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Blind Alley of Nihilism: How we got to a slap on the wrist for a cannibal

John O'Sullivan

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The story is ugly but it shows the consequences of ideas.

German Cannibal Convicted of Manslaughter" was a shocking headline. For starters it contained a redundancy. What is ultimately the most shocking aspect of a shocking case, however, is that Armin Meiwes was sentenced to a mere 8 1/2 years for the lesser crime of manslaughter when he had killed Bernd Brandes, a 48-year-old computer engineer, and eaten him sautéed with garlic, black pepper, potatoes, sprouts ,and a bottle of South African red wine.

Even the most liberal people think or -- as Edmund Burke would improve it, "inwardly feel" -- that cannibalism ought to rate both a verdict of murder and a sentence of life imprisonment. As it is, however, Meiwes is likely to be released in less than five years. He has already been deluged with lucrative publishing offers for his memoirs...

Assisted suicide, euthanasia, cooperative cannibalism -- what is going on? As two sardonic social critics, Roger Kimball of The New Criterion and Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal, have observed, these social innovations have not emerged onto legal ground from nowhere. They can be traced back to the underlying principle of modern liberalism, the so-called "harm principle" laid down by John Stuart Mill in his celebrated On Liberty in the following words: "That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant."

Read the entire article on the National Review Online website.

Posted: 2/12/04



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