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European Dignity, American Rights
Outlining a debate on capital punishment.


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John O’Sullivan

Some thought would have to be given, admittedly, to the avoidance of any unintended incentive to homicide that might be entailed by this proposal — at least in the United States. Within the European Union, the entrenched regime of human rights and the associated concern for human dignity mean that such considerations long ago ceased to be relevant. Europe’s reaction to such an imaginative exercise in abolitionism can surely be taken for granted . . . 

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Okay, I know, I know — none of this is going to happen. No U.S. administration is going to put the Europeans on the spot with such intellectual guerrilla tactics, and no bold assertion of American prerogatives will emerge from the State Department. At best, Heritage, AEI, Hudson, and Cato — with perhaps a little covering fire from Brookings and SAIS — might provide the forum and invite the ambassadors for a civil debate, which the latter will succeed in politely postponing to the Greek kalends.

That, however, isn’t the point. If we merely raise such topics, if we discuss such undiplomatic responses in the media, if we threaten fire with fire (or even just with cold water), we change the balance of debate both across the Atlantic and within individual European countries. We strengthen democracy, we hinder global governance, and we blow away nonsense.

There is, as it happens, a fourth tactic that has the advantage of being entirely serious, entirely practicable, entirely embarrassing to any European concerned with real human rights and human dignity, and entirely capable of being raised and pursued by the U.S. State Department.

But it will have to wait until next week.

John O’Sullivan is editor-at-large of National Review.



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