Chapter 2 • The Classical School 15

Chapter 2 • The Classical School 15
Chapter 2 • The Classical School 15

authority of the Church and emphasized an order to things that was separate from religious rev- elation. Morals, ethics, and responsibilities became major topics of discussion. The application of science to the physical world had begun to reveal “truths,” and people were certain that the same effort brought to bear on moral and political questions would yield similar fruit.

The major explanation for human behavior was hedonism. Under this theory, people are assumed to automatically attempt to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. According to Ben- tham (1789, p. 29), the value of any pleasure or pain would be determined by its intensity, dura- tion, and certainty. This theory of behavior became the basis for the concept of deterrence. Bentham’s elaboration on deterrence is the essence of today’s rational perspectives.

One of the major new philosophical viewpoints rested on so-called natural human rights and justified the existence of government as a social contract between the state and its citizens (see, for example, the work of John Locke). This justification came close to reversing the previous political belief that people existed to serve the government and, instead, made service to the people the rationale for government. Under this social con- tract, a person surrendered to the authority of the state only the amount of freedom neces- sary to ensure protection of the rights of other citizens. Although it was not really new, the idea of a social contract between people and their government served the needs of the new middle class. Added to this was the utilitarian perspective. Even before Beccaria wrote (in the 1720s), Scottish philosopher Francis Hutcheson discussed what he referred to as a “moral sense” that compelled men to behave so as to create the greatest good for the great- est number (see DiCristina, 2012). Thus, the humanitarian ideas of the Classical period set the stage for new political and legal structures based on the common person, not the elites and the powerful.

Growing specialization in trade and industry required more services such as roads, ports, municipal services, and policing, and the government made an ideal provider of those services. The increasing secularization of society, in turn, fit in well with both the social contract concep- tion of a rational human and the rising middle class. Secularism immediately suggested reforms in institutions, which was all to the benefit of the new classes.

Finally, an emphasis on human dignity, stemming from the Enlightenment, was character- istic of the period. A humanistic current of thought, chiefly from England and France, aroused the young intellectuals of the day. Those works that expressly influenced Beccaria were Montes- quieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748) and the various pamphlets and letters of Voltaire (Maestro, 1942, pp. 17–18). In addition to Beccaria and Montesquieu, such writers and thinkers as Hume, Montaigne, Rousseau, Helvetius, Diderot, and Condorcet were the new champions of the com- mon people and produced eloquent writings glorifying people rather than the Church or state. A concern with improving social conditions accompanied this growth of interest in humanity, mak- ing possible the rise of the social sciences.

the PerSPectIve of the School

The Classical School, then, generally gave us a humanistic conception of how law and criminal justice systems should be constructed. It did not give rise to theories of criminal behavior; instead, the prevailing assumption of hedonism was used as a theory of human nature and was incorporated into the rationale for building legal structures. Crime and law were its essence, not

Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832)

Jeremy Bentham was born in London, England, in 1748. He attended Westminster School until enrolling at Queen’s College, Oxford, at the age of 12 and received his degree at the age of 15. Thereafter, Bentham studied law at Lincoln’s Inn but ulti- mately decided not to pursue law as a career. As a well-to-do and self-made scholar, Bentham spent most of his time in Westmin- ster, where he wrote prolifically in philosophy, economics, and law. He was said to have produced 10–20 pages of manuscript

each day. He was the earliest proponent of utilitarianism and was considered somewhat of a political radical for his critiques of legal and common law traditions. He suggested a broad range of reforms such as animal welfare, prison management through architecture (the Panopticon), and the decriminalization of homosexuality. Upon his death, per his instructions, his body was embalmed and fitted with a wax head likeness and then placed in a glass-fronted case on display at University College, London.

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