He who kills himself does a less injury to society than he who quits his country for ever; for the other leaves his property behind him, but this carries with him at least a part of his substance. Besides, as the strength of society consists in the number of citizens, he who quits one nation to reside in another, becomes a double loss. This then is the question : whether it be advantageous to society that its members should enjoy the unlimited privilege of migration?
Every law that is not armed with force, or which, from circumstances, must be ineffectual, should not be promulgated. Opinion, which reigns over the minds of men, obeys the slow and indirect impressions of the legislator, but resists them when violently and directly applied; and useless laws communicate their insignificance to the most salutary, which are regarded more as obstacles to be surmounted than as safeguards of the public good. But further, our preceptions being limited, by enforcing the observance of laws which are evidently useless, we destroy the influence of the most salutary.
From this principle a wise dispenser of public happiness may draw some useful consequences, the explanation of which would carry me too far from my subject, which is to prove the inutility of making the nation a prison. Such a law is vain; because, unless inaccessible rocks or impassible seas divide the country from all others, how will it be possible to secure every point of the circumference, or how will you guard the guards themselves? Besides, this crime once committed cannot be punished; and to punish it before hand would be to punish the intention and not the action, the will, which is entirely out of the power of human laws. To punish the absent by confiscating his effects, besides the facility of collusion, which would inevitably be the case, and which, without tyranny, could not be prevented, would put a stop to all commerce with other nations. To punish the criminal when he returns, would be to prevent him from repairing the evil he had already done to society, by making his absence perpetual. Besides, any prohibition would increase the desire of removing, and would infallibly prevent strangers from settling in the country.
What must we think of a government which has no means but fear to keep its subjects in their own country, to which, by the first impressions of their infancy, they are so strongly attached. The most certain method of keeping men at home is to make them happy; and it is the interest of every state to turn the balance, not only of commerce, but of felicity, in favour of its subjects. The pleasures of luxury are not the principle sources of this happiness, though, by preventing the too great accumulation of wealth in a few hands, they become a necessary remedy against the too great inequality of individuals, which always increases with the progress of society.
When the populousness of a country does not increase in proportion to its extent, luxury favours despotism for where men are most dispersed there is least industry, and where there is least industry the dependence of the poor upon the luxury of the rich is greatest, and the union of the oppressed against the oppressors is least to be feared. In such circumstances, rich and powerful men more easily command distinction, respect, and service, by which they are raised to a greater height above the poor; for men are more independent the less they are observed, and are least observed when most numerous. On the contrary, when the number of people is too great in proportion to the extent of a country, luxury is a check to despotism; because it is a spur to industry, and because the labour of the poor affords so many pleasures to the rich, that they disregard the luxury of ostentation, which would remind the people of their dependence. Hence we see, that, in vast and depopulated states, the luxury of ostentation prevails over that of convenience; but in countries more populous, the luxury of convenience tends constantly to diminish the luxury of ostentation.
The pleasures of luxury have this inconvenience, that though they employ a great number of hands, yet they are only enjoyed by a few, whilst the rest who do not partake of them, feel the want more sensibly on comparing their state with that of others. Security and liberty, restrained by the laws, are the basis of happiness, and when attended by these, the pleasures of luxury favour population, without which they become the instruments of tyranny. As the most noble and generous animals fly to solitude and inaccessible deserts, and abandon the fertile plains to man their greatest enemy, so men reject pleasure itself when offered by the hand of tyranny.
But, to return:---If it be demonstrated that the laws which imprison
men in their own country are vain and unjust, it will be equally true of
those which punish suicide; for that can only be punished after death,
which is in the power of God alone; but it is no crime with regard to man,
because the punishment falls on an innocent family. If it be objected,
that the consideration of such a punishment may prevent the crime, I answer,
that he who can calmly renounce the pleasure of existence, who is so weary
of life as to brave the idea of eternal misery, will never be influenced
by the more distant and less powerful considerations of family and children.
This crime being a theft of what belongs to the prince, and consequently to the nation, why is it not attended with infamy? I answer, that crimes which men consider as productive of no bad consequences to themselves, do not interest them sufficiently to excite their indignation. The generality of mankind, upon whom remote consequences make no impression, do not see the evil that may result from the practice of smuggling, especially if they reap from it any present advantage. They only perceive the loss sustained by the prince. They are not then interested in refusing their esteem to the smuggler, as to one who has committed a theft or a forgery, or other crimes, by which they themselves may suffer, from this evident principle, that a sensible being only interests himself in those evils with which he is acquainted,
Shall this crime then, committed by one who has nothing to lose, go
unpunished? No. There are certain species of smuggling, which so particularly
affect the revenue, a part of government so essential, and managed with
so much difficulty, that they deserve imprisonment, or even slavery; but
yet of such a nature as to be proportioned to the crime. For example, it
would be highly unjust, that a smuggler of tobacco should suffer the same
punishment with a robber or assassin; but it would be most conformable
to the nature of the offence, that the produce of his labour should be
applied to the use of the crown, which he intended to defraud.
