The Baron and the Marquis

Liberty, Tyranny, and the Enlightenment Maxim That Can Remake American Criminal Justice

by John D. Bessler

Tags: Death Penalty/Capital Punishment, History, Legal History, Legal Philosophy/Philosophy and Law

Table of Contents (PDF)

540 pp  $65.00

ISBN 978-1-5310-1305-9
eISBN 978-1-5310-1306-6

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The Baron and the Marquis explores the history of the maxim that articulates what is now known as the parsimony principle. That maxim: any punishment that goes beyond necessity is "tyrannical." First articulated by Baron de Montesquieu and later publicized by the Italian criminal-law theorist, the Marquis Beccaria, that maxim shaped the American and French Revolutions and set the dividing line between tyranny and liberty. Thomas Jefferson believed only absolute necessity justified punishment, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) similarly allowed only "strictly and obviously necessary" punishments. In The Baron and the Marquis, award-winning author John Bessler shows the maxim's modern-day implications for capital punishment, prolonged solitary confinement, and mass incarceration. The book argues that unnecessary punishments violate the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment as "excessive" and "cruel and unusual."

"An extraordinary work of seminal scholarship, "The Baron and the Marquis" is an especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library collections. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers that "The Baron and the Marquis" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $52.00)."
Midwest Book Review

"Criminal justice reform has become a hotly debated topic in recent years. In a time devoid of clear solutions, Professor John Bessler suggests going back to basics—all the way back to the Enlightenment.Pulling from such thinkers as Montesquieu and Cesare Beccaria, Bessler examines American punishment within the context that the Founders envisioned it.Our theory of punishment, Bessler argues, should be grounded in Enlightenment principles—those holding that any specific punishment is proper only if absolutely necessary.Anything more than that would be tyrannical. After building this concept, the text delves into the implications of incorporating it into today's criminal justice system.What is the role of various legal actors in reverting to these principles?How do we determine what is absolutely necessary?This discussion encompasses not only what is an unusual punishment—as many scholars analyze in their Eighth Amendment studies—but also what would constitute ausual one. By offering an extensive historical analysis into the Founders' theoretical inspirations, Bessler provides a compelling thesis of what American punishment should be and how we might get there."
Harvard Law Review