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The Death Penalty in the 21st century: Archaism or Necessity

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The existence of the death penalty has been existing throughout age of mankind as far as history can remember. It is not a new phenomenon that the 21st century scholars attempt to tackle and understand its place in a world of Human rights and the value of life; however, it has been existing throughout in different forms. In ancient cultures, most notably those from African tribes such as the Mandinka under Samoure Toure or the Zulu Kingdom under Shaka Zulu, acts of treason were punishable by executing the offender often by excruciating means. Similarly, it was the case in a lot other regions of the world even in the bible, people that were deemed to be in violation of the law governing the land at that which was mostly the law of God administered by the judges and prophets and sometimes rulers of the land, the perpetrator were often stoned to death, which qualifies it as a capital punishment. This essay seeks to examine initially the archaism of the death penalty and later the necessity of it as it unfolds.

Given the lengthy historical background of the death penalty, one cannot simply disagree that its continuation is 21st century archaism. This is not only in the sense of definition, meaning that it is archaic because it is something that started centuries ago, however also examining the changes in human behavior along the way and how the world has developed across time in terms of civilization and quality of life. In the past, the death penalty was issued against people who committed acts of treason. In the modern world, it would be a tool used against people who are the enemies of the state or rather a government of a country, allowing the government to viciously crush and silent any opposing actors to its regime and mandates. This became a more concerning world problem after Nazi Germany under the rule Adolph Hitler used the same mechanism to murder over 6 million people that it regarded as enemies of the state and German government. It is a result of such atrocities that showed the that the use of such a punishment can prove to be concerning world issue especially under a political actor such as a state and can mean that the subjects can suffer the consequences. As a result, the Universal declaration of Human rights was established after the International community had observed the use death penalty can be abused by the state, and in the case of totalitarian regimes it may lead to far reaching consequences.

Moreover, after the adoption of the Universal declaration of Human rights by the United Nations, most civilized countries agreed that people have the right to life, and as a result most countries have been abolishing the death penalty year by year. In its true sense, the death penalty has been regarded as a barbaric form of punishment in present and it is in contrast with the values set by the Universal declaration of Human rights to create and maintain sanity in the world especially in helping the inhabitants of states and countries to not fall victim to a ruthless law. Clearly in terms of civilization and the 21st century, capital punishment is archaism as one may understand the difference in the value of human life a few centuries back and in present day. After establishing that every individual has a right to life Irregardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, it becomes a complexity when a state or a country still has the death penalty as a form of legal punishment or justice, as by so doing they would be taking away the right to life of an individual. Taking all this into cognizance, one can therefore say that the death penalty is 21st century archaism as it reverts to pre-existing conditions before the value of human life was appreciated and emancipated around the globe, thus death penalty in XXI century being archaism.

Furthermore, incases such as the United states, the death penalty has been used in cases where it undermined the lives of the minorities who either did not have enough financial sums of money for fair and justifiable legal proceedings. In most cases in the United States, this had been used on other races and the court outcomes favoring execution where always biased against minority races and carried out in arbitration. In the case of Furman vs Georgia in 1972, it was argued that most of the capital punishments where carried out in arbitration and were heavily influenced by racial undertones. As in the article Supreme court death penalty cases by Tom Head, Justice Potter Stewart argued that most people apprehended and picked up in terms or arrest for cases such as murder and rape were mostly arbitrary, and the case of racial biasness had not been proved.

Taking this statement into account, one can therefore see that mostly in America during the period of the progressive era when attempts were being made regarding a lot of touchy subjects such as slavery, issues of race amongst other things etc, the question of death penalty was discussed and disputed in courts as it had been previously used to under the minority groups. In the case of Duane Buck, which I still on going, during the trial, an expert psychologist argued that black people were more prone to crime than people of other races, and Duane Buck’s sentence was based on this testimony. Therefore, upon such an observation one can clearly see that racial bias has plagued the United States justice system centuries and decades, and in a world that is more progressive and encourages equality and fairness amongst races, is more multicultural and diverse, the continuation of such a decree that is tainted with a very dark history appears to be an archaic move, there the death penalty in 21st century being archaism.

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Moreover, a comparison of the past and the present also helps to draw a division between an archaic tradition in terms of Justice. In the past were the church and the state were one and a unified entity, a change in religious beliefs was equated to a crime that suffices capital punishment. The story of the messiah was a trial that was based on violating the the Jewish church traditions, principles and God. As narrated in the bible, the Pharisees argued that Jesus of Nazareth had committed an unforgivable blasphemy and should receive the death penalty which was eventually issued out in the end. This is a classic case whereby questioning religious authority led or religious difference led to crime that had the end result as a capital punishment. In addition to this case, other notable religious figures have also supported death penalty in the past, such Thomas Aquinas who supported the death penalty as legal way to take a life. A good example is Islamic countries that are ruled under the Sharia law. It is stated that the Quran says that “taking a man’s life is the same as taking your own”, which results in a system that automatically tries all murder cases with the capital punishment based on religious beliefs. In a modernized world in terms of Western context, whereby democracy is encouraged, and the church is separated from the state or government. Continuing the death penalty echoes the archaic doings of the past as it especially in cases of Sharia law states where religion and the state are still one, this leads to no regard of human life based on the religious beliefs of a country, violating the basic right of an individual to a free and fair trial, and most importantly the right to life.

