Concern over Honour and Prestige
An honor culture that appeared in ancient times, and is based on the idea of opinion despotism to place a family name and status over the law. According to Beccaria, such a culture leads to erroneous and biased decisions since personal characteristics are used to determine whether a person is capable of committing a crime or not (22). The author also criticizes the honor culture for its emphasis on the spirit of the family and the disregard for the unity of society. In this case, a lack of the union of individuals causes social segregation and violence since each of the family unions lives in accordance with its own laws and rules. Instead of objective and commonly accepted arguments to judge criminals, the selfish desires of people motivate their decisions (Beccaria 27). In such a situation, opinion can be considered the only instrument that can impact behaviors, but it cannot work properly as the intention to demonstrate honor becomes prevalent. Duels that were especially common among nobles are a vivid example of selfishness and egocentrism.
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Based on the above arguments that show the destructive nature of the honor culture, Beccaria claims that it should be replaced by equality and liberty protected under the law. The punishment that is chosen by the court should not go beyond the limits established by law. If the court goes beyond the limits in its decision, it will be recognized as unfair and does not correspond to the conditions of the social contract (Beccaria 13). It is stated that equality of all persons before the law is critical, meaning that punishing a person is possible only for those actions that are defined by law as criminal ones.
Among the crimes that directly destroy society or cause the death of its representatives, Beccaria singled out attacks on public peace (25). Recognizing the duty of the police to maintain order in society, he notes the need to be guided in the implementation of this activity by-laws, since every citizen must understand when he or she is guilty and when he or she is innocent. Thus, Beccaria promotes the simplicity, clarity, and structured nature of laws as opposed to the confusion and petty regulation that characterized the previous system of jurisprudence.
Torture, Death Penalty, and Violent Crimes
The feudal law used the confession of the accused one as an undeniable confirmation of his or her guilt, while torture was the keyway to gathering evidence about the case. Beccaria defends the presumption of innocence, arguing that no one can be found guilty before the conviction (32). In his point of view, if the crime is proven, the use of torture loses its meaning, and if the crime has not yet been proven, then torturing a person is unacceptable. The situation when criminals contradict their own testimonies is another case that is discussed by the author. The fear of being severely punished and uncertainty are the main issues that appear during torture (Beccaria 32). Therefore, suspected criminals’ interrogation that uses torture is often biased, which prioritizes the necessity to avoid such violence.
Beccaria proves the complete uselessness of the death penalty for society. If the purpose of any punishment is to deter an individual from committing a crime, the cruel spectacle of the execution of the death penalty does not achieve the desired result. Not the severity of the punishment, but its duration has the greatest impact on the souls of people (Beccaria 52). The observation of the death penalty can cause indignation, compassion, or horror among those who are present in the court or during the execution. Nevertheless, these feelings and impressions will soon be forgotten, while a constant reminder of the destruction caused resulting from the commission of a crime will be more memorable. Imprisonment affects the human conscience and keeps citizens from taking actions that can make them drag out such a miserable existence (Beccaria continues 55). For centuries, the manifestation of brutal execution scenes could not deter people from committing deliberate crimes, which confirms the ineffectiveness of capital punishment.
Discussing violent crimes, Beccaria distinguishes between assaults against property and those against people. While the latter should receive capital punishment, the former can be punished with milder methods. There should be no separation between rich and poor citizens as all people should be judged equally regardless of their property, income, and class (Beccaria 41). The laws should not view rich ones as people and consider that poor one are things since it is a direct expression of tyranny. Those who have power should not be allowed to transform laws and protect themselves from equal punishment when they commit violent crimes.
Crime Prevention is better than Punishment
In his On Crimes and Punishments and Other Writings, Beccaria suggests that punishment for crimes committed should not be violent. It is better to make the penalty speedy, public, and relevant, avoiding the impact on individual citizens. What is more important, the author states that crime prevention should be preferred because of its great potential to reduce the rate of crimes in a long term. According to Beccaria, by educating people and equipping them with social services, it is possible to prevent many crimes since inequality would be decreased (84). At the same time, it is stressed that repressions and prohibitions are not effective in crime prevention as they “deprive man of the use of his senses” (Beccaria 79). To implement crime prevention, it is necessary to place the value of a person over the value of a class to encourage the emergence of a nation as a unity.
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To prevent crimes, Beccaria recommends not only punishing criminals, but also promoting the development of science, rewarding virtues, and paying more attention to raising children. As if wishing to prove that he was not prone to excessive sentimentality, Beccaria also states that abandoning mercy, the institution of pardon, should be institutionalized in-laws, not be a whim of a judge or ruler (84). As stated by the mentioned author, pardons are likely to become less required as punishment would become milder. In turn, clemency should be adopted as the key priority of a sovereign society, where public happiness is valued. This approach is expected to create a belief that a person who committed a crime cannot be pardoned as non-pardoning is a sign of violence leading to impunity (Beccaria 85). However, a judge leaving the place for impunity cannot ensure safety and equality in society. Therefore, the author calls on lawmakers and law conductors to become wise architects, who build a loving and caring system of justice.
Beccaria, Cesare. On Crimes and Punishments and Other Writings. University of Toronto Press, 2008.