Reviewing the Necessity of Punishment
"From 'On Crimes and Punishment'" by Cesare Beccaria is an excerpt from On Crimes and Punishment. In his address to the public, particularly those in political positions, Beccaria discusses the way we as a society choose to carry out the law. What he calls "useless severity" of punishment encompasses his thoughts on extremes such as capital punishment and the cruelties that we allow our government to inflict upon its own people in a failing attempt to bring order to our society. The death penalty has plagued our society for centuries, perhaps beginning with the idea of human sacrifice that has been turned around as a cycle of never-ending death and cruelty. The writing techniques employed by Beccaria effectively convince his audience that our forms of criminal punishment are nothing more than an unnecessary bad habit.
In a debate, one can easily bring their opposition to silence by asking them a question that they cannot answer. Beccaria uses this method to his advantage in his work. He asks a series of questions that can't be easily answered. The lazy reader would much rather have faith in Beccaria's beliefs than sort through the questions and find answers themselves. He asks, "What is the best way of preventing crimes? Are the same penalties always equally useful? What influence have they on social custom?" (64). These questions only lead to more questions. The reader may be able to ponder situations that both promote and discredit any solutions they may have for these questions, leaving them more confused about their own stance. The reader is so wrapped up in trying to answer these questions, that they don't realize that Beccaria himself never answers them. This sly technique encourages the reader to believe that since these questions can't be easily answered, it is simply better and easier to accept Beccaria's opinion of criminal justice as truth.
Cesare Beccaria is quick to point out the opposing view to his statement, then use it as reinforcement for his own argument. Discussing capital punishment, he clearly states that many countries, if not most, practice this and have done so for centuries. He doesn't give his audience much time to think about that as he quickly calls the history of mankind "a vast sea of errors, among which there float a few confused truths, each one far from the next" (68). Instead of just referring to the mistakes made in our history, Beccaria calls them "a vast sea of errors" implying that these mistakes are so tremendous in number and carry such weight with them that they have not been given enough credit for the tragedies they have caused. It is also unclear if Beccaria is insulting his opponent, adding their opinion to this "vast sea of errors." In turn, the reader doesn't want their thoughts bunched with these erroneous opinions. The author claims these mistakes are the effect of "confused truths." To the reader, "confused truths" equates fallacy. The diction is...