I was writing a post about Eugene Volokh’s defence of the “deliberate infliction of pain, “slow throttling,” and “cruel vengeance” when I saw that Chris had beaten me to the punch. I find the argument that the justice system should be used as a means to inflict cruelty in order to satisfy victims’ – and society’s – desire for vengeance rather appalling. It’s a return to the idea that the animating ideal of justice should be vengeance and public display rather than the correction and dissuasion of wrongdoing. Which is not to say that the modern idea of justice doesn’t have its own, more abstract cruelties, as Michel Foucault and Michael Ignatieff have pointed out – but the claim that the justice system sometimes needs to inflict pain for the purpose of inflicting pain is something which we should have gotten rid of a couple of centuries ago. At least Eugene is being honest here. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suspect that most of the nonsensical defences of torture that we see, invoking ticking bombs and the like, are so many insincere public justifications of an underlying desire to torture the terrorists not to get information, but because they’re terrorists (and if a few innocents get caught up in the system, you can’t make an omelette &c &c). But that Eugene’s defence is sincere doesn’t mean that it’s not repugnant to a set of minimal liberal commitments that are shared by many leftists, classical liberals, Burkean conservatives and others.