Page:Essay on Crimes and Punishments (1775).djvu/30

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18
AN ESSAY ON


CHAPTER V. Of the Obscurity of Laws.

IF the power of interpreting laws be an evil, obscurity in them must be another, as the former is the consequence of the latter. This evil will be still greater, if the laws be written in a language unknown to the people; who, being ignorant of the consequences of their own actions, become necessarily dependent on a few, who are interpreters of the laws, which, instead of being public, and general, are thus rendered private, and particular. What must we think of mankind, when we reflect, that such is the established custom of the greatest part of our polished, and enlightened Europe? Crimes will be less frequent, in proportion as the code of laws is more universally read, and understood; for there is no doubt, but that the eloquence of the passions is greatly assisted by the ignorance, and uncertainty of punishments.