Those injuries which affect the honour, that is, that just portion of esteem which every citizen has a right to expect from others, should be punished with infamy. Infamy is a mark of the public disapprobation, which, deprives the object of all consideration in the eyes of his fellow-citizens, of the confidence of his country, and of that fraternity which exists between members of the same society. This is not always in the power of the laws. It is necessary that the infamy inflicted by the laws should be the same with that which results from the relations of things, from universal morality, or from that particular system, adopted by the nation, and the laws, which governs the opinion of the vulgar. If, on the contrary, one be different from the other, either the laws will no longer be respected, or the received notions of morality and probity will vanish, in spite of the declamations of moralists, which are always too weak to resist the force of example. If we declare those actions infamous which are in themselves indifferent. we lessen the infamy of those which are really infamous. The punishment of infamy should not be too frequent, for the power of opinion grows weaker by repetition; nor should it be inflicted on a number of persons at the same time, for the infamy of many resolves itself into the infamy of none.
Painful and corporal punishments should never be applied to fanaticism; for, being founded on pride, it glories in persecution. Infamy and ridicule only should be employed against fanatics if the first, their pride will be overbalanced by the pride of the people; and we may judge of the power of the second, if we consider that even truth Is obliged to summon all her force when attacked by error armed with ridicule. Thus, by opposing one passion to another, and opinion to opinion, a wise legislator puts an end to the admiration of the populace occasioned by a false principle, the original absurdity of which is veiled by some well deduced consequences.
This is the method to avoid confounding the immutable relations of things, or opposing nature, whose actions, not being limited by time, but operating incessantly, overturn and destroy all those vain regulations which contradict her laws. It is not only in the fine arts that the imitation of nature is the fundamental principle; it is the same in sound policy, which is no other than the art of uniting and directing to the same end the natural and immutable sentiments of mankind.
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