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THE MARQUIS OF BECCARIA
IT is only necessary to read a few clauses of anything the
W power of his great intellect. The reader accustomed to strive with other writers for the privilege of wresting their meaning from their words is so strongly compelled by Beccaria, that, unless he deliberately make up his mind to dissent at the beginning, he will be forced from one irresistible conclusion to another. It is doubt. : ful if Italy since the time of Cicero, has produced Beccaria's equat as*• . a master of style and as a thinker in his own field of the philosophy ::: of human action. His eminence in Italian literature is incontestible.*** He has a faculty of striking out his sentences, complete in thought and ready for separate currency, as if they came from the stamp of a mint, while at the same time each is a part of the sum of a broader thought, and a link in the chain of its demonstration. «It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them"; ... «The majority of laws are nothing but privileges, or a tribute paid by all to the convenience of some few”; ... “Salutary is the fear of the law, but fatal and fertile in crime is the fear of one man by another”; . . . «Would you prevent crimes—then see that enlightenment accompanies liberty)); ... «The evils that flow from knowledge are in inverse ratio to its diffusion”; ... «the great clash [is] between the errors which are serviceable to a few men of power and the truths which are serviceable to the weak and the many” – in such sentences as these which crowd each other in his pages, we must feel, even when we cannot comprehend, the secret of the power which enabled him so to sway the mind of civilization that within fifty years after the publication of his great work, « Dei Delitti e Delle Pene» (On Crimes and Punishments), it had influenced for the better the whole course of government in every Caucasian nation of the world, justifying fully in results the calm confidence with which Beccaria had written: «The voice of the philosopher is feeble against the noise and cries of so many followers of blind custom, but the few wise men scattered over the earth will respond from their innost hearts.”
Beccaria's relations to Montesquieu are evident. He seems to have regarded himself as Montesquieu's pupil, but his intellectual habits are in all things those of the master,—the man of universal sympathy using a strong intellect as a mode of expression for a soul inspired by the sacred desire of decreasing the suffering of mankind.
He was born at Milan in 1735, and educated in the Jesuit College at Parma. His first work as an essayist was done on a small paper called Il Caffè, modeled on the Spectator, so that the style and mind of Addison may fairly be assumed as greatly influential in determining his intellectual habits. His work on “Crimes and Punishments,” published in 1764, passed through six editions at once and was soon translated into the principal languages of Europe. One of the most radical thinkers of modern times, Beccaria was nevertheless so conservative in his attitude towards existing institutions, and so distrustful of all revolutionary changes, that he was chosen to assist in reforming the Italian Judicial Code, and appointed to a chair of Public Law and Economy which had been founded expressly for him :in the Palatine College of Milan. He died in 1793.
THE PREVENTION OF CRIMES
It the chief of leading
It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them. This is | the chief aim of every good system of legislation, which is
the art of leading men to the greatest possible happiness or to the least possible misery, according to calculation of all the goods and evils of life. But the means hitherto employed for this end are for the most part false and contrary to the end proposed. It is impossible to reduce the turbulent activity of men to a geometrical harmony without irregularity or confusion. As the constant and most simple laws of nature do not prevent aberrations in the movements of the planets, so, in the infinite and contradictory attractions of pleasure and pain, disturbances and disorder cannot be prevented by human laws. Yet this is the chimera that narrow-minded men pursue, when they have power in their hands. To prohibit a number of indifferent acts is not to prevent the crimes that may arise from them, but it is to create new ones from them; it is to give capricious definitions of virtue and vice which are proclaimed as eternal and immutable in their nature. To what should we be reduced if everything had to be forbidden us which might tempt us to a crime? It would be necessary to deprive a man of the use of his senses. For one motive that drives men to commit a real crime, there are a thousand that drive them to the commission of those indifferent acts which are called crimes by bad laws; and if the likelihood of crimes is proportioned to the number of motives to commit them, an increase of the field of crimes is an increase of the likelihood of their commission. The majority of laws are nothing but privileges, or a tribute paid by all to the convenience of some few.
Would you prevent crimes? Then cause the laws to be clear and simple; bring the whole force of a nation to bear on their defense, and suffer no part of it to be busied in overthrowing them. Make the laws to favor not so much classes of men as men themselves. Cause men to fear the laws and the laws alone. Salutary is the fear of the law, but fatal and fertile in crime is the fear of one man by another. Men as slaves are more sensual, more immoral, more cruel than free men; and, while the latter give their minds to the sciences or to the interests of their country, setting great objects before themselves as their model, the former, contented with the passing day, seek in the excitement of libertinage a distraction from the nothingness of their existence, and, accustomed to an uncertainty of result in everything, they look upon the results of their crimes as uncertain too, and so decide in favor of the passion that tempts them. If uncertainty of the laws affects a nation, rendered indolent by its climate, its indolence and stupidity is thereby maintained and increased; if it affects a nation, which though fond of pleasure is also full of energy, it wastes that energy in a number of petty cabals and intrigues which spread distrust in every heart, and make treachery and dissimulation the foundation of prudence. If, again, it affects a courageous and brave nation, the uncertainty is ultimately destroyed, after many oscillations from liberty to servitude, and from servitude back again to liberty.
