Side View of Bust of Cicero

“The Republic and The Laws” by Cicero

Cicero

[Original Latin Titles: De Republica; De Legibus]

A lawyer by trade, statesman by calling and philosopher by hobby, Cicero was the ideal candidate to draw from the political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, combine it with an examination of the constitution and civic laws of his own country Rome, the most powerful state of his time, and propose a political theory both philosophically grounded and legitimately sound.

Like the ancient Greek and Roman statues and architecture, only fragments of Cicero’s two works have been preserved, and, as a result, this translation is incomplete and disjointed in many places. However, I discovered that even fragmented works of a great mind are worth more than complete volumes of mediocrity.

A Call to Public Service

Cicero is his eloquent, oratorical self when he delivers a passionate speech exhorting the virtues and advantages of the life and career of a statesman, who dedicates himself to public service, not for self-interest or personal gain, but for the just cause and demand of his country.

The Nature and Origin of the Law

As a foundation of his entire discourse, Cicero lays down a definition of the Law derived from his view of the universe, which is in accord with those of Plato and the Stoics, and argues that law and justice are inherent in nature, not drawn up by custom or convention.

The universe is governed by God, who has implanted the immortal soul in man from His own divine nature. The Mind of God (i.e., the highest reason and intelligence) is the unchanging and universal Law governing the whole universe, both the natural world and human society. “Law is the highest reason, inherent in nature, which enjoins what ought to be done and forbids the opposite. When that reason is fully formed and completed in the human mind, it too is law.” Man comprehends the Law because he partakes of the faculty of reason and intelligence from God. The laws of human societies are based on their understanding of the universal Law, and may vary from people to people, depending on the integrity of their vision and their political acumen. Nevertheless, the essence of the Law is the same. “It received its Greek name from giving each his own. I think its Latin name comes from choosing. As they stress the element of fairness in law, and we stress that of choice; but in fact each of these is an essential property of law.”

The Best Form of Government

Of the three forms of government, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, Cicero, as Aristotle did in “Politics”, proposes a moderate mixture of the three as the best form of government, because the pure forms easily degenerate into their corrupted counterpart (i.e. monarchy into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy), although he agrees with Plato that monarchy in its uncorrupted form is the best government.

Quotes:

“Nature has given mankind such a compulsion to do good, and such a desire to defend the well-being of the community; that this force prevails over all the temptations of pleasure and ease.

For nothing is laid down by philosophers — nothing right and honourable at any rate– which has not been brought into being and established by those who have drawn up laws for states. … Where did justice, good faith, and fair dealing come from? Or decency, restraint, the fear of disgrace, and the desire of praise and honour? Or fortitude in hardship and danger?

We are led by a powerful urge to increase the wealth of human race; we are keen to make men’s lives safer and richer by our policies and efforts; we are spurred on by nature herself to full this purpose. Therefore, let us hold that course which has always been followed by the best men, ignoring the bugle for retreat, which tries to recall those who have already advanced.

Brave men.. normally think it more miserable to decay in the natural course of old age than to have the chance of laying down, as a supreme gift to their country, the life which in any case would have to be given back to nature.

“What, in the case of singing, musicians call harmony is, in the state, concord; it constitutes the tightest and most effective bond of security; and such concord cannot exist at all without justice.”

References:

  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius. The Republic and The Laws. Trans. Niall Rudd. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.
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