Theorizing a New Death Penalty

Paul Friedland

in Seeing Justice Done

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199592692
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741852 | DOI:
Theorizing a New Death Penalty

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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Scattered utopian and humanist writers had long imagined that prisons or forced labor might one day replace the death penalty, but it was only in the 1740s that punishment was explored from a rigorously theoretical perspective. In the 1760s, Cesare Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishments, which ultimately became the most widely-read text on penal reform in the western world, proposed replacing the death penalty with forced labor in most cases, but he nevertheless retained a kind of emergency death penalty of last resort, which Montesquieu and others had proposed before him, for those individuals who posed a danger to society. Although Beccaria's vision of spectacular forced labor never quite caught on, his idea of an entirely new kind of death penalty, which had less to do with the spectacle of exemplary deterrence and more to do with ridding society of dangerous individuals, became a core principle of modern punishment.

Keywords: death penalty; capital punishment; utopian writers; humanist writers; penal reform; Beccaria; forced labor; Montesquieu; exemplary deterrence

Chapter.  12894 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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