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Acting Before Victims Become Victims: Preventing and Arresting Mass Murder, 40 Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 57 (2008)


Murder, the taking of life, is the ultimate and irrevocable violation of human dignity and, for each individual, the ultimate terror. Because each of us fears being murdered, we all look to our various communities for the protection of our individual lives; Hobbes laid motives of this sort at the very foundation of the state, and H.L.A. Hart saw the inability of even the strongest among us to defend ourselves all the time as an imperative for the existence of a legal system. Even the most powerful person, Professor Hart observed, must sometimes sleep. The raison d'etre of the modem state, and a major purpose of international law, is the provision of security, which means the protection of individual lives.

Yet, for all the urgency that each of us gives to this ultimate and most individualized form of personal security, and for all the intensity of our demands on our governments to guarantee it, there is little that any government, even the most authoritarian and controlling, can actually do to prevent single acts of murderous violence. Democratic governments, which must try to requite popular demands, face special obstacles here; for important policy reasons, they must resist proactive preventions and perforce look to other preventive methods, such as socialization. Socialization is a longterm strategy, cultivated at every level of social organization, that tries to redirect violent impulses into socially approved channels and, in particular, away from fellow group members. The fact that group members continue to murder one another, however, demonstrates that socialization is far from a perfect preventive strategy.

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