Beccaria as an Early Human Rights Activist

Cesare Beccaria

Cesare Beccaria (Photo credit: Alessandro Volta)

Should we look at Beccaria as an early human rights activist? Why or why not? Perhaps that term is an anachronism?

Yes, I see Beccaria as an early human rights activist. He did not believe in torture in general, and believed that torture should only be used, if at all, after a person is convicted of a crime. Thus, he would be against torture to get information (i.e. Guantanamo Bay). He believed that people had the right to kill themselves and that laws against suicide were similar to slavery. He was against the death penalty because he saw execution is the easy way out (as opposed to a life of imprisonment). Finally, Beccaria was also a big advocate for the rights of the accused. As a huge promoter of laws that prevent rather than punish crime, Beccaria was really ahead of his time (and, in many regards, also even ahead of our time).

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