors that form a society. He asserts that social factors are not necessarily physical but they can be immaterial as well and this includes sentiments and meanings (Durkheim & Emirbayer, 2003).
In as much as the latter can not be felt, they have innate power in influencing an individual’s life hence having what Durkheim refers to as “facticity”- from the word fact. He is of the opinion that even the most “subjective” phenomena such as love, suicide or freedom are to him objective social facts, that an individual does not commit say suicide because he wants to but rather because suicide is a social fact which may be influenced by laws. He states that whether or not the individual will leave the society does not change the fact that suicide will still be there since it is a social factor. A person’s choice to commit suicide is wholly independent of his choice since the social factor has more coercive power than his or her personal choices. In this regard therefore, executions can be looked at as mere social factors incapable of being eliminated in the society.
State sponsored executions
Execution according to criminological theories is a capital punishment that offenders get whenever the law will find it prudent to use on the individual (Bohm, 2003). Durkheim argues that the fact that the laws exist in a society to correct criminal offences shows that there is indeed a collective responsibility in as a far morality and social cohesion is concerned. He states that the more a society learns the basic principle behind punishment, the more passionate they will be in deciding the form of punishment to be used on given cases. He goes ahead and posits that it is only in primitive societies where punishment will be executed for the sake of punishing and not as a means of controlling individual’s behavior in the society.
In light of this statement therefore, state sponsored executions are justified by the fact that law is a social factor that influences the lives of people. If the law provides for executions as a form of punishment, it goes without saying that it is a society’s collective decision to execute people since they make the laws through accepting such laws. Individuals have no choice over the state and the laws hence confirming Durkheim’s theory on the role of the society in determining the way people live.
Law and religion exist as different social facts in a given society, whatever is right in one society may be unlawful or evil in another society yet it is a universally accepted fact that killing is not acceptable as a form of punishment whatever the offence. Executions are indeed justified in the sense that it may be looked at as vengeance for a specific offence that a person committed (Durkheim & Emirbayer, 2003). In his defense, Durkheim is of the opinion that as long as the punishment is aimed at destroying a menace and save the society from destructive behaviours, then there is offence in promoting execution as a form of punishment. He asserts that punishment contains elements of vengeance and as such, it is a social fact in that vengeance is part of the human life. When someone is executed, it is not because that is the right punishment that the individual deserves but rather a reaction to emotions and social facts such as law. That when someone murders, the only equivalent form of punishment that he or she should get is execution since it is proportional to the offence that the victim committed.
In my opinion therefore, execution is chosen as a form of retaliation and not as a way of ensuring that there is social cohesion. If individuals in a society will approve of executions, then it is apparent that they will be reacting to emotions connected to the offence that an individual committed and not as the best way of correcting offenders.
Whereas execution is legal in law, it is very illegal according to religion. This implies that there is disconnect between the two institutions that are the core of the society. From Durkheim’s perspective, execution is a practice that should be there and fully supported since it is a society’s reaction to a crime and not a judge’s decision. This is because when the criminal was attacking the individual, he was by and large attacking the society on whose hands rest the powers to determine the form of punishment that an offender should get. He does not believe in the fact that religion should play an important role in procuring punishment.
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According to him, God is a scientific existence not present in a society and not a social factor. He is of the idea that even before the coming of the church, there were rules on morality that were not dependent on the supremacy of a higher being. That a society existed primarily on its own basic functions and laws. He challenges those who believe in religion as way of punishing criminals to think of a society as a complex of people with different beliefs only brought together by the prevalent social factors.
Karl Marx on state sponsored executions
According to Marx, another sociological theorist, capital punishment is a barbarous act that should not be entertained whatsoever. He is of the opinion that it deprives human beings the right to life and an irony in a society that boasts of civilization. Not only does a criminal have the free will to determine the kind of punishment that he should be accorded, but Marx is of the opinion that the state should not take away this privilege in the name of “society’s collective responsibility” (Marx, 1858).
He is of the opinion that execution is not a proper way of punishing criminals because more often than not it leads to more deaths. He argues that the act is brutalizing to the members of the criminal’s family and friends, in the event that they witness the execution of their family member, it is apparent that they are most likely going to be traumatized and at the end of it all, there may be more deaths (Bohm, 2008) . He observed this after following closely various cases that involved public executions. In a case where a lunatic in Sheffield took away his life after discussing with other lunatics in respect of the execution of Barbour, Marx points out that it is a traumatizing thing to bear. He is of the opinion that it is the duty of the state to protect the lives of its citizens to the latter; it is therefore ironical that the same state is in the forefront in support of public executions.
According to a publication in “New York Daily Tribune”, it is evident that there is indeed a close relationship between execution and suicide (Marx, 1858). In this article, it was reported that 43 days after witnessing an execution, there were reported cases of people who had committed suicide as a result. Marx is of the opinion that it is not justifiable to treat a criminal with such inhumanity especially when it comes from a government that is supposed to protect its citizens. Marx bitterly criticizes state sponsored executions stating that it is not only brutal but a shame to a civilized society. In his theory, the law must use deterrence and not retribution as a way of fighting crimes.
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Punishment is supposed to bring about societal change and not brutality to human beings. An in-depth analysis of Durkheim’s theory is such that through public executions, criminals will have been accorded justice in as far as social responsibility is concerned. However, as observed by Marxists, capital punishment through state sponsored executions is a clear indication that the state has failed in its duty to protect the lives of its citizens. Whereas Durkheim looks at execution as a normal punishment for criminal offenders, it is apparent that it bothers Marx how you can pay a wrong with another wrong (Bohm, 2008). Marx is against an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth stating that criminals are influenced by lack of equality in the society. This he states is the government’s duty to ensure that there is equality among its citizens so as to reduce cases of crime. I n my humble opinion therefore, execution is a brutal way of punishing offenders regardless of the crime that one has committed. Basing on the consequences that a public execution may have on close relatives and friends, it is my submission that there must be other ways of punishing capital offenders other than through capital punishment.