First Ideas of the Philosophers Kant and Rousseau

Both Kant and Rousseau supported the death penalty for murderers, and both believed that the sovereign powers-that-be had the right to exact punishment for crimes. Yet there was great divergence in these two men's definitions of "sovereign power."

Kant viewed the sovereign as separate from the people: in his view, the sovereign was entitled to punish the people for their crimes, but no o­ne was entitled to punish the sovereign, for as long as he remained in his position as the sovereign. Rousseau, in contrast, viewed the sovereign as the people as a whole, or, in cases of disagreement, he viewed the sovereign as the largest subsection of the people who were united in agreement.

In American government, Kant's views seem to be reflected in the processes that were undertaken to protect society from "mob rule" -- the formation of the republic, the election of representatives, the establishement of the electoral college, and the President's immunity from prosecution; Rousseu's views seem to be reflected in the formation of a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" (Abraham Lincoln).

One concern expressed by Americans who oppose the death penalty, is the reality that low-income individuals who are accused of crimes usually can not afford to pay for legal representation, and court-appointed lawers have heavy caseloads, and no financial incentive to secure a "not-guilty" verdict for their clients.

This is a concern that might have caused Kant to re-think his views o­n the death penalty, had this concern been widely-expressed in his time. Kant stressed the importance of the equality of everyone under the law, with the exception of the sovereign, who was o­nly exempt because of his position (if at any time he was unseated or stepped down, he became a normal citizen and got no preferential treatment).