But, to return to the honest bankrupt: let his debt, if you will, not be considered as cancelled, till the payment of the whole; let him be refused the liberty of leaving the country without leave of his creditors, or of carrying into another nation that industry which, under a penalty, he should be obliged to employ for their benefit; but what pretence can justify the depriving an innocent though unfortunate man of his liberty, without the least utility to his creditors?
But, say they, the hardships of confinement will induce him to discover his fraudulent transactions; an event that can hardly be supposed, after a rigorous examination of his conduct and affairs. But if they are not discovered, he will escape unpunished. It is, I think, a maxim of government, that the importance of the political inconveniencies arising from the impunity of a crime, are directly as the injury to the public, and inversely as the difficulty of proof.
It will be necessary to distinguish fraud, attended with aggravating circumstances, from simple fraud, and that from perfect innocence. For the first, let there be ordained the same punishment as for forgery; for the second a less punishment, but with the loss of liberty; and if perfectly honest, let the bankrupt himself choose the method of re-establishing himself, and of satisfying his creditors; or, if he should appear not to have been strictly honest, let that be determined by his creditors; but these distinctions should be fixed by the laws, which alone are impartial, and not by the arbitrary and dangerous prudence of judges.
With what ease might a sagacious legislator prevent the greatest part
of fraudulent bankruptcies, and remedy the misfortunes that befall the
honest and industrious! A public register of all contracts, with the liberty
of consulting it allowed to every citizen: a public fund, formed by a contribution
of the opulent merchants, for the timely assistance of unfortunate industry,
were establishments that could produce no real inconveniencies, and many
advantages. But, unhappily, the most simple, the easiest, yet the wisest
laws, that wait only for the nod of the legislator, to diffuse through
nations wealth, power, and felicity, laws which would be regarded by future
generations with eternal gratitude, are either unknown or rejected. A restless
and trifling spirit, the timid prudence of the present moment, a distrust
and aversion to the most useful novelties, possess the minds of those who
are empowered to regulate the actions of mankind.
In the whole extent of a political state there should be no place independent of the laws. Their power should follow every subject, as the shadow follows the body. Sanctuaries and impunity differ only in degree, and as the effect of punishments depends more on their certainty than their greatness, men are more strongly invited to crimes by sanctuaries than they are deterred by punishment. To increase the number of sanctuaries is to erect so many little sovereignties; for where the laws have no power, new bodies will be formed in opposition to the public good, and a spirit established contrary to that of the state. History informs us, that from the use of sanctuaries have arisen the greatest revolutions in kingdoms and in opinions.
Some have pretended, that in whatever country a crime, that is, an action contrary to the laws of society, be committed, the criminal may be justly punished for it in any other; as if the character of subject were indelible, or synonymous with or worse than that of slave; as if a man could live in one country and be subject to the laws of another, or be accountable for his actions to two sovereigns, or two codes of laws often contradictory. There are also those who think, that an act of cruelty committed, for example, at Constantinople may be punished at Paris, for this abstracted reason, that he who offends humanity should have enemies in all mankind, and be the object of universal execration; as if judges were to be the knights-errant of human nature in general, rather than guardians of particular conventions between men. The place of punishment can certainly be no other than that where the crime was committed; for the necessity of punishing an individual for the general good, subsists there, and there only. A villain, if he has not broke through the conventions of a society, of which, by my supposition, he was not a member, may be feared, and by force banished and excluded from that society, but ought not to be formally punished by the laws, which were only intended to maintain the social compact, and not to punish the intrinsic malignity of actions.
Whether it be useful that nations should mutually deliver up their criminals?
Although the certainty of there being no part of the earth where crimes
are not punished, may be a means of preventing them, I shall not pretend
to determine this question, until laws more conformable to the necessities,
and rights of humanity, and until milder punishments, and the abolition
of the arbitrary power of opinion, shall afford security to virtue and
innocence when oppressed; and until tyranny shall be confined to the plains
of Asia, and Europe acknowledge the universal empire of reason by which
the interests of sovereigns and subjects are best united.
