The Case for Revenge
University of Chicago Press 2013
All humans have an emotionally-driven sense of fairness. We get treated unfairly and we get mad. It’s no wonder, then, that our laws–and those of almost everyone else–are intended to assure that people are treated fairly. When those laws fail and we are treated unfairly, we encounter another human universal–the desire for revenge. If someone pokes you in the eye, more likely than not your first inclination is going to be to poke them in the eye too. That “eye-for-an-eye” logic just feels intuitively fair to us. Yet, our laws–and those of most “civilized” places–explicitly deny victims the right to avenge their injuries. The state has a monopoly on justice, and the state’s justice (theoretically) has nothing to do with revenge. The courts asks victims to check their “irrational” desire for revenge and pursue what is (supposedly) a higher, more “rational” form of justice.
In Payback: The Case for Revenge (University of Chicago Press, 2013), Thane Rosenbaum argues that we’ve gone way too far in our rejection of revenge. By denying the right to revenge, we have essentially asked people to do something that is impossible–squelch their very natural feeling that wrong-doers must pay in equal measure for the harms they brought. In order for the moral universe to be righted, scofflaws must pay–and be seen to have paid–for what they have done. Our laws recognize none of this, says Rosenbaum, and we should do something about it. We need to bring revenge, he argues, back in.