The Rationale of Punishment

Book III

Of Privative Punishments, Or Forfeitures

Chapter V

Section V


Liberty being a negative idea (exemption from obligation,) it follows that the loss of liberty is a positive idea. To lose the condition of a freeman is to become a slave. But the word slave or state of slavery, has not any very definite meaning which serves to designate that condition, as existing in different countries. There are some countries in which slavery is unknown. In countries in which slavery is in use it exists under different forms, and in different degrees. The pain of servitude would be different, according to the class to which the offender might be aggregated.

Slaves are of two classes---they may belong to the government or to individuals.

The condition of public slaves, determined by regulation, fixing the nature and amount of the work, and the coercive punishments by which the performance of it may be compelled, is not distinguishable from the condition of persons condemned for life to penal labour: if there exist no such regulations, it varies little from private slavery. A public slave, unprotected by any such regulations, is placed under the despotic controul of an overseer, who is bound to employ him, for the benefit of the public, in a certain sort of occupation: this power, arbitrary as it is, does not extend to life and death. This condition varies very little from that of private slavery. A negro, for example, employed upon a plantation belonging to the crown is not from this circumstance in a condition greatly superior to what he would be in if standing in the same relation to a private individual, who, instead of being his own overseer, employed an agent for that purpose.

The most ready means of forming a correct conception of the condition of slavery, is by considering it in the first instance as absolute and unlimited. In this situation the door is exposed to every possible species of evil. The punishment designated then by the expression---forfeiture of liberty, is no other than the being exposed to a greater or less chance, according to the character of the master, of suffering all sorts of evils: that is to say, of all evils resulting from the different modes in which punishment may be inflicted. To form an accurate notion of this situation, all that is required, is to glance the eye over all the possible varieties of punishment. The slave, with respect to the individual standing in the condition of master, is absolutely deprived of all legal protection.

Such is the nature of slavery under its most simple form: such is the nature of the total deprivation of liberty. The different restrictions that may be imposed on the exercise of this power, renders the state of servitude more or less mild.

There are then two heads to which the evils resulting from this condition may be referred.

1. The risk, on the part of the slave, of being subject to every possible evil: with the exception of such only as the master is expressly prohibited from inflicting. 2. The continuity of the pain founded on the apprehension of these sufferings.

[RP, Book III, Chapter V, Analysis] [RP, Book III, Chapter V, §6]