Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany, 1600-1987
ISBN: 0198219687
EAN13: 9780198219682
Language: English
Pages: 1048
Dimensions: 2.00" H x 10.00" L x 7.00" W
Weight: 4.00 lbs.
Format: Hardcover
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Book Overview
The state has no greater power over its own citizens than that of killing them. This book examines the use of that supreme sanction in Germany, from the seventeenth century to the present. Richard Evans analyses the system of traditional' capital punishments set out in German law, and the ritual practices and cultural readings associated with them by the time of the early modern period. He shows how this system was challenged by Enlightenment theories of punishment and broke down under the impact of secularization and social change in the first half of the nineteenth century. The abolition of the death penalty became a classic liberal case which triumphed, if only momentarily, in the 1848 Revolution. In Germany far more than anywhere else in Europe, capital punishment was identified with anti-liberal, authoritarian concepts of sovereignty. Its definitive reinstatement by Bismarck in the 1880s marked not only the defeat of liberalism but also coincided with the emergence of new, Social Darwinist attitudes towards criminality which gradually changed the terms of debate. The triumph of these attitudes under the Nazis laid the foundations for the massive expansion of capital punishment which took place during Hitler's Third Reich'. After the Second World War, the death penalty was abolished, largely as a result of a chance combination of circumstances, but continued to be used in the Stalinist system of justice in East Germany until its forced abandonment as a result of international pressure exerted in the regime in the 1970s and 1980s. This remarkable and disturbing book casts new light on the history of German attitudes to law, deviance, cruelty, suffering and death, illuminating many aspects of Germany's modern political development. Using sources ranging from folksongs and ballads to the newly released government papers from the former German Democratic Republic, Richard Evans scrutinizes the ideologies behind capital punishment and comments on interpretations of the history of punishment offered by writers such as Foucault and Elias. He has made a formidable contribution not only to scholarship on German history but also to the social theory of punishement, and to the current debate on the death penalty.
Editor Reviews
From the Back Cover The book begins with an account of the system of 'traditional' capital punishments set out in German law, and the ritual practices and cultural readings associated with them in the early modern period. It examines how this system broke down under the impact of secularization and social change in the first half of the nineteenth century. The abolition of the death penalty became a classic liberal cause which triumphed, briefly, in 1848. Its definitive reinstatement by Bismarck in the 1880s coincided with the emergence of new, Social Darwinist attitudes towards criminality whose eventual triumph laid the foundations for the massive expansion of capital punishment which took place during Hitler's 'Third Reich'. After 1945, the death penalty was abolished in the West but continued to be used in East Germany until its abandonment in the 1980s. This compelling study brings a mass of new evidence to bear on the history of German attitudes to law and order, deviance, cruelty, suffering, and death. It tells the stories of the men and women who went to the block, the politicians, philosophers, and officials who debated whether they should be sent there, and the executioners whose job it was to kill them. The book's findings are used to test the argument of Norbert Elias that there was a deficit of the 'civilizing process' in Germany, to examine Michael Foucault's theory of the formation of a 'carceral society' in the modern period, and to cast new light on the social history of death, as pioneered by Phillipe Aries.

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