Are there distinctive postmodern forms of punishment? Is the contemporary 'punitive' turn in the United States a sign of things to come in Europe? Is modern rationality at odds with violence, or the means to applying violence systematically? Punitive States links together these key contemporary debates in criminology, penology and social theory and offers an alternative analysis inspired by Georges Bataille and Rene Girard. The book concludes with three dramatic case studies that relate the foregoing arguments to contemporary cultural forms and political decisions.