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Cesare Beccaria was one of the greatest minds of the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. His writings on criminology and economics were well ahead of their time.
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Once it was clear that the government approved of his essay, Beccaria republished it, this time crediting himself as the author.
Three tenets served as the basis of Beccaria’s theories on criminal justice: free will, rational manner,
and manipulability. According to Beccaria -- and most classical theorists -- free will enables people to make choices. Beccaria believed that people have a rational manner and apply it toward making choices that will help them achieve their own personal gratification.
In Beccaria’s interpretation, law exists to preserve the social contract and benefit society as a whole. But, because people act out of self-interest and their interest sometimes conflicts with societal laws, they commit crimes. The principle of manipulability refers to the predictable ways in which people act out of rational self-interest and might therefore be dissuaded from committing crimes if the punishment outweighs the benefits of the crime, rendering the crime an illogical choice.
In "On Crimes and Punishments," Beccaria identified a pressing need to reform the criminal justice system, citing the then-present system as barbaric and antiquated. He went on to discuss how specific laws should be determined, who should make them, what they should be like and whom they should benefit. He emphasized the need for adequate but just punishment, and went so far as to explain how the system should define the appropriate punishment for each type of crime.
Unlike few documents before it, "On Crimes and Punishments" sought to protect the rights of criminals as well as the rights of their victims. "On Crimes and Punishments" also assigned specific roles to the various members of the courts. The thorough treatise included a discussion of crime-prevention strategies.
In addition to his fascination with criminal law, Cesare Beccaria was still drawn to the field of economics. In 1768, he was appointed the Chair in Public Economy and Commerce at the Palatine School in Milan. For the next two years, he also served as a lecturer there. Based on these lectures, Beccaria created an economic analysis entitled "Elements of Public Economy." In it he pioneered the discussion of such topics as division of labor. "Elements of Public Economy" was eventually published in 1804, a decade after Beccaria’s death.
Beccaria’s economics career also entailed serving on the Supreme Economic Council of Milan. This public position enabled him to strive for the same goal -- economic reform -- that he had set with "the academy of fists" so many years ago. While in office, Beccaria focused largely on the issues of public education and labor relations. He also created a report on the system of measures that led France to start using the metric system.
Beccaria’s career in economics was productive. His work in analysis helped paved the way for later theorists like Thomas Malthus. However, Beccaria failed to match the astronomical level of success he had previously achieved in the criminal justice field.
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