Retributive Justice in the Breivik Case: Exploring the Rationale for Punitive Restraint in Response to the Worst Crimes

Retfaerd - Nordic Journal of Law and Justice 1:25-43 (2024)
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The article discusses retributive justice and punitive restraint in response to the worst types of crime. I take the Breivik Case as a starting point. Anders Behring Breivik was sentenced to 21 years of preventive detention for killing 69 people, mainly youths, at Utøya and 8 people in Oslo on July 22nd, 2011. Retributivist theories as well as commonly held retributive intuitions suggest that much harsher punishment is required for such crimes. According to some retributivist theories, most notably on the influential theories of Kant and Hegel, the death penalty is warranted for murderers like Breivik. This suggests that the rationale for punitive restraint in a case like the Breivik Case can only be found in forward- looking, consequentialist theories of punishment, or by adding to retributivist theories a side-constraint in the form of a principle of parsimony. However, I argue that if we look closer at the function of punishment in the retributivist theories of Kant and Hegel, they too imply a rationale for punitive restraint, even for such horrific crimes as here discussed. Against Kant and Hegel’s own views on the death penalty, I argue that their broader “freedom theories” of retributive justice do not imply the justice of the death penalty or life imprisonment. In the last part of the article, I explore differences in the concepts of freedom entailed by Kant and Hegel’s theories, and I relate these to some of the background factors relevant to the Breivik Case.

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David C. Vogt
University of Bergen


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