Moreover, contradictions in interpretation of the Sharia law may be found in this case as based on the religious mantra of the Quran that whoever takes one’s life has done the same as taking his own, however upon execution one wonders about the executioner how the executioner manages to be spared since in this case the executioner would have carried an execution and taken one’s life in the process. In terms of legal perspective, assessing the sentences carried out based on the Sharia law influenced or derived from the Quran, one can notes these fault lines where there is a clear violation of the rights of an individual since the followed mantra does not state an exception for the executioner, but the statement was only mentioned as a moral guidance for the people of the land. It is clear that the offender can barely be convinced to take his or her own life for the crime committed and therefore the capital punishment has to be administered to the offender. Taking all of this into account, one can therefore clearly note that maintaining the capital punishment in the 21st century is pure archaism as it reverts back to the era when the law was inter twined with religion and often was against the offenders and biased towards the religion and in this case, also eliminating basic rights of individuals such as a fair trial that is not biased because of religion and the right to human life, thus the death penalty being archaism in the 21st century.

Moreover, in the case of the United States, and other countries, the death penalty has been left as a qualifying sentence for very heinous crimes committed by individuals. This has been excused as acceptable, however there is no clear definition of a heinous crime. The definition of heinous crimes in this becomes an issue of emotions and feelings of the public or jury in the United States that happens to separate various murder cases granting some as capital punishments and some as not. This echoes back the same issues raised in the past although now different, the issues remain the same in the sense that there is a great possibility of biasness based on emotions rather than actual evidence and substantial arguments presented in court by defense attorneys. Indeed, one cannot deny the fact that this is like a situation whereby biasness is based on race; however, it still shows a very probable reason and argument to have the death penalty removed abolished as once a such a sentence has been issued out or carried out there is no going back because an individual’s life would have been lost already. Taking all this into it becomes clear that the possibility of biasness in this context reverts back to making the death penalty archaism.

Moreover, the methods used in carrying out the sentences are also questionable as one may wonder if they are humane or inhumane. Looking back at History, In Shaka Zulu of pre-colonial modern-day South Africa, the death penalty was carried out by carving large wooden tree logs, making them sharp at the tip and asking the offender to sit on top on log, forcing the log to enter the body from the rear end and kill the offender in the attempt to impale the individual. In the case of 18th century France, Louis XVI fell victim to the guillotine which was also another capital punishment issuing instrument that was gruesome. In the case of the Second world war, when Hitler was carrying out his exterminations of the Jews, he used methods that were later described as inhumane and degrading till this day, the use of gas chambers to kill the Jews and the making of soap was a very degrading method of the worst kind. However, looking at the 21st century in places where the death penalty still takes place, various methods are still being used till this day. Some of those methods include lethal injections, hanging the offender, firing squad and the electric chair amongst other things. Although these latter methods may appear to be less excruciating as compared to the former ones, they are still inhumane in the way they take the human life. The very fact that whilst executing a capital punishment, the human has to be reduced to lethal drugs is no less inhumane than the use of chemicals such zyklon B used by Hitler in his gas chambers. Neither is the use of a guillotine less inhumane than a firing squad just to mention a few. The manner in which these methods take out human life is still inhumane as the methods that were used in the past, therefore clearly showing the same pattern of behavior in carrying out the capital punishment throughout centuries, there clearly showing that the death penalty is still an ancient cruelty in the 21st century.

In addition, the death promotes a dark theme of revenge in a world of civilized societies and reform. As most countries in the progressed and embraced civilization and have established more progressive correctional institutions that seek to reform offenders instead of punishing or ruining their lives. Death penalty offers the victim’s loved one the quench for revenge, rather than a more legal and critical approach towards the matter that may help the individual reform, even if it may be reform with an institutionalized correctional facility. The does not help make the society better, as it creates a vicious cycle of vengeance whereby certain crimes committed qualify for revenge rather than reform. Indeed, it is without a doubt that a murderous individual will not be safe to be released into public space ever again, however that does not mean or qualify them to be deprived of human life. One may argue that since they took an individual life theirs should be also taken and as a result the death penalty is justifiable, but however if the society is civilized and the main purpose of the courts and the country’s legal system is to reform offender so that they may be better individuals.

Upon taking all this information into account, it therefore becomes clear that the death penalty does not seek to reform and offender in the form of punishment administered in a correctional facility such as solitary confinement, but only offers revenge, therefore becoming archaism as it supports revenge which is a theme of the past centuries compared to reform in the 21st century.

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