Cesare Beccaria says that torture is cruel and barbaric and a violation of the principle that no one should be punished until proven guilty in a court of law; in other words it is the “right of power” (1764)

Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria

Found in An Essay on Crimes and Punishments

Chapter XVI of Cesare Beccaria’s work on Crimes and Punishments (1764) is devoted to the issue of torture. Here he methodically lays out the modern, enlightened case against such practices, calling them cruel and based upon the "right of power" not justice

No man can be judged a criminal until he be found guilty; nor can society take from him the public protection, until it have been proved that he has violated the conditions on which it was granted. What right, then, but that of power, can authorise the punishment of a citizen, so long as there remains any doubt of his guilt? The dilemma is frequent. Either he is guilty, or not guilty. If guilty, he should only suffer the punishment ordained by the laws, and torture becomes useless, as his confession is unnecessary. If he be not guilty, you torture the innocent; for, in the eye of the law, every man is innocent, whose crime has not been proved.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Beccaria’s An Essay on Crimes and Punishments appeared in 1764, the same year as Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary appeared in France. Voltaire’s work was an attempt to expose the religious intolerance at the heart of the French state, and torture was a common tool used by the church and state to punish or investigate heretics. In this English edition we have Voltaire’s introduction as well as the text by Beccaria. A double bonus. Beccaria may well wonder why there is torture in the “enlightened” 18th century; what would he say about torture in the 21st century?