Sunday, December 10, 2006

An Eloquent Man and a Patriot

A promising read (from Michael Lind's review in the Washington Post):

With the possible exception of Jesus of Nazareth, the Roman statesman and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is the central figure of Western civilization. Cicero's republican political theory influenced both the American and French revolutionaries -- and through them, contemporary democracies everywhere -- far more than Greek democratic thought or practice. As a moral thinker, Cicero bequeathed the idea of natural law to both Christian theologians and secular philosophers. His influence on the ideal of liberal education is equally profound; he popularized, if he did not coin, the Latin words rendered by our terms "the humanities" and "liberal arts." The list of the cardinal virtues -- wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance -- comes from his De Officiis (On Duties), probably the most-read secular essay on ethics in Western history. …

The United States … is a Ciceronian republic. The American founders rejected aspects of Roman republicanism such as aristocracy and militarism. Still, it was from Cicero that the major Founders learned that a republic needed a senate -- aristocratic in Rome, democratic in America -- to check popular passions. From Cicero, too, Americans learned to dread unchecked executive power based on armed force and populist demagogy -- "Caesarism." The honorific bestowed on George Washington, Father of his Country, was a translation of Pater Patriae, bestowed on Cicero by Cato. According to Carl J. Richard in The Founders and the Classics, Chief Justice John Marshall patterned the portrayal of George Washington, in his famous five-volume biography of the general, after Cicero, and told his grandsons that De Officiis was a salutary discourse on the duties and qualities proper to a republican gentleman. … Franklin quoted Cicero in Poor Richard's Almanac, and Rufus Choate, a great early American jurist, told lawyers: "Soak your mind with Cicero."

Until a few generations ago, the experience of reading Cicero in Latin was part of the education experience of the elite in societies as different as Imperial Rome, Renaissance Florence, 18th-century Britain and 19th-century Germany. …

Of Cicero, John Adams wrote that "all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united in the same character." But the greatest tributes may be those of his enemies. "Sometime towards the end of his life," Everitt writes, "Caesar remarked that Cicero had won greater laurels than those worn by a general in his Triumph, for it meant more to have extended the frontiers of Roman genius than of its empire." In his old age, Octavian -- now the Emperor Augustus -- confiscated a book of Cicero that he found in the hands of his grandson. According to Everitt, "He stood for a long time reading the entire text. He handed it back with the words: 'An eloquent man, my child, an eloquent man, and a patriot.' "
Update 12/29: For a review of Cicero's political career see Hudgins' brief article.

13 Comments:

Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

We need a senate to check popular passions?

You mean check market capitalism and unjust foreign wars?

They aren't doing too well.

12/1/06, 4:05 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Cicero was a defender of private property and against demagogues who tried to appease the mob with redistribution of the property of others. That’s why Franklin said: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!” The founders, like Cicero, were skeptical of democracy.

12/1/06, 4:23 PM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Maybe, but he also mucked around with the "natural law" silliness as Machiavelli later introduced the world to "natural law".

Cicero does not assist in identifying our masters.

12/1/06, 4:32 PM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Wrap noblesse oblige in whatever wrapper you like .... it still stinks.

At no point does Cicero ever demonstrate that the aristocracy is any more "honorable" than the populist crowd.

12/1/06, 4:41 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Actually, Cicero, if I remember correctly, argues for a “mixed government” based on the theory of Polybius that pure types of government (“rule of one,” “rule of a few,” and “rule of many”) degenerate into their evil variants. The checks-and-balances of a mixed government are supposed to mitigate this problem. This idea, directly from Polybius and via Montesquieu, influenced our founding fathers.

I'm not that familiar with the history of political theory to comment on the details. Perhaps someone else knows the details.

12/1/06, 4:48 PM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Yes, I believe you are correct, the aristocracy and the "mob" would act as a check on each other.

However, this sounds like an acknowledgement of the inevitability of class conflict and I feel we back the "aristocratic" horse in that one too often. Not that it should be excluded, not at all but it's also must be recognized as guided by class interests.

12/1/06, 4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In his old age, Octavian -- now the Emperor Augustus -- confiscated a book of Cicero that he found in the hands of his grandson. According to Everitt, "He stood for a long time reading the entire text. He handed it back with the words: 'An eloquent man, my child, an eloquent man, and a patriot.' "

12/1/06, 6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In his old age, Octavian -- now the Emperor Augustus -- confiscated a book of Cicero that he found in the hands of his grandson. According to Everitt, "He stood for a long time reading the entire text. He handed it back with the words: 'An eloquent man, my child, an eloquent man, and a patriot.' "

I like that quotation from Augustus to Claudius; the 4th Roman Emperor, the grandson of Augustus and author of the conquest of Britain.

I think Augustus was perhaps feeling a bit sorry that he had destroyed the republic.

Speaking Roman Republicans and American Patriots, I understand George Washington's favorite Roman was Cato The Younger who committed suicide rather ask mercy from Caesar.

12/1/06, 6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Ducky said...

We need a senate to check popular passions?

You mean check market capitalism and unjust foreign wars?

They aren't doing too well.


What cave do you live in, Ducky?

Global capitalism is the world standard and has raised living standards to record levels.

As for "unjust foreign wars" -- I would suggest you talk to your local Mullah and ask him why Muslims seek to destroy Western Civilization by launching a war of terror against the USA on 9/11.

12/1/06, 6:30 PM  
Blogger devildog6771 said...

Excellent post. I rather enjoyed Cicero and Virgil. I enjoyed your analysis.

12/2/06, 3:44 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Washington and many of the founders knew Cato from Addison’s play. I understand that Washington had it performed for the troops.

12/4/06, 10:12 AM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Maybe if we repealed the 17th Amendment we'd live in the nation our Founding Fathers intended.

12/4/06, 10:32 AM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Actually we aren't all that far apart, Jason. The necessity for checks and balance is accepted. I believe there will be of necessity an upper class but my bias tips toward "the mob" rather than the aristocracy.

12/4/06, 10:53 AM  

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