"Republican Responsibility in Criminal Law"

Michigan Law Authors
Areas of Interest
Publish Date
Criminal Law and Philosophy
Publication Type
Journal Article

Retributivism so dominates criminal theory that lawyers, legal scholars and law students assert with complete confidence that criminal law is justified only in light of violations of another person’s rights. Yet the core tenet of retributivism views criminal law fundamentally through the lens of individual actors, rendering both offender and victim unrecognizably denuded from their social and civic context. Doing so means that retributivism is unable to explain even our most basic criminal law practices, such as why we punish recidivists more than first time offenders or why “hate crimes” are of special concern. A republican view of criminal law brings our most natural intuitions back into focus by insisting that the core of criminal responsibility lies in the offender’s attack on the civic bonds that make living in a society as equals possible. By grounding our punishment practices in an Aristotelian republicanism that for so long was the unquestioned basis of mutual responsibility, we understand that hostility, as expressed in the offender’s “civic character,” matters to us all while still seeing our obligations to reintegrate both victim and offender into our shared civic project.

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