Top Quotes from Cesare Beccaria

No man can be judged a criminal until he is found guilty; nor can society take from him the public protection until it has been proved that he has violated the conditions on which it was granted. What right, then, but that of power, can authorize the punishment of a citizen so long as there remains any doubt of his guilt?

Cesare Beccaria

Philosophers see no harm in the Jesuits other than in their effect on humanity and the sciences. The vulgar and especially the prejudiced only hate them from an envy and jealousy born out of conspiracy and intrigue at an organisation which overshadows them.

Cesare Beccaria

The severity of punishments ought to be relative to the state of the nation itself. Stronger and more easily felt impressions have to be made on a people only just out of the savage state. A lightning strike is needed to stop a fierce lion who is provoked by a gunshot.

Cesare Beccaria

Our knowledge and all of our ideas are mutually connected; the more complicated they are, the more numerous must be the roads that lead to them and depart from them.

Cesare Beccaria

If the same punishment is prescribed for two crimes that injure society in different degrees, then men will face no stronger deterrent from committing the greater crime if they find it in their advantage to do so.

Cesare Beccaria

By ‘justice’, I understand nothing more than that bond which is necessary to keep the interest of individuals united, without which men would return to their original state of barbarity. All punishments which exceed the necessity of preserving this bond are, in their nature, unjust.

Cesare Beccaria

If someone were to say that life at hard labor is as painful as death and therefore equally cruel, I should reply that, taking all the unhappy moments of perpetual slavery together, it is perhaps even more painful, but these moments are spread out over a lifetime, and capital punishment exercises all its power in an instant.

Cesare Beccaria

If there were an exact and universal scale of punishments and crimes, we would have a fairly reliable and shared instrument to measure the degree of tyranny and liberty, of the basic humanity or malice of the different nations.

Cesare Beccaria

The laws only can determine the punishment of crimes, and the authority of making penal laws can only reside with the legislator, who represents the whole society united by the social compact.

Cesare Beccaria

In order that punishment should not be an act of violence perpetrated by one or many upon a private citizen, it is essential that it should be public, speedy, necessary, the minimum possible in the given circumstances, proportionate to the crime, and determined by the law.

Cesare Beccaria

If we open our history books, we shall see that the laws, for all that they are or should be contracts amongst free men, have rarely been anything but the tools of the passions of a few men or the offspring of a fleeting and haphazard necessity.

Cesare Beccaria

When the code of laws is once fixed, it should be observed in the literal sense, and nothing more is left to the judge than to determine whether an action is or is not conformable to the written law.

Cesare Beccaria

Easy, simple and great laws, which await nothing but a sign from the lawgiver to spread prosperity and vigour throughout the nation, laws which would earn him immortal hymns of gratitude down the generations, are those which are least considered or least wanted.

Cesare Beccaria

No man ever freely surrendered a portion of his own liberty for the sake of the public good; such a chimera appears only in fiction. If it were possible, we would each prefer that the pacts binding others did not bind us; every man sees himself as the centre of all the world’s affairs.

Cesare Beccaria

Happy are those few nations that have not waited till the slow succession of human vicissitudes should, from the extremity of evil, produce a transition to good; but by prudent laws have facilitated the progress from one to the other!

Cesare Beccaria

The moral and political principles that govern men are derived from three sources: revelation, natural law, and the artificial conventions of society. With regard to its main purpose, there is no comparison between the first and the others; but all three are alike in that they all lead towards happiness in this mortal life.

Cesare Beccaria

In every human society, there is an effort continually tending to confer on one part the height of power and happiness, and to reduce the other to the extreme of weakness and misery. The intent of good laws is to oppose this effort and to diffuse their influence universally and equally.

Cesare Beccaria

Nothing could be more dangerous than following the popular maxim whereby it is the spirit of the law that must be consulted. This is an embankment that, once broken, gives way to a torrent of opinions.

Cesare Beccaria

To show men that crimes can be pardoned, and that punishment is not their inevitable consequence, encourages the illusion of impunity and induces the belief that, since there are pardons, those sentences which are not pardoned are violent acts of force rather than the products of justice.

Cesare Beccaria

The lawgiver ought to be gentle, lenient and humane. The lawgiver ought to be a skilled architect who raises his building on the foundation of self-love, and the interest of all ought to be the product of the interests of each.

Cesare Beccaria

Men’s most superficial feelings lead them to prefer cruel laws. Nevertheless, when they are subjected to them themselves, it is in each man’s interest that they be moderate, because the fear of being injured is greater than the desire to injure.

Cesare Beccaria

Laws are the terms by which independent and isolated men united to form a society, once they tired of living in a perpetual state of war where the enjoyment of liberty was rendered useless by the uncertainty of its preservation. They sacrificed a portion of this liberty so that they could enjoy the remainder in security and peace.

Cesare Beccaria

I myself owe everything to French books. They developed in my soul the sentiments of humanity which had been stifled by eight years of fanatical and servile education.

Cesare Beccaria

It is impossible to anticipate all of the misdeeds engendered by the universal conflict of human passions. They multiply at a compound rate with the growth in population and the interlacing of particular interests that cannot be directed with geometrical precision towards the public utility.

Cesare Beccaria

It will always be considered a praiseworthy undertaking to urge the most obstinate and incredulous to abide by the principles that impel men to live in society. There are, therefore, three distinct classes of vice and virtue: the religious, the natural, and the political. These three classes should never be in contradiction with one another.

Cesare Beccaria

The laws receive their force and authority from an oath of fidelity, either tacit or expressed, which living subjects have sworn to their sovereign, in order to restrain the intestine fermentation of the private interest of individuals.

Cesare Beccaria

For every criminal case, the judge must construct a perfect syllogism: the major premise must be the general law; the minor premise, whether or not the action in question is in compliance with the law; and the conclusion, acquittal or punishment.

Cesare Beccaria

It is the task of theologians to establish the limits of justice and injustice regarding the intrinsic goodness or wickedness of an act; it is the task of the observer of public life to establish the relationships of political justice and injustice, that is, of what is useful or harmful to society.

Cesare Beccaria

To the extent that human spirits are made gentle by the social state, sensibility increases; as it increases, the severity of punishment must diminish if one wishes to maintain a constant relation between object and feeling.

Cesare Beccaria

Unless some other factor is operative, in large, weak and underpopulated states, the luxury of ostentation prevails over that of comfort; but in countries which are more populous than extensive, the luxury of comfort always diminishes ostentation.

Cesare Beccaria