Executing Freedom: The Cultural Life Of Capital Punishment In The United States

Hardcover | November 18, 2016

byDaniel Lachance

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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.

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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 a...

Daniel LaChance is assistant professor of history at Emory University.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:272 pages, 9 × 6 × 1 inPublished:November 18, 2016Publisher:University of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022606669X

ISBN - 13:9780226066691

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Introduction: When Bundy Buckles Up
Part 1 From Rehabilitation to Retribution
1 “Inside Your Daddy’s House”: Capital Punishment and Creeping Nihilism in the Atomic Age
2 “The Respect Which Is Due Them as Men”: The Rise of Retribution in a Polarizing Nation 
Part 2 Executable Subjects
3 Fixed Risks and Free Souls: Judging and Executing Capital Defendants after Gregg v. Georgia 
4 Shock Therapy: The Rehabilitation of Capital Punishment 
Part 3 The Killing State
5 “A Country Worthy of Heroes”: The Old West and the New American Death Penalty 
6 Father Knows Best: Capital Punishment as a Family Value 
Epilogue: Disabling Freedom 
Notes 
Index

Editorial Reviews

“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.”