Even the times of ignorance, when private virtue was encouraged by public
morality, may afford instruction and example to more enlightened ages,
But laws which reward treason excite clandestine war and mutual distrust,
and oppose that necessary union of morality and policy which is the foundation
of happiness and universal peace.
In like manner, with regard to the accomplices, they ought not to suffer so severe a punishment as the immediate perpetrator of the crime: but this for a different reason. When a number of men unite, and run a common risk, the greater the danger, the more they endeavour to distribute it equally. Now, if the principals be punished more severely than the accessories, it will prevent the danger from being equally divided, and will increase the difficulty of finding a person to execute the crime, as his danger is greater by the difference of the punishment. There can be but one exception to this rule, and that is, when the principal receives a reward from the accomplices. In that case, as the difference of the danger is compensated, the punishment should be equal. These reflections may appear too refined to those who do not consider, that it is of great importance that the laws should leave the associates as few means as possible of agreeing among themselves.
In some tribunals a pardon is offered to an accomplice in a great crime, if he discover his associates. This expedient has its advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages are, that the law authorises treachery, which is detested even by the villains themselves, and introduces crimes of cowardice, which are much more pernicious to a nation than crimes of courage. Courage is not common, and on1v wants a benevolent power to direct it to the public good. Cowardice, on the contrary, is a frequent, self-interested, and contagious evil, which can never be improved into a virtue. Besides, the tribunal which has recourse to this method, betrays its fallibility, and the laws their weakness, by imploring the assistance of those by whom they are, violated.
The advantages are, that it prevents great crimes, the effects of which
being public, and the perpetrators concealed, terrify the people. It also
contributes to prove, that he who violates the laws, which are public conventions,
will also violate private compacts. It appears to me that a general law,
promising a reward to every accomplice who discovers his associates, would
be better than a special declaration in every particular case; because
it would prevent the union of those villains, as it would inspire a mutual
distrust, and each would be afraid of exposing himself alone to danger.
The accomplice, however, should be pardoned, on condition of transportation.---But
it is in vain that I torment myself with endeavouring to extinguish the
remorse I feel in attempting to induce the sacred laws, the monument of
public confidence, the foundation of human morality, to authorise dissimulation
and perfidy. But what an example does it offer to a nation to see the interpreters
of the laws break their promise of pardon, and on the strength of learned
subtleties, and to the scandal of public faith, drag him to punishment
who hath accepted of their invitation! Such examples are not uncommon,
and this is the reason that political society is regarded as a complex
machine, the springs of which are moved at pleasure by the most dexterous
or most powerful.
He who obstinately refuses to answer the interrogatories deserves a
punishment, which should be fixed by the laws, and that of the severest
kind; the criminals should not, by their silence, avade the example which
they owe the public. But this punishment is not necessary when the guilt
of the criminal is indisputable; because in that case interrogation is
useless, as is likewise his confession, when there are, without it, proofs
sufficient. This last case is most common, for experience shews, that in
the greatest number of criminal prosecutions the culprit pleads not guilty.
The laws of this nature are those which forbid to wear arms, disarming those only who are not disposed to commit the crime which the laws mean to prevent. Can it be supposed, that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, and the most important of the code, will respect the less considerable and arbitrary injunctions, the violation of which is so easy, and of so little comparative importance? Does not the execution of this law deprive the subject of that personal liberty, so dear to mankind and to the wise legislator? and does it not subject the innocent to all the disagreeable circumstances that should only fall on the guilty? It certainly makes the situation of the assaulted worse, and of the assailants better, and rather encourages than prevents murder, as it requires less courage to attack unarmed than armed persons.
It is a false idea of utility that would give to a multitude of sensible beings that symmetry and order which inanimate matter is alone capable of receiving; to neglect the present, which are the only motives that act with force and constancy on the multitude for the more distant, whose impressions are weak and transitory, unless increased by that strength of imagination so very uncommon among mankind. Finally, that is a false idea of utility which, sacrificing things to names, separates the public good from that of individuals.
There is this difference between a state of society and a state of nature, that a savage does no more mischief to another than is necessary to procure some benefit to himself: but a man in society is sometimes tempted, from a fault in the laws, to injure another without any prospect of advantage. The tyrant inspires his vassals with fear and servility, which rebound upon him with double force, and are the cause of his torment. Fear, the more private and domestic it is, the less dangerous is it to him who makes it the instrument of his happiness; but the more it is public, and the greater number of people it affects, the greater is the probability that some mad, desperate~ or designing person will seduce others to his party by flattering expectations; and this will be the more easily accomplished as the danger of the enterprise will be divided amongst a greater number, because the value the unhappy set upon their existence is less, as their misery is greater.
Writings of Cesare Beccaria