This essay offers a rereading of Cesare Beccaria's 1764 On Crimes and Punishments, the text usually considered the intellectual origin of the movement to abolish the death penalty. It argues that the singularity of Beccaria's text consists in the way it problematizes not only the sovereign right to kill but also the sovereign right of clemency. Only by reading Beccaria's text from this standpoint, the essay concludes, can we grasp the internal limits of the abolitionist theory and practice that inherits its problematic from Beccaria.

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