Of Crimes and Punishments
I conclude with this reflection, that the severity of
punishments ought to be in proportion to the state of the nation. Among a
people hardly yet emerged from barbarity, they should be most severe, as strong
impressions are required; but, in proportion as the minds of men become
softened by their intercourse in society, the severity of punishments should be
diminished, if it be intended that the necessary relation between the object
and the sensation should be maintained.
From what I have written results the following general
theorem, of considerable utility, though not conformable to custom, the common
legislator of nations:
That a punishment may not be an act of violence, of
one, or of many, against a private member of society, it should be public,
immediate, and necessary, the least possible in the case given, proportioned to
the crime, and determined by the laws.
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