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By this knowledge, commerce is animated, and there has sprung up a spirit of emulation, and industry, worthy of rational beings.These are the produce of this enlightened age; but the cruelty of punishments, and the irregularity of proceeding in criminal cases, so principal a part of the legislation, and so much neglected throughout Europe, has hardly ever been called in question.
In political arithmetic, it is necessary to substitute a calculation of probabilities, to mathematical exactness.
That force, which continually impels us to our own private interest, like gravity, acts incessantly, unless it meets with an obstacle to oppose it.
But it was not sufficient only to establish this deposite; it was also necessary to defend it from the usurpation of each individual, who will always endeavour to take away from the mass, not only his own portion, but to encroach on that of others.
Some motives, therefore, that strike the senses, were necessary to prevent the despotism of each individual from plunging society into its former chaos.
It is upon this then, that the sovereign's right to punish crimes is founded; that is, upon the necessity of defending the public liberty, entrusted to his care, from the usurpation of individuals; and punishments are just in proportion, as the liberty, preserved by the sovereign, is sacred and valuable. All punishments, which exceed the necessity of preserving this bond, are in their nature unjust. Therefore there ought to be a fixed proportion between crimes and punishments.
It is impossible to prevent entirely all the disorders which the passions of mankind cause in society.But men generally abandon the care of their most important concerns to the uncertain prudence and discretion of those, whose interest it is to reject the best, and wisest institutions; and it is not till they have been led into a thousand mistakes in matters, the most essential to their lives and liberties, and are weary of suffering, that they can be induced to apply a remedy to the evils, with which they are oppressed.It is then they begin to conceive, and acknowledge the most palpable truths, which, from their very simplicity, commonly escape vulgar minds, incapable of analysing objects, accustomed to receive impressions without distinction, and to be determined rather by the opinions of others, than by the result of their own examination.If we look into history we shall find, that laws, which are, or ought to be, conventions between men in a state of freedom, have been, for the most part, the work of the passions of a few, or the consequences of a fortuitous, or temporary necessity; not dictated by a cool examner of human nature, who knoew how to collect in one point, the actions of a multitude, and had this only end in view, the greatest happiness of the greatest number.Happy are those few nations, who 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!The legislator acts, in this case, like a skilful architect, who endeavors to counteract the force of gravity, by combining the circumstances which may contribute to the strength of his edifice. Even amongst the motives which incite men to acts of religion, the invisible legislator has ordained rewards and punishments.From a partial distribution of these, will arise that contradiction, so little observed, because so common; I mean, that of punishing by the laws, the crimes which the laws have occasioned. .) From the foregoing considerations it is evident, that the intent of punishments, is not to torment a sensible being, nor to undo a crime already committed.Can the groans of a tortured wretch recall the time past, or reverse the crime he has committed? .) The course of my ideas has carried me, away from my subject, to the elucidation of which I now return.The end of punishment, therefore, is no other, than to prevent the criminal from doing further injury to society, and to prevent others from committing the like offence. .) The more immediately after the commission of a crime, a punishment is inflicted, the more just and useful it will be. .) An immediate punishment is more useful; because the smaller the interval of time between the punishment and the crime, the stronger and more lasting will be the association of the two ideas of Crime and Punishment; so that they may be considered, one as the cause, and the other as the unavoidable and necessary effect. Crimes are more effectually prevented by the certainty, than the severity of punishment.And how great are the obligations due from mankind to that philosopher, who from the obscurity of his closet, had the courage to scatter amongst the multitude, the seeds of useful truths, so long unfruitful!The art of printing has diffused the knowledge of those philosophical truths, by which the relations between sovereigns and their subjects, and between nations, are discovered.