Why Are So Many Italians In Favor Of The Death Penalty?

Answering this question is important to analyze how everything that is extreme and violent is increasingly accepted and normalized.

Death Penalty Italy
A painting on a wall in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo: Rostyslav Savchyn on Unsplash.

It is not easy to analyze the sympathy of Italians towards the death penalty. In fact, in public discourse, the 54th Censis report that found that 43.7% of Italians support the death penalty, has been mostly overlooked. Very few newspapers or television programs have spoken about it or made an effort to engage with its substance.

However, it is important to ask ourselves this question: why? Why do so many Italians support capital punishment? One answer is that it is emblematic of the spirit of the times, which are increasingly characterized, on the one hand, by a lack of prospects for change and, on the other, by the gradual and worrying acceptance of everything that is extreme, violent and punitive. In more technical terms, we would speak of the normalization of extreme positions, combined with a political pessimism in the possibilities of change.

The slice of Italy which supports the death penalty — which becomes as much as 44.7% in the 18-34 age group — is one of the many photographs that speak of disturbing aspects of our country. The extreme evil is the lack of a future, due to Italy’s chronic incapacity for change. The extreme remedy, meanwhile, is the death penalty and other cruelties.

Death penalty as a palliative

The general lack of confidence in the future as a place where change is possible seems to have dragged the Italians into a logic based on the use of palliatives. These do not solve problems, but in the meantime punish and eliminate those who may create further problems.

Wanting to see dead those who commit a serious crime — I think of rapists or those who commit femicide, for example — means wanting to tackle the individual without tackling the social phenomenon. Rape, like femicide, occurs in the context of a violent and deplorable action carried out by a specific subject. But it is also and mainly the result of a complex and rooted culture that, over the years, Italy has not been able to face: in this case, misogyny.

This is not the only example. But the feeling is one of immobility and impunity, to which the introduction of the death penalty might seem an easy solution. Rather, it is an extreme and inadequate solution in a society that otherwise never manages to improve. The deterrent of the death penalty is nothing but an illusion. The data show us, in fact, that in countries that practice this punishment, there is no sign of a decrease in serious crimes. Rather, you end up condemning people to death without tackling the real cause of social decline.

The normalization of extreme positions

The Censis data on the support for the death penalty is part of a series of ideas that until recently were unspeakable and that now seem increasingly justified and therefore accepted. Italian society in recent years seems to have become increasingly ugly, inebriated. The boundary dividing what is socially acceptable from what is not has gradually become more porous, more blurred. Beyond support for the death penalty, there are other examples that represent this dynamic.

In Italy, violence (verbal or physical) as well as death is now legitimized when it comes to immigrants and their fate. It is just part of the game. It is now inevitable, and unremarkable, for them to die at sea, or in the Bosnian cold just a step away from Europe, because we will not be able to welcome them all anyway. Similarly, according to a 2019 SWG survey, more than half of Italians justify racism.

Add to this an endless series of cruel statements by politicians and members of major European institutions, which have never been truly condemned. Mario Draghi has recently praised the actions of the Libyan coast guard that are often the cause of deaths in the Mediterranean, euphemistically defining them as ‘rescues’. Meanwhile, politicians are comfortable enough to say publicly that if they had a gay son they would burn him in an oven. And, Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right party Fratelli d’Italia, supported the abolition of the crime of torture because it prevented agents from doing their job, thus clearing the way for state violence.

The extreme evils — namely the lack of perspective that leads us to want to find extreme solutions that never solve real problems — and the extreme remedies of the death penalty, racism, discrimination and state violence are connected by a single thread that binds most of the difficulties of Italy: a politics that has no impact on reality or on people’s lives.

The excruciating perception that nothing will ever change has, over time, worn out the once more peaceful and conciliatory souls of the Italians. Instead, now, they find on one side of the political spectrum those who have been able to take advantage of these perceptions and on the other those who have not agreed to this torment at all.

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