Review: This article is devoted to philosophical research on the origins of modern state surveillance, punishment and, more generally, the evolution of modern criminal law. It is presented as a discussion between the author of this article and Michel Foucault. It develops the idea that humanism has played an important role in the softening of state-sanctioned punishment and in the development of state surveillance over the last 300 years. The article deals with the historical origins of the modern state and the evolution of its relations with the individual; the evolution of government functions; the evolution of criminal law; and human rights and freedoms. It contains a critique of Foucault’s analysis of the evolution of the modern system of criminal law and of his concept of surveillance.
Keywords: punishment, state (government) functions, criminal law, modern law, Michel Foucault, Social philosophy, surveillance, humanism, human rights, freedoms
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There is no better testimony to the fact that the monarch’s right over his subjects was tantamount to a property right that he or she exercised over them than the Magna Carta: “No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right”. Indeed, words such as “destroyed” applying to individuals is a clear example that human beings at that time were no different from an object (article) whose existence in society was governed by the monarch’s property rights.
The idea that criminal law reforms were created, and some of the human rights in the sphere of justice were established as a reaction to the sovereign’s abuses power is clearly expressed in the Habeas Corpus Act: “great delays have been used by sheriffs, gaolers and other officers, to whose custody any of the King's subjects have been committed for criminal or supposed criminal matters, in making returns of writs of habeas corpus to them directed, by standing out an alias and pluries habeas corpus, and sometimes more, and by other shifts to avoid their yielding obedience to such writs, contrary to their duty and the known laws of the land, whereby many of the King's subjects have been and hereafter may be long detained in prison, in such cases where by law they are bailable, to their great charges and vexation…”
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Art. 17 of the French Declaration confirms this statement: “Property being an inviolable and sacred right…”
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The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution express this idea aptly: “ …nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”.
When considering this natural law, Locke used only the examples of the individual-individual property relations and not state-individual property relations
For example, a French decree of 18 March 1793 sanctioned any attempt to adopt a law that intended to strip landowners of their property. Such an act was punishable by death.
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Even today, there are examples of this in reverse: surveillance functions are transmitted back to the private sector. For example, modern fiscal evasion and fiscal fraud surveillance functions are partly exercised by the banking sector and by private financial institutions, and not exclusively by government agencies. The same is true for Internet-related service and product companies as well, which are often accused of collaborating with state security services and, especially, of transmitting personal data to those bodies.
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As mentioned above. See paragraph 1.
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It is significant that in this chapter (“Le panoptisme”) – unlike other parts of his book – Foucault uses such words as “social” or “moral” a great deal.
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The welfare state’s values are also considered by some authors as social rights of citizenship (e.g. T.H. Marshall (1964) Citizenship and Social Class, q.v.). Nonetheless, a conception of social rights based on citizenship, concomitant with such phenomena as the emergence of social democracy which was achieved by extending political rights (especially the right to vote) to the majority of the population, is outdated. Indeed, today many welfare rights are claimable not only by citizens, but – with conditions – by every person (even foreigners). As a consequence, social rights today are more than mere rights of citizenship; they have become universal human rights.
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