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Death penalty and Guillotine in France

RCL Paradigm shift
How should the death penalty be considered? Through the history of France, do we
represent the barbarian act of guillotine has the hand of Justice, or only as the crowd will?
Albert Camus a famous French author wrote in his memory what perfectly stand for this
will of justice and this repulsion of violence representative of a more civilized society:
A bit before World War I, a criminal that murdered an entire family (parents and
little children), and robbed the dead bodies, was condemned to death in Alger. My father
told me that People thought that decapitation was too sweet for such a monster. He woke
up in the night to go on the public execution place with many other people. What he saw
this morning he never said anything to anyone, all I know is that he came back with a
shocked face, laid on the bed and started to puke his soul. He just discovered that he was
shocked by the death of someone he wanted to see him dead because of his crimes.
At the time of Albert Camus and even before the majority of the condemnations
were made with the guillotine (invented by Joseph-Ignace Guillotin), used during the
decade preceding the French revolution, decapitation became the official instrument of
death penalty. It consists of a tall upright frame in which a weighted and angled blade is
raised to the top and suspended. The condemned person is secured at the bottom of the
frame, with his or her neck held directly below the blade. The blade is then released, to
fall swiftly and sever the head from the body.
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The guillotine was anchored in the French society very deeply; it was seen as the
instrument of French Republicans, as an instrument of freedom (decapitation of the King
Louis XVI). The guillotines history explains its popularity, it was so popular and
entertaining that by the end of the 18
century (the period of the Terror), they were turned
into shows with people that sold programs listing the names of those scheduled to die.
Many people came day after day and vied for the best locations from which to observe the
proceedings. Just like the circus parents often brought their children. Ironically the
executions were so frequents that by the end of the Terror, people started to be bored and
stopped going to the public execution.
Between the eighteen and the nineteenth centuries the French society was really insecure.
The prisons didnt exist and criminal were condemned more with judgment involving pain
and torture than judgments leading to custody, leading to an outstanding number of dead
in periods of troubles (after the French revolution 20,000 people were decapitated in less
than a decade). Indeed the population was afraid because the authorities would kill the
problem to control it instead of resolving it, Birth is a guillotine (Maurice Blanchard).
Even the process of execution was symbolic and made to impress the population. The
condemned person was awakened by the director of the prison in the morning, the director
would announce him that his mercy was rejected. At this stage the condemn was under
shock knowing that his last hour had arrived, he usually didnt protest while walking to
the execution place, was allowed to smoke drink or write a letter to his family, then he
was put on the guillotine and his head was cut off. If Jesus was alive today, he would
have to climb to Calvary carrying his guillotine on his back. (Francois Cavanna)

