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The Economist and the Enlightenment: How Cesare Beccaria Changed Western Civilization
European Journal of Law and Economics
  • John Bessler, University of Baltimore School of Law
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This Article traces the influence of Cesare Beccaria’s writings on Western civilization. It explores the global impact of Beccaria’s 1764 book, Dei delitti e delle pene, later translated into English as An Essay on Crimes and Punishments. In particular, the Article highlights Beccaria’s advocacy for proportion between crimes and punishments and against the death penalty. The Article gives a short sketch of Beccaria’s life and describes the impact of Beccaria’s book and his legacy in shaping the world’s laws. The Article further describes how Beccaria’s role as an influential eighteenth-century economist has been neglected by some economic historians.


The author’s recent book, The Birth of American Law: An Italian Philosopher and the American Revolution (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2014), about Cesare Beccaria’s influence on American law, was the recipient of the 2015 Scribes Book Award, an annual award given out since 1961 by The American Society of Legal Writers. The Birth of American Law also received a First Prize in the American Association for Italian Studies book award competition (18th/19th century category) and was the Gold Winner in the INDIEFAB Book Award competition in the history category. His forthcoming book, The Death Penalty as Torture: From the Dark Ages to Abolition (Carolina Academic Press), also discusses Beccaria’s Enlightenment-era advocacy against torture.

Citation Information
John D. Bessler, The Economist and the Enlightenment: How Cesare Beccaria Changed Western Civilization, Eur. J. L.& Econ. (Sept. 23, 2016),