Would you prevent crimes? Then see that enlightenment accompanies liberty. The evils that flow from knowledge are in inverse ratio to its diffusion; the benefits directly proportioned to it. A bold impostor, who is never a commonplace man, is adored by an ignorant people, but despised by an enlightened one. Knowledge, by facilitating comparisons between objects and multiplying men's points of view, brings many different notions into contrast, causing them to modify one another all the more easily as the same views and the same difficulties are observed in others. In the face of a widely diffused national enlightenment, the calumnies of ignorance are silent, and authority, disarmed of pretexts for its manifestation, trembles; while the rigorous force of the laws remains unshaken, no one of education having any dislike to the clear and useful public compacts which secure the common safety, when he compares the trifling and useless liberty sacrificed by himself with the sum total of all the liberties sacrificed by others, who without the laws might have been hostile to himself. Whoever has a sensitive soul, when he contemplates a code of well-made laws, and finds that he has only lost the pernicious liberty of injuring others, will feel himself constrained to bless the throne and the monarch that sits upon it.
It is not true that the sciences have always been injurious to mankind; when they were so, it was an inevitable evil. The multiplication of the human race over the face of the earth introduced war, the ruder arts, and the first laws, mere temporary agreements which perished with the necessity that gave rise to them. This was mankind's primitive philosophy, the few elements of which were just, because the indolence and slight wisdom of their framers preserved them from error. But with the multiplication of men there went ever a multiplication of their wants. Stronger and more lasting impressions were, therefore, needed, in order to turn them back from repeated lapses to that primitive state of disunion which each return to it rendered worse. Those primitive delusions, therefore, which peopled the earth with false divinities and created an invisible universe that governed our own, conferred a great benefit — I mean a great political benefit - upon humanity. Those men were benefactors of their kind who dared to deceive them and drag them, docile and ignorant, to worship at such altars. By presenting to them objects that lay beyond the scope of sense and fled from their grasp the nearer they seemed to approach them,- never despised, because never well understood,- they concentrated their divided passions upon a single object of supreme interest to them. These were the first steps of all the nations that formed themselves out of savage tribes; this was the epoch when larger communities were formed, and such was their necessary and perhaps their only bond. I say nothing of that chosen people of God, for whom the most extraordinary miracles and the most signal favors were a substitute for human policy. But as it is the quality of error to fall into infinite subdivisions, so the sciences that grew
out of it made of mankind a blind fanatical multitude, which, shut up within a close labyrinth, collides in such confusion, that some sensitive and philosophical minds have regretted to this day the ancient savage state. That is the first epoch in which the sciences or rather scientific opinions are injurious.
The second epoch of history consists in the hard and terrible transition from error to truth, from the darkness of ignorance to the light. The great clash between the errors which are serviceable to a few men of power and the truths which are serviceable to the weak and the many, and the contact and the fermentation of the passions at such a period aroused, are a source of infinite evils to unhappy humanity. Whoever ponders on the different histories of the world, which after certain intervals of time are so much alike in their principal episodes, will therein frequently observe the sacrifice of a whole generation to the welfare of succeeding ones, in the painful but necessary transitions from the darkness of ignorance to the light of philosophy, and from despotism to freedom, which result from the sacrifice. But when truth, whose progress at first is slow and afterwards rapid (after men's minds have calmed down and the fire is quenched that purged a nation of the evils it suffered), sits as the companion of kings upon the throne, and is reverenced and worshiped in the parliaments of free governments, who will ever dare assert that the light which enlightens the people is more injurious than darkness, and that acknowledging the true and simple relations of things is pernicious to mankind ?
If blind ignorance is less pernicious than confused halfknowledge, since the latter adds to the evils of ignorance those of error, which is unavoidable in a narrow view of the limits of truth, the most precious gift that a sovereign can make to himself or to his people is an enlightened man as the trustee and guardian of the sacred laws. Accustomed to see the truth and not to fear it; independent for the most part of the demands of reputation, which are never completely satisfied and put most men's virtue to a trial; used to consider humanity from higher points of view; such a man regards his own nation as a family of men and of brothers, and the distance between the nobles and the people seems to him so much the less as he has before his mind the larger total of the whole human species. Philosophers acquire wants and interests unknown to the generality of men,but that one above all others, of not belying in public the prin