Vengeance And Punishment
Because the figure of vengeance hovers behind punishment as a threat of lawlessness, some of the most common characteristics of punishment since classical Greece are most easily identified by contrasting them with revenge, as they are in Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy. First, revenge is personal, an act of private justice taken by individuals for wrongs done to them or to those close to them, usually blood relatives. Punishment thus commits itself to impersonality, where the response to an offense is assumed by an authorized third party, typically the state. Second, revenge is based on a subjective sense of injury, which may arise out of something that is neither a crime nor even a tangible harm at all. Within a culture of honor, for example, a well-timed snub may be felt and treated as seriously as a physical assault. In contrast, punishment must be dispassionate and based on the commission of well-and previously defined crimes. Third, revenge is fueled by the desire for the offender to suffer as the victim has, and because of this element of passion it is impossible to ensure that the revenge will not greatly exceed the initial harm. Punishment must thus be proportionate, balancing the appropriate punishment and the severity of the crime. Fourth, revenge often spirals out of control, leading to blood feuds that implicate members of an extended family and continue for generations. Punishment commits itself to harming only the individual perpetrator of the initial harm. Fifth, revenge is not public nor is the avenger committed to requiting similar harms done to others. Punishment must be a form of public policy, based in a violation of known laws, with consistent enforcement.
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