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Old 07-07-2019, 08:01 PM
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Default How an 18th c. Italian reformer has come back into the spotlight

This is a (very short) excerpt from "The First Socialist-- Cesare Beccaria's radical ideas on crime and punishment". If you're a fan of philosophy, Bentham, an advocate for social justice and reform or just a history buff, this is a very good read.

"In less than a century, Europe had started to implement his ideas: torture began to disappear, and the death penalty was abolished in a growing number of states. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of On Crimes and Punishments, the Italian Parliament voted in 1865 to abolish the death penalty in the kingdom and to erect a statue of Beccaria in his native Milan.
Quietly ignored for a century or more, Beccaria’s little book is being rediscovered today. Why? I suspect that his radical, reformist spirit hits a deep chord with many people. Inequality is again on the rise. In most countries, criminalisation is also on the rise: criminal law attempts to micromanage the behaviour of the many, while giving a blank cheque to wealthy billionaires whose tax-dodging and exploitative behaviour go unpunished.
[...]
Beccaria denounced the inequality between the ruling class and the masses: he insisted that disproportionate inequality is bound to increase the crime rate because of poverty and injustice. In turn, that predicament is likely to bring only more social conflict and less certainty about security in society. Penal practices are likely to worsen as a result of this; and criminal law might well become once more a force serving the strong against the most vulnerable. In our societies, which are deeply polarised and unequal, Beccaria’s thought still rings true: we need more social justice and less criminal punishment. To have seen this already in the 18th century was remarkable."


I think the takeaway from the essay is that reform was not a singular task-- not in the scope of nation as it occurred across borders and by different means (some quiet and steady, others bloody revolution), it was not quick as the author shows us a two-hundred-year learning curve and it is not unique to time nor place. As reformers and political activists, we would do well to remember that these things take time, persistence and a multi-disciplinary approach. History teaches us that toppling a deeply rooted system requires so much of its people. I do take issue with the observation in the last line: there was nothing remotely simple about the time that spurred Beccaria to write On Crimes and Punishments. What is remarkable is that in 21st century US politics, we continue to back-burner a time-tested reality until we reach crisis level.
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