Discuss: Is the Norwegian killer crazy?
Should Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway a year ago, supposedly to stop an invasion of Scandinavia by Muslims, be sentenced to prison or to an asylum? In a bizarre twist—at least, bizarre to me — the prosecutors want him sent to a mental institution, and he wants to go to prison.
There is, of course, the common reaction that anyone like this is “sick.” But there is insane and there is evil. The distinction was made in 1843 in the English case of Queen v. M'Naghten - that a person would be insane if “at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from a disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.” Otherwise, bad, wrong, evil—but not sick.
In Norway, judging from the news story linked above, the standard for being judged insane is lower. Breivik objects because it labels his political views as of no more interest than the barking of a dog, and he wants to be taken seriously. I haven’t been to the trial and haven’t listened to him, but I suspect that I might well agree with him that his views are “serious” in the sense that they explain what he did. I think his views are seriously wrong—and if he’s not “sick,” what he did in pursuit of them was seriously evil—in which case he should be sent to prison, not a hospital.
If he’s “sick,” then what happens if, a year from now, he’s “cured?” Does he get to go home?
Achenblog by Joel Achenbach
Postman On Politics