In Executing Freedom, Daniel LaChance explores how the revival of the death penalty in the 1970s and its overwhelming popularity in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s was part of a larger story about freedom in the United States since World War II. From conservatives who grew concerned that a paternalistic government was usurping the role of the family to civil libertarians worried that prisons were using a rehabilitative mission to dominate the minds of prisoners, Americans across the political spectrum grew wary of big government. Reborn in a moment of anti-big government consensus, the death penalty reflected and reinforced a minimalist vision of government that many Americans, regardless of their feelings about capital punishment, had come to equate with freedom. In analyzing the relationship between politics, legitimacy, and the death penalty, LaChance draws on primary sources from journalism, literature, film, and law. The book surveys these sources across most of the twentieth century, seamlessly integrating historical narrative, literary analysis, and political theory. In the end, the book reframes our understanding of modern punishment culture, revealing how harsh punishments like the death penalty create opportunities for individuals to transcend structural constraints, perversely becoming symbols of freedom.
Featuring Daniel LaChance
Assistant Professor of History and Andrew W. Mllon Fellow in Law and the Humanities, Emory University
- Department of Criminology, Law and Society
- Center for Law, Society and Culture
- Department of History
- Newkirk Center for Science and Society
- School of Social Ecology