Chad Flanders


This Essay critiques the shaming punishments debate, not in the interest of defending one side or the other, but to make more explicit the paradox with which this Essay began. This Essay also advances the proposal that a consistent liberalism, one that demands that all citizens be respected equally, is incompatible with any punishment that requires the infliction of hard treatment (treatment which inflicts pain or suffering) or humiliation on the offender. It is important to bracket the practical consequences of this proposal. Perhaps it was proposals like this one that made Nietzsche worry about the progressive softening of societies to the point where they one day become too timid to punish. Nietzsche's worry is more of a practical consideration than a normative one, and taken as such, it has some force. For the most part, however, this Essay puts aside practical considerations. This may mean that however normatively attractive this picture of a liberal society, it may be a society that is not immediately realizable or easily sustainable once it has been achieved. Nevertheless, it is one of the luxuries of political theory to sketch out the utopias we aspire to, even if we do not know how to achieve them or how to sustain them. At the very least, these utopian aspirations clarify our normative commitments and where they may lead us if we take them seriously. By doing this, they may also lessen our temptation to make easy and unjustifiable accommodations to maintain the status quo.

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