I’ve been ruminating a little about these “Human Rights Commissions” that I wrote of yesterday. One of the peculiarities of the Levant case — and perhaps others as well — is that the complainant is formally seeking, among other things, an apology from the person who offended him. Presumably he wants this apology to be sincere; he wants Levant to have a change of heart. It reminds me of another Canadian case: Robert Latimer, who murdered his disabled twelve-year old daughter Tracy in a “mercy-killing”, was recently denied early parole, not because of the seriousness of his crime, but because he would not express remorse for his action. Both of these cases have something in common: the system is seeking to coerce, with the authority and force of the state, an interior conversion in the wrong-doer. The legal and punitive process appears to be not so much about punishment as it is about therapy.
A classic statement of opposition to this view of judicial process is C.S. Lewis’ essay “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”:
According to the Humanitarian theory, to punish a man because he deserves it, and as much as he deserves, is mere revenge, and, therefore, barbarous and immoral. It is maintained that the only legitimate motives for punishing are the desire to deter others by example or to mend the criminal.
The problem, of course, is that deterrence and therapy have no intrinsic connection to justice. We must not forget that if the aim is to reform, to change the heart, to bring to repentance, then the instruments of the state are blunt instruments. They can succeed only by breaking the spirit, and that is a tyrant’s game.
The whole essay is worth reading.