In this detailed study of the republican tradition in the development of the Enlightenment, the central problem of utopia and reform is crystallized in a discussion of the right to punish. Describing the political situation in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the author shows how the old republics in Italy, Poland and Holland stagnated and were unable to survive in the age of absolutism. The Philosophes discussed the ideal of republicanism against this background. They were particularly influenced by the political and religious radicalism of John Toland, which had survived the English Restoration and was then reaching Europe. Professor Venturi traces the debate on the penal laws and the attempt to relate utopian ideas of society to the practical problem of dealing with man in society, which culminated in the assertion by many Philosophes that an unjust social system necessitated harsh penal laws, thereby rejecting the possibility of reform.
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