On Crimes and Punishments and Other Writings

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University of Toronto Press, Jan 1, 2008 - History - 190 pages

Published in 1764, On Crimes and Punishments by Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) courted both success and controversy in Europe and North America. Enlightenment luminaries and enlightened monarchs alike lauded the text and looked to it for ideas that might help guide the various reform projects of the day. The equality of every citizen before the law, the right to a fair trial, the abolition of the death penalty, the elimination of the use of torture in criminal interrogations--these are but a few of the vital arguments articulated by Beccaria.

This volume offers a new English translation of On Crimes and Punishment alongside writings by a number of Beccaria's contemporaries. Of particular interest is Voltaire's commentary on the text, which is included in its entirety. The supplementary materials testify not only to the power and significance of Beccaria's ideas, but to the controversial reception of his book. At the same time that philosophes proclaimed that it contained principles of enduring importance to any society grappling with matters of political and criminal justice, allies of the ancien régime roundly denounced it, fearing that the book's attack on feudal privileges and its call to separate law from religion (and thus crime from sin) would undermine their longstanding privileges and powers.

Long appreciated as a foundational text in criminology, Beccaria's arguments have become central in debates over capital punishment. This new edition presents Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishments as an important and influential work of Enlightenment political theory.

 

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About the author (2008)

Cesare Beccaria (1738-1764) was a phiosopher and politician best known for his treatise On Crimes and Punishments . In 1768, Beccaria was appointed to the chair law and economy, a position founded expressly for him, at the Palatine college of Milan.

Jeremy Parzen earned his Ph.D. in Italian Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is an independent scholar living in New York City.

Aaron Thomas is a doctoral candidate specializing in Political Theory and Italian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

François-Marie Arouet known as Voltaire, was born in Paris in 1694. He was educated by the Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand (1704-1711), where he learned Latin and Greek; later in life he became fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English. By the time he left school, Voltaire had decided he wanted to be a writer. His father then obtained a job for him as a secretary to the French ambassador in the Netherlands. Most of Voltaire's early life revolved around Paris. From early on, Voltaire had trouble with the authorities for critiques of the government and religious intolerance. These activities were to result in two imprisonments and a temporary exile to England. The name "Voltaire", which the author adopted in 1718, is an anagram of "AROVET LI," the Latinized spelling of his surname, Arouet, and the initial letters of "le jeune" ("the young"). The name also echoes in reverse order the syllables of the name of a family château in the Poitou region: "Airvault". The adoption of the name "Voltaire" following his incarceration at the Bastille is seen by many to mark Voltaire's formal separation from his family and his past. Voltaire continued to write plays, such as Mérope (or La Mérope française) and began his long research into science and history. From 1762, he began to champion unjustly persecuted people, the case of Jean Calas being the most celebrated. This Huguenot merchant had been tortured to death in 1763, supposedly because he had murdered his son for wanting to convert to Catholicism. His possessions were confiscated and his remaining children were taken from his widow and were forced to become members of a monastery. Voltaire, seeing this as a clear case of religious persecution, managed to overturn the conviction in 1765. n February 1778, Voltaire returned for the first time in 20 years to Paris. He soon became ill again and died on 30 May 1778.

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