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The popularity of the guillotine knew several shifts, which will be crucial to the
abolition of death penalty in France. Indeed the guillotine was the main instrument used
for death penalty, its ambassador. French society is older than the US, and so is the death
penalty, that is part of our history. This is so true that people started give name to
guillotine as la Pucelle Mademoiselle or la Monte (Virgin, milady, The Ride). It
became so omnipresent, that people started to wear clothes with theme the guillotine (red
necklaces, long scarfs). The kids would learn in school how to draw a guillotine and
how it worked. Contests were made between communities and villages to see who would
have the most original idea for a guillotine (mechanic or esthetic appearance).
The guillotine was really popular in period of troubles, and was actually efficient, people
were afraid of the death penalty but they were more afraid of the guillotine since the
executions were so popular you were more likely to be death condemned in a period of
trouble where the executions were more asked by the frightened population, than in
normal times: What determine your final judgment will be the social context where
you belong (Unknown sentenced to death 1799). This explains why the politic class, that
was the one that was the most often condemned (corruption, betrayal) tried to get rid of
it. The first attempts to abolish the death penalty didnt come from the crowd or the
human rights defenders but by the politicians themselves, that were afraid of the power
of the guillotine.
From 1900-1910 the government tried to abolish the death penalty after some
corruption issues from the scandal of the Panama Canal Company in the beginning of the
century, where most of the political class was involved, and thousands of people
ruined. But the population was strongly against (a very large majority) and the
government had to recall all the abolitionists laws. The minute where the remorse is the
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deepest is the minute of the guillotine (Louis Dumur) for the first time the state and the
people disagreed on such an important matter.
After World War II, the numbers of people that died at the guillotine start to fall mostly
because of the communist and socialists laws that added clauses that made convicted
harder to condemn to death penalty.
However the first shift of the population occurs in the late 60s; early70s, mostly
coming from the Hippie and Socialist Youth movements. After World War II the baby
boom population was younger; these protestors were more numerous, and a lot of riots
occurred having for theme: the end of death penalty. The population was split in two
parts, the young generation that wanted to see the death penalty abolished and the oldest
generation was more conservative about this question. After the general De Gaulle (that
was the only president that was applying the death penalty systematically), the presidents
surfed on this popular wave to restrict it more and more. The state controlled all the news
media of information, and it was easy for him to use this protest background to get rid of
the guillotine. In 1969 only 39% of the French were pro-death penalty, but France had
known a climate of economic growth and national peace for more than 20 years, and
people started to ask for the guillotine to be shouted down encouraged by the media. But it
didnt last very long, in the middle of the 70s and after the crisis of 1973 the France knew
another periods of troubles and workers protestations, the numbers of pro death penalty
immediately raised from 56% in 1976 to 63% in 1981. This explain a ras de bol (flush
bowl in French) of the population towards the rising criminality Death to the terrorist,
especially the Arabs (Benjamin Haddad member of the right extremist French party in
1966), and the rising feeling of insecurity.
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The socialist president Francois Mitterrand was the president in 1981 that
abolished the death penalty in France. The reason was that he had socialists ideals and so
he was convicted that it was an inhuman way of executing sentences. This is a big shift in
the government ideal, but not immediately in the population one. Since 1981 the number
of people that are pro death penalty is growing people feel really insecure (the survey is
made with people that were born before the abolition, representing in 2008 a total of 63%
of 38 years and older French population). On an article about death penalty in India
following the rape of young women, you have the first comment followed by several other
that ask who will have the courage to propose the death penalty back in France. The
main reason that the French government, had to take back the death penalty is the mistrial
of some cases. In 30 years technology has evolved especially with DNA, that can prove if
a murder had occurred or not. Another reason is that People of France are tired of paying
taxes for prisons that have growing populations up every year. On a yahoo blog, people
were asked if they wanted to bring the death penalty back and if yes for whom? The first
category was for the pedophiles, secondly the politicians and finally the mass-murderers.
The political class is conscious of it, and after the impact of the approbation of the gay
marriage, few politicians will have the courage to promote a law that could divide the
country again. So the best strategy that they use is oblivion, the media stop talking about
the death penalty, which starts to cause a shift in the population too, the 1995 generation
doesnt know anything about death penalty, even though they were born less than 15 years
after it was abolished. But further than the death penalty people think that France lost a
symbol, the guillotine. Most of the people in France are very nationalist and selfish, that
doesnt believe into a European supreme court; most of the people want to make justice
within their state and with their own laws. That explains why the French government, only
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abolished the fact of cutting humans head with the guillotine, but not the guillotine itself.
Indeed this is used during the manifestation pro-guillotine, usually by decapitating a pig in
front of the French parliament, or the minister of the Interior.
Even if the switch is total in the politicians mind (from extreme left to right the majority
are against the death penalty), the majority of the French population hasnt followed yet,
indeed the feeling of insecurity is the main reason that pushes the crowd to the extremism.
It is so true that the extreme right party, exploiting that fear and denouncing the switch
and forced mutism of the government about this question. The extremists popularity rises
thanks to this problematic, showing that there is a structural problem about the question of
death penalty.
History has proven that most of the paradigm switch takes decades to centuries to
occur, (end of slavery to end of segregation or Darwinism versus creationism); in the
French society the switch occurred in the political sphere towards the abolition of the
death penalty. But the opposite occurred in the majority of the French population, in a
permanent context of crisis, social insecurity, total loss of confidence towards the political
class, rise of nationalism and racism towards immigrants, the people expect to have some
strong symbol to be attached to, even if killing a person wont personally change
someones life, it makes an example for all the people that are tempted to go against the
law reassuring the population. The French history is made in the blood. Even nowadays
violence is everywhere, people want to get rid of it, and people act following their feeling
and emotionally. This shift towards the abolition of the death penalty in the 60s of the
population is now questioned by what one could hypocritically call a double shift, the
opinion did in 50 years an important rewind. And because most of the politic class does
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not want to hurt the population being too afraid for their electoral vote, France could see a
switch in the next decades.
We can ask ourselves, what do we really want? The last executions were rarely made (1
out of 20 death condemned was executed each year), and when they were it was to calm
the public opinion. Is it really worth it? Isnt it better to see someone suffer rapes,
assaults, bad treatments in jail then having him to die immediately? All of these are ethical
questions that werent raised during the process of abolition of the Guillotine, and leave
an important part of our population unsatisfied. The Guillotine could be a major political
and electoral tool just as the gay marriage in the next decades that people and politicians
should be aware of.
The verb Guillotiner is original, you can conjugate it at all time: you can say I will be
guillotin (head cut off), Youll have your head cut off, He But you cant say I was

Rochet Andr-Louis



Physiologie De La Veuve - Une Histoire Mdicale De La Guillotine/Le Vol De La Guillotine Ou -
La Jeune Fille Et L'intgrisme/Histoire de La Guillotine Camus.