Clementia

Lorenzo_il_Magnifico

Transeamus ad alienas iniurias, in quibus vindicandis haec tria lex secuta est, quae princeps quoque sequi debet: aut ut eum, quem punit, emendet, aut ut poena eius ceteros meliores reddat, aut ut sublatis malis securiores ceteri vivant. ipsos facilius emendabis minore poena; diligentius enim vivit, cui aliquid integri superest. nemo dignitati perditae parcit; impunitatis genus est iam non habere poenae locum. civitatis autem mores magis corrigit parcitas animadversionum; facit enim consuetudinem peccandi multitudo peccantium, et minus gravis nota est, quam turba damnationum levat, et severitas, quod maximum remedium habet, assiduitate amittit auctoritatem. constituit bonos mores civitati princeps et vitia eluit, si patiens eorum est, non tamquam probet, sed tamquam invitus et cum magno tormento ad castigandum veniat. verecundiam peccandi facit ipsa clementia regentis; gravior multo poena videtur, quae a miti viro constituitur.
(Seneca Minor, De Clementia 1.22)

Let’s move along to other people’s injuries, in requiting which the law pursues these three goals, which the prince also ought to pursue: either to correct the person punished, or to improve everyone else by punishing him, or to allow everyone else to live more securely once the malefactors have been removed from their midst. You will more easily correct the wrongdoer himself with a lesser penalty: a person conducts his life more carefully when he is left something whole and unsullied, whereas no one is chary of a self-respect he has utterly lost. Having nothing that punishment can affect is a kind of impunity. However, a sparing use of punishment does more to correct a community’s habits, for a multitude of wrongdoers makes wrongdoing a matter of habit; condemnations that come thick and fast relieve the stigma of punishment, and strictness, when unrelieved, loses its moral authority, which is its most important healing power. The prince establishes good practices for the community, and clears away vices, if he is patient with the latter—not in an approving manner but as one who undertakes their chastisement unwillingly and with great anguish. A ruler’s clemency makes men blush to do wrong: punishment seems much more grievous when ordained by a mild-mannered man. (tr. Robert A. Kaster)

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