Did you know that Cesare Beccaria’s monumental work, Of Crimes and Punishments, landed on the Catholic Church’s list of forbidden books? I didn’t. And that he once was a member of a group called the “Academy of Fists?” (Maybe resident Italophone Marc can explain). I did know that Beccaria’s early-utilitarian views on the purposes of criminal law greatly influenced the American Framers. All these subjects are covered in this new book by University of Baltimore law professor John Bessler, The Celebrated Marquis: An Italian Noble and the Making of the Modern World. The publisher is Carolina Academic Press. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
During the Enlightenment, a now little-known Italian marquis, while in his mid-twenties as a member of a small Milanese salon, the Academy of Fists, wrote a book that was destined to change the world. Published anonymously in 1764 as Dei delitti e delle pene, and quickly translated into French and then into English as On Crimes and Punishments, the runaway bestseller argued against torture, capital punishment, and religious intolerance. Written by Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), an economist and recent law graduate of the University of Pavia, On Crimes and Punishments sought clear and egalitarian laws, better public education, and milder punishments. Translated into all of the major European languages, Beccaria’s book led to the end of the Ancien Régime.
Praised by Voltaire and the French philosophes, Beccaria was toasted in Paris in 1766 for his literary achievement, and his book—though banned by the Inquisition and placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books—was lauded by monarchs and revolutionaries alike. Among its admirers were the French Encyclopédistes; Prussia’s Frederick the Great; Russia’s enlightened czarina, Catherine II; members of the Habsburg dynasty; the English jurist Sir William Blackstone; the utilitarian penal reformer Jeremy Bentham; and American revolutionaries John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. On Crimes and Punishments, decrying tyranny and arbitrariness and advocating for equality of treatment under the law, helped to catalyze the American and French Revolutions. In 1774, on the cusp of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress explicitly hailed Beccaria as “the celebrated marquis.”
Called the “Italian Adam Smith” for his pioneering work as an economist in Milan, Cesare Beccaria—like his Italian mentor, Pietro Verri—wrote about pleasure and pain, economic theory, and maximizing people’s happiness. Once a household name throughout Europe and the Americas, Beccaria taught economics before the appearance of Smith’s The Wealth of Nations but died in obscurity after working for decades as a civil servant in Austria’s Habsburg Empire. As a public councilor, Beccaria pushed for social and economic justice, monetary and legal reform, conservation of natural resources, and even inspired France’s adoption of the metric system. In The Celebrated Marquis, award-winning author John Bessler tells the story of the history of economics and of how Beccaria’s ideas shaped the American Declaration of Independence, constitutions and laws around the globe, and the modern world in which we live.
I’m delighted to post this notice for a new book of essays by my old master, Kent Greenawalt: From the Bottom Up: Selected Essays. These previously published and newly collected essays span Kent’s writing life and do an excellent job of conveying his immense and broad erudition. They cover topics including the bases of law (public reasons, natural law, religious reasons, and so on); law and objectivity; and several subject specific inquiries (in criminal law, law and religion, and speech law).
As a compendious but complete introduction to Kent’s thought, you cannot do better. I was honored to provide this book blurb:
A crucial book for understanding the mind of one of the great legal scholars of our time. Kent Greenawalt’s core insight, developed over a scholarly life and across several disciplines, is that the law is best understood inductively–not by drawing hard dividing lines between legal concepts and categories but instead by asking careful questions about how the law works itself out in the real world.
I am pleased to announce that Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law, edited by Markus D. Dubber, is now available for pre-order. I’ve listed the description of the volume below. As Markus explains in his introduction, the aim of the volume is to provide a set of comments (and in some cases, an introduction) to criminal texts that are canonical for the modern liberal state, but also that grew out of the modern liberal state. The collection begins with Hobbes and ends with the contemporary German theorist, Günther Jakobs. I was delighted to contribute the chapter on J.F. Stephen. The primary texts themselves can be accessed here.
Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law presents essays in which scholars from various countries and legal systems engage critically with formative texts in criminal legal thought since Hobbes. It examines the emergence of a transnational canon of criminal law by documenting its intellectual and disciplinary history and provides a snapshot of contemporary work on criminal law within that historical and comparative context.
Criminal law discourse has become, and will continue to become, more international and comparative, and in this sense global: the long-standing parochialism of criminal law scholarship and doctrine is giving way to a broad exploration of the foundations of modern criminal law. The present book advances this promising scholarly and doctrinal project by making available key texts, including several not previously available in English translation, from the common law and civil law traditions, accompanied by contributions from leading representatives of both systems.
Contrary to the stereotypical images of torture, narcotics and brutal sexual behaviour traditionally associated with Ottoman (or ‘Turkish’) prisons, Kent F. Schull argues that these places were sites of immense reform and contestation during the 19th century. He shows that they were key components for Ottoman nation-state construction and acted as ‘microcosms of modernity’ for broader imperial transformation. It was within the walls of these prisons that many of the pressing questions of Ottoman modernity were worked out, such as administrative centralisation, the rationalisation of Islamic criminal law and punishment, issues of gender and childhood, prisoner rehabilitation, bureaucratic professionalisation, identity and social engineering.
Juxtaposing state-mandated reform with the reality of prison life, the author investigates how these reforms affected the lives of local prison officials and inmates, and shows how these individuals actively conformed, contested and manipulated new penal policies and practices for their own benefit.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the FBI’s arrest of two rabbis who allegedly orchestrated the kidnapping and torture of dozens of men in New Jersey. The rabbis allegedly did this in order to force the men to consent to their wives’ requests for divorce under Jewish law. Under Jewish law, a woman cannot unilaterally divorce her husband; the husband must give permission, or a get. If he refuses, the wife becomes a chained woman, or agunah, who cannot remarry.
The women in these cases were apparently desperate for Jewish divorces and took extreme measures to obtain them. They allegedly paid the rabbis tens of thousands of dollars to convene Jewish law tribunals and issue decrees allowing violence against the recalcitrant husbands. The rabbis then allegedly arranged for thugs to torture the husbands until the husbands granted the gets. This conduct would obviously be criminal under US law and the rabbis will not be able to escape punishment by arguing that their religion authorized what they did.
I expressed doubt in my post that ordering violence against a recalcitrant husband would be consistent with Jewish law. It turns out that I may have spoken too soon. My friend Michael Helfand at Pepperdine University, an expert in Jewish law and occasional guest here at CLR Forum, explains in the The Forward that “the use of violent sanction in these circumstances has been a feature of Jewish family law for millennia.” Under traditional Jewish law, he writes, if a husband refused to comply with a tribunal’s judgment and give his wife a get,
the rabbinical court could authorize the use of violent force against the husband. While divorces [could not] be executed under duress, it was simply unimaginable that a husband would so cruelly leave his wife trapped in a nonfunctional marriage. Thus, force simply served as a vehicle to free the husband’s inner desire to do the right thing and grant his wife a divorce.
Michael doesn’t advocate this practice, I hasten to add, and he notes that the strong implication of bribery would likely invalidate the religious decrees in the New Jersey cases. In fact, Michael advocates a very American fix for the problem of agunot–a prenuptial agreement. (Michael wrote about the topic here at CLR Forum back in March). The Beth Din of America, a major Jewish law tribunal in the US, has adopted a model prenup “that requires a husband to provide his wife with a daily support payment, typically $150, for each day the two no longer live together and the husband still refuses to grant his wife a religious divorce.”
The prenup is not a panacea. A wealthy husband could make the payments and refuse to give a get, and a wife without such a prenup wouldn’t benefit at all. But the prenup might help some agunot, and wouldn’t require kidnapping one’s husband and torturing him. It’s like they used to tell us in law school: In America, when the going gets tough, the tough contract out.