By Niccolo Machiavelli
Dante University Press.
An Essay on Crimes and Punishments
By Cesare Beccaria
International Pocket Library BB
Two men, living hundreds of years apart, in many ways, wrote with parallel opinions and conclusions. Most well known is Machiavelli’s The Prince; however, in many ways, the greater impact came from lesser known Cesare Beccaria, with An Essay on Crimes and Punishments—the latter being the basis upon which much of governments and laws have been established.
Both men emphasized that the virtue of man should be the basis of our interpersonal actions. Yet they also conceded that man’s seemingly instinctual appetite for power prevents that base virtue from ruling our decisions. Given the continued use of military might of one country against another, it is abundantly clear that what Machiavelli wrote in the 15th century and Beccaria wrote in the 18th continues to hold true today.
The Prince was written based upon Machiavelli’s observations and analysis of what was happening in his country. His books resulted in his recognition as the founder of political science inasmuch as he was the first to analyze various forms of government.
Many of us may also observe, perhaps evaluate and analyze, and come to the conclusion that somebody has to do something. Machiavelli, in writing The Prince did just that. He wrote and sent his treatise directly to Lorenzo De Medici, Duke of Urbino...as a token of his service. Throughout The Prince Machiavelli constantly refers to the virtues needed to be an effective leader, an effective prince. At the same time, he looks at what actually happened, using events of those days, and effectively explained what was done right or wrong. “So it is that to know the nature of a people, one needs to be a Prince; to know the nature of a Prince, one needs to be of the people.” (back cover) Proceeding on, he explained “The main fundamentals that a state...has to have are good laws and a strong army. Good laws do not come without strong security; where the army is strong, one needs good laws.” The Prince, p. 76.
One might say that it is on this point that Beccaria started. “In every human society, there is an effort continually tending to confer on one part the height of power and happiness and to reduce the other to the extreme of weakness and misery. The intent of good laws is to oppose this effort and to diffuse their influence universally and equally.” (Introduction)
Let’s further compare some of the specifics that these two great political scientists wrote, although it should always be remembered that Machiavelli wrote for a specific purpose at a specific time. Beccaria, on the other hand, had a broader history to evaluate and some semblance of lawmaking had already begun.
· There are two ways to fight: one with laws, the other with force. The first is rightly man’s way; the second, the way of beasts. --Machiavelli
· Every act of authority of one man over another, for which there is no absolute necessity, is tyrannical. --Beccaria
· The interest of the populace is more honest than that of prominent citizens who want to command and oppress, while the populace only wants to be free of oppression. --Machiavelli
· Laws ought to be conventions among men in a state of freedom and have one end in view: the greatest happiness of the greatest number. --Beccaria
· Cruelty well used (if one can ever say cruelty is good) is when it is practiced suddenly and decisively, but not prolonged. --Machiavelli
· Punishment of a nobleman should not differ from that of the lowest member of society. --Beccaria
· When a Prince rules as a man of valor, he avoids disaster, remains prepared, and serves the universal common good; he can count on the populace, will never be deceived, and will have built on a solid good. --Machiavelli
· Judges and/or juries have the responsibility to ascertain, first and foremost, guilt or innocence; if guilty, then the judges and/or juries should take into consideration the extenuating circumstances to decrease or increase the penalties. --Beccaria
Frankly, I have often asked myself, in viewing today’s world, what has happened to that which represented “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” More specifically, is it logical for a nation, a country, or even a smaller state to rule or attempt to pass laws to meet the interests of all that they serve? Can the U.S. for instance continue to respond positively to every single “special interest” group that becomes vocal and powerful? I believe both Machiavelli and Beccaria spoke well to my questions, though stated centuries ago!
Are you involved in today’s world? Are you an active participant or watcher of politics? Then reading the treatises of two of the greatest historians of political science certainly must be part of your personal library. Read both The Prince by Machiavelli and An Essay On Crimes and Punishments by Cesare Beccaria before you next vote or participate politically!
G. A. Bixler
Note: This comparative analysis was suggested by Adolph Caso, publisher.