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Palace guardsman José Gómez Moreno started his diary with anecdotes relating to the strange occurrences which seemed to happen so frequently in late eighteenth-century Mexico City. Freak accidents, fires, murders, kidnappings, and assaults were not uncommon. While he certainly showed a fascination for the oddities of the day – from balloons to the viceroy’s wig – the halberdier paid special attention to the 246 executions that he witnessed over the course of twenty-two years, an average of just over eleven per year. Some years saw more hangings, garrotings, and burnings than others. Annual executions peaked in 1790, with a total of thirty-two in the first full year of Viceroy Revillagigedo’s reign.
The Introduction gives a snapshot of the current status of capital punishment around the globe. It gives current statistics from Amnesty International and describes Amnesty International's anti-death penalty campaign in the 1970s that led to the Declaration of Stockholm, which expressed "total and unconditional opposition to the death penalty." The Introduction describes the divide between retentionist and abolitionist countries, highlighting countries that have outlawed capital punishment in their constitutions or through judicial rulings. After detailing how the death penalty was traditionally seen as something other than torture, the Introduction discusses the law's evolving nature--and how the death penalty is increasingly seen as a torturous and cruel punishment that violates human dignity and fundamental human rights. Noting that death sentences are no longer treated as a "lawful sanction" in many locales, the Introduction describes how the U.N. General Assembly has voted on multiple occasions for a global moratorium on executions. The Introduction summarizes the current state of international law as regards capital punishment and previews the book's content.
The Death Penalty's Denial of Fundamental Human Rights details how capital punishment violates universal human rights-to life; to be free from torture and other forms of cruelty; to be treated in a non-arbitrary, non-discriminatory manner; and to dignity. In tracing the evolution of the world's understanding of torture, which now absolutely prohibits physical and psychological torture, the book argues that an immutable characteristic of capital punishment-already outlawed in many countries and American states-is that it makes use of death threats. Mock executions and other credible death threats, in fact, have long been treated as torturous acts. When crime victims are threatened with death and are helpless to prevent their deaths, for example, courts routinely find such threats inflict psychological torture. With simulated executions and non-lethal corporal punishments already prohibited as torturous acts, death sentences and real executions, the book contends, must be classified as torturous acts, too.
Géricault’s preliminary sketch of a hanging was the most original of all his works in London, though it has been little discussed. Its depiction of the Cato Street executions still passes unrecognised. This chapter proves that these were indeed its subject. More widely, for the first time in art history it shows a hanging without making the execution stand for something other than itself – sharing kinship in this with Goya’s Third of May 1808 (though that work was unknown to Géricault). Géricault’s unflinching pity may anticipate our own.
This chapter examines how the police and courts became the main audience for competing revolutionary narratives of guilt and victimization. People wanted to punish others and rehabilitate themselves. The courts functioned both as a sounding board for narratives through which one found resonance and affected verdicts and sentencing and also as a transmitter of new narratives to the public, as court verdicts seemed to be the official or “true” story of the revolutions. The transnational comparison of Budapest and Munich shows that the narrative developed in each was quite different and led to differential severity of verdicts and sentencing, with the courts in Hungary being more punitive. This situation in turn further radicalized Hungarians on the Left and the Right in the interwar period, with the “judicial terror” added to the fraught narrative of revolution and counterrevolution. In Bavaria, though memoirs such as Ernst Toller’s sought to rally supporters with examples of legal mistreatment, the revolution did not play as central a role in the symbolic world of Weimar German politics, overshadowed by even limited events such as the January 1919 Spartacus Uprising and the martyrdom during that revolt of the communist leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
Until recently, historians were agreed that European societies welcomed the outbreak of the Great War with near-ecstatic enthusiasm. In support of this view they could point to newspaper reports and to photographs of festive crowds thronging the streets of the belligerent states’ capital cities. The consensus was also reinforced by politicians, who in their memoirs described August 1914 as a sequence of completely spontaneous patriotic manifestations that practically forced leaders to go on the offensive. The streets of Paris, London, St Petersburg, and Berlin were indeed filled with joyous crowds cheering their leaders and denouncing their enemies, and as they did so, young men reported to recruiting stations. Serried ranks of students strode along Berlin’s Unter den Linden, singing as they went. The participants and observers of those events had a sense that the whole nation was united in a common purpose.
Chapter 2 is ‘Progress: Ancient Custom in the Modern City’. Here I pursue sociopolitical questions prompted by ballad singing, in an analysis shaped by an understanding of historical time and process whereby the chief tension lay between an early modern conception of order, public space, and neighbourhood, as embodied by the singer, and a self-consciously modern urban programme of improvement and capital, advanced by journalists and the judiciary. I situate debates over ballad singing at the centre of this historical process, the better to understand both issues. I analyse the threats singers were said to represent, in moral and legal writing; the political power accorded to the song by authorities (centring on the endlessly repeated maxim of the early Enlightenment thinker Alexander Fletcher); contemporary medical views on the inflammatory power of music; the vexed question of public space; and the steps taken both to repress and to coerce ballad-singers. I focus on the few documented occasions when a ballad-singer had a demonstrable impact on the actions of a community, from Kennington, to Camden, to Whitechapel market, and I come to see the singer, not as analogous to rough music as such, but as a paradoxical, anachronistic voice of authority within those communities.
In the highly competitive and conflictual world of early modern China, aggression and violence were a regular part of life. People not only came to blows with other people, but also with ghosts and demons that infested their world with evils and afflictions. The rock fights, cockfights, self-mortifying shamans, sword-wielding exorcists, public floggings and bloody beheadings discussed in this chapter were common spectacles of public violence. China’s educated elites, who associated such acts with vulgar lower-class culture, disparaged popular forms of violence because they were wild, senseless and uncontrollable. For the lower orders, however, violence was purposeful. It gave power to the powerless and prestige to the disreputable. Regular displays were necessary to gain respect and could even ensure social mobility. Violence was essential to masculinity and gave meaning to men’s lives, providing them with ambition and dignity. The shedding of blood also gave meaning to violence. Blood was the vital force of life important in warding off evil spirits, curing illnesses, ensuring fertility and bringing good luck. These acts were part of a well-established, but heterodox, folk tradition whereby violence and bloody rituals were deeply rooted in the everyday life and popular culture of early modern China.
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