Michel Foucault gives an in-depth historical analysis of punitive punishment in order to diagnose the current state of the application of punishment. In Discipline & Punish Foucault suggests that punishment has moved from a focus on the body to that of the soul. Further, capital punishment has moved from an act of valor, to one in which the punishing party seeks to become opaque. That is, those who execute wish to alleviate themselves of the pressures and responsibility of the act of judicial killing.
Given Foucault’s explanation of power relations (pp.25-30), one can begin to see a shift of responsibility for said capital punishment. By doing so, capital punishment becomes an effect of a causal relationship shared between the “micro physics of power,” which are part of a larger hierarchical power relation which constitutes the being and action of all things (p. 28). However, isn’t it captivating that the same argument which gives life to social systems– such as judicial bodies, cultural environments, legislative boards, corporations and so on–also alleviates these institutions of effectual responsibility? That is, by painting the world in a conditioned-deterministic way, a criminal is dealt with by the power of history itself, according to Foucault.
Thus, one can see that the responsibility of capital punishment, or even punitive torture, cannot be placed on the sole person or body of persons actually carrying out the act, but the responsibility of penal practices is a power effect caused by the lack of knowledge-power in the criminal.
That is to say, that a criminal is responsible for their punishment in this system. Furthermore, one should consider the amount of gratitude that judicial bodies take when delivering sentences. For instance, in the case of Jerry Sandusky, the courts are highly appraised for properly sanctioning Sandusky to live out the rest of his years in prison. This decision, however, is not considered an expression of the power relation between Sandusky and the judge, yet an active decision of the court to remove this man from society. For this, the justice system is given a positive representation of actively removing sex offenders from the population. Or in another shade of perspective, think of the early years of the psychological institutions. Generally speaking, society had shown that there are defects that transcend physicality and had adopted these defects to that of the mind.
Thus when formerly institutionalizing an individual it was thought of as rehabilitating, and these institutions on a whole were regarded as a productive body of psychological expertise. This is of course until, historically speaking, the institutions were examined in their inherent methods, part of which psychologists wanted nothing to do with. Therefore, a government of enforcement is born, while a government of punishment is shrouded. Such deterministic doctrines as Foucault pursues ensure large social bodies of having nothing to do with the punishment which they enforce. It is only until in retrospection, much like Foucault does, that one can begin to accuse these social bodies of malpractice, in which case the body seems to have already adapted to a new method to shroud its actions. In this way, one must consider the judicial facade that many systems operate behind. In other words, it is clear that capital punishment and punitive torture are goals of the justice systems, but they are alleviated of the responsibility of actively punishing the criminal by asserting that the criminal has done so to their self. That punishment is the effect of the criminal’s action and the judiciary process is only to assess such circumstances. Thus, we are left with a conditioned-deterministic society of which no one person or body of persons can lay full claim to anything. In this respect, I must decline what Foucault’s power relations suggest. That is, there is personal responsibility– be it for one man’s actions or comprehensive social actions– in the decisions we make that goes beyond a conditioned deterministic value.