Capital Punishment and Governance: Essay

“To govern is not to crush the persons or processes governed, or to dominate them, but to mobilise them toward some ends” (Rose 2005)

Theological assessments of governing are constantly evolving to follow the dynamic nature of social conditions. Despite ever-changing political environments, a pillar of continuity is the importance of effective governance on all scales. Whether the government adheres to Marxism, neoliberalism or liberal democracy, the common goal is to develop practical and idealistic unity in the population and an effective relationship between power figures and their followers. Though the objectives of governing have remained consistent, there has been a distinct shift in how power operates amongst political activity. Where previously power was “seen as something held by the dominant class” (Gauntlett 2008), it is now interpreted to be a factor that is “exercised” (Gauntlett 2008), a property present under certain circumstances. The issue of capital punishment is an avenue through which to explore this ideological evolution. When a governing body elects to take an individual’s life due to a law breach, the circumstances must be evaluated before judging the purpose of the execution. Capital punishment can be viewed as a means to generate a desired state of affairs by intimidating the less powerful, or as an action by those in power to contribute to the greater cause of their citizens. It is evident through observation of the political aspects of capital punishment that the previous model of viewing power as something belonging to the powerful is outdated, replaced by the notion that power is flexible in nature and application.

To govern is to “conduct the policy, actions, and affairs of (a state, organisation, or people) with authority” (Dictionary.com). Governing is ubiquitous in society, present in households, schools and workplaces in addition to councils and parliament. When governing others one must “calculate the relation between one’s actions and their consequences” (Rose 2005). These calculations operate under the premise that “governing society politically … [is] something concerned with power, confrontation and appropriation, with struggle, resistance and combat” (Dean 2007). Dean’s description of governing declares that the relationship between parties depends on the balance of power and the two-sided struggle that decides the balance. The factor which separates governing by the use of domination and governing by developing a positive rapport is how “the use and threat of force” (Dean 2007) is employed. Capital punishment is a barometer through which one can observe a government’s authoritative intentions. Whilst the basics of governing are universal, it is how a governing body applies force that determines whether they identify as dominant rulers or cooperative power figures seeking to foster unity.

There are societies today which are governed in a manner that denotes people as either powerful or powerless. Capital punishment renders victims powerless by nature, however beyond the act of execution, the precedent set by the enforcing of the death penalty outlines a government’s approach to power and politics. Indonesia has attracted scathing criticism for its handling of the cases of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who were sentenced to death in 2006 for their roles in attempting to smuggle heroin into Indonesia. Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo is relentless in his endeavours to combat narcotics in Indonesia, as evident in his stance on the Australian pair. Widodo has declared that he is “… not going to compromise for drug dealers” (Widodo, cited in ABC News 2015) and described the death penalty as “important shock therapy” (Widodo, cited in Topsfield 2015). Widodo’s hardline approach is in spite of Chan and Sukumaran’s proven rehabilitation, highlighted by their lawyer Julian McMahon’s revelation that “these two … are now in the process of educating and helping a lot of other prisoners get their lives in order” (McMahon, cited in ABC News 2015). It is evident that Widodo, despite understanding the harshness of his decision, is fixated on making an example of the pair. In governing it is noted that where “power is exercised, resistance is produced” (Gauntlett 2008), however Widodo’s stubbornness effectively terminates the production of resistance, elucidating that Widodo’s Indonesian government operates to elicit a desired response from its population by threatening citizens with a one way system of power and that capital punishment has the potential to be an outlet through which a government can govern a society by politically crushing persons.

On the contrary, there are societies today that are governed in a manner which promotes the power being an tool to produce societal equality. The previous view of power in governing “as a force held by a dominant group” (Gauntlett 2008) that “highlights the inequality between the dominant people and everybody else” (Gaunlett 2008) has shifted towards Foucault’s observation of power in governing that provides “a more practical and sophisticated approach” (Gauntlett 2008). Whilst the trials of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have sparked controversy in regards to the government’s agenda, the case of Manuel Vasquez is far less controversial. The Mexican mafia hit-man was executed in Texas on 11th March 2015 after being convicted of strangling a woman to death in 1998 who “balked at paying a gang tax on drug sales” (NBC News 2015). In the case of Chan and Sukumaran, there is clear evidence that the pair have reformed and are now focused on educating and preventing drug related crime whereas Vasquez has not attempted to and has a criminal history including “being part of a group that killed a man by pummelling him with a crowbar, dousing him with gasoline and setting him afire” (Herskovitz 2015). The critical differences between the cases are the connotations of the verdicts. The case of Chan and Sukumaran demonstrates that on “the boundaries of the liberal-democractic world … security is pursued with ruthlessness and violence” (Dean 2007), whereas the Vasquez affair promotes “governing activities [that] assist and not resist their [own] ambitions” (Rose 2005). The execution of Vasquez prevents a murderer and documented criminal from harming the Texan community further. This indicates a two-way system of power in which the governing body is acting to “stress the duties and responsibilities … that go along with civil and human rights” (Rose 2005).

In juxtaposing these instances of capital punishment, the evolving facets of power in political governing are observable. The case of Chan and Sukumaran demonstrates a governing body attempting to exert power through domination, whereas the case of Vasquez illustrates a governing body attempting to utilise power to maintain societal harmony. Examining instances of capital punishment enables one to analyse the development of the ways in which power is viewed. The previous model of power, something one possesses when dominant, is outdated, replaced by viewing power as being flexible. It is evident, however, that whilst some governing bodies have adapted, others have failed.

Reference List

Gauntlett, D. (2008) “Foucault on Power” and “ Power and Resistance”, in Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction, London and New York, Rutledge, pp 128-129, 131-132.

dictionary.com (2015) “The Definition Of Govern”, viewed 4th April 2015, .

Rose, N. (2005) “Government” in T.Bennett, L.Grossberg and M.Morris (eds.), in New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Oxford, Blackwell, pp 151-153.

Dean, M. (2007) “Introduction: Setting the Scene”, in M.Dean, Governing Societies: Political Perspectives on Domestic and International Rule, London, Open University Press, pp 1-10 (excerpts).

ABC News, (2015) “Widodo rules out reprieve for Bali Nine pair facing execution”, ABC News, 24 January, viewed 5th April 2015, .

Topsfield, J. (2015) “Bali nine executions: Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to learn Monday afternoon if final legal challenge allowed”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 April, viewed 8th April 2015, .

NBC News, (2015) “Texas Executes Killer Manuel Vasquez With One of Last Two Doses”, NBC News, 12 March, viewed 8th April 2015, .

Herskovitz, J. (2015) “Texas executes gang enforcer Vasquez for murder”, Reuters, 11 March, viewed 8th April 2015,

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