Friday, November 25, 2016

LaChance, "Executing Freedom: The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment in the United States"

New from the University of Chicago Press: Executing Freedom: The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment in the United States (Nov. 2016), by Daniel LaChance (Emory University). A description from the Press:
In the mid-1990s, as public trust in big government was near an all-time low, 80% of Americans told Gallup that they supported the death penalty. Why did people who didn’t trust government to regulate the economy or provide daily services nonetheless believe that it should have the power to put its citizens to death?

That question is at the heart of Executing Freedom, a powerful, wide-ranging examination of the place of the death penalty in American culture and how it has changed over the years. Drawing on an array of sources, including congressional hearings and campaign speeches, true crime classics like In Cold Blood, and films like Dead Man Walking, Daniel LaChance shows how attitudes toward the death penalty have reflected broader shifts in Americans’ thinking about the relationship between the individual and the state. Emerging from the height of 1970s disillusion, the simplicity and moral power of the death penalty became a potent symbol for many Americans of what government could do—and LaChance argues, fascinatingly, that it’s the very failure of capital punishment to live up to that mythology that could prove its eventual undoing in the United States.
A few blurbs:
Executing Freedom is a truly extraordinary book. It offers a remarkable reading of the resonance of America’s death penalty and some of the deepest strains in our culture, in particular beliefs about negative freedom. In addition, LaChance offers important lessons for abolitionists, warning that the problems in the death penalty system are not simply its assault on human dignity or its arbitrary and flawed administration, but rather its failure to generate the meaning that modern citizens crave. From start to finish, this book provides a sophisticated and persuasive analysis of the cultural life of capital punishment.” -- Austin Sarat
“LaChance brilliantly reframes the recent history of the death penalty in the United States around the competing discourses of freedom, governance, and agency. His analysis is complex and compelling. Interpreting  fictional and non-fictional sources of crime and punishment ranging from In Cold Blood to the TV series Dexter, he argues that the death penalty reemerged in the 1970s as an assertion of the negative freedoms ‘from’ big, centralized, welfare oriented, technocratic government.  His conclusion regarding the future of the death penalty is startling: the death penalty will become a casualty of its own success. Not only has it failed in its promise of retributive justice and moral certainty, it has become the apotheosis of big government programs it was supposed to supplant. This book will change the way scholars think about the death penalty and the way activists work to abolish it.” -- Patrick Ewick
More information is available here.