Misnomer Pt. 1: A quotation

(Second in a series on politics/ethics/crime/punishment.)

“It’s a good thing there’s not much suffering,” he observed, “when the head flies off.”

“You’ve just observed that, and everybody makes the same observation as you, and this machine, the guillotine, was invented for that. But a thought occurred to me then: what if it’s even worse? To you it seems ridiculous, to you it seems wild, but with some imagination even a thought like that can pop into your head. Think: if there’s torture, for instance, then there’s suffering, wounds, bodily pain, and it means that all that distracts you from inner torment, so that you only suffer from the wounds until you die. And yet the chief, the strongest pain may not be in the wounds, but in knowing for certain that in an hour, then in ten minutes, then in half a minute, the now, this second– your soul will fly out of your body and you’ll no longer be a man, and it’s for certain– the main thing is that it’sfor certain. When you put your head under that knife and hear it come screeching down on you, that one quarter of a second is the most horrible of all. Do you know that this isn’t my fantasy, but that many people have said so? I believe it so much that I’ll tell you my opinion outright. To kill for killing is an immeasurably greater punishment than the crime itself. To be killed by legal sentence is immeasurably more terrible than to be killed by robbers. A man killed by robbers, stabbed at night, in the forest or however, certainly still hopes he’ll be saved till the very last minute. There have been examples when man’s throat has already been cut, and he still hopes, or flees, or pleads. But here all this last hope, which makes it ten times easier to die, is taken away for certain, and he’ll lose his mind or start weeping. Who ever said human nature could bear it without going mad? Why such an ugly, vain, unnecessary violation? Maybe there’s a man who has had the sentence read to him, has been allowed to suffer, and has then been told, ‘Go, you’re forgiven.’ That man might be able to tell us something. Christ spoke of this suffering and horror. No, you can’t treat a man like that!”

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, p. 23




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