Cicero’s two classic treatise’s Republic and Laws were, at some distant point in the past, favorites of American statesmen. But since America seems to be bereft of statesmen the knowledge and worldview assumed in Cicero’s great works has also vanished. We are left now with only that class of men that are small of heart and narrow in interest; the politician only remains to burden us with his visions of grandeur.
The beautiful thing about Cicero’s two works are their clarity and in some instances simplicity. At heart the Republic and the Laws inform readers that there are clear rules, there is absolute truth and that there is such a thing as Divine Providence. With these concepts in mind a free people might very well begin to order their society to maximize liberty, equality and order.
Cicero writes that the best form of government is not a pure democracy (rule by the people), or an aristocracy (rule by virtuous few) or monarchy (rule by the wise one). In fact Cicero tends, through Scipio to prefer a monarchy to a democracy. Rather, Cicero offers a “fourth kind of government” which is best, that of a “mixed and moderated government, which is composed of the three particular forms I have before noticed.” Of our beloved concept of democracy Cicero makes the point that “no sooner is one man, or several, elevated by wealth and power, which produce pomp and pride, than the idle and the timid give way, and bow down to the arrogance of riches.” They then give up their liberties for security and fail to maintain their rights. Democracy then falls prey to corruption in the form of faction and licentiousness. The result is more often than not tyranny of the one or many.
The message of the Laws and the Republic is simple: the form of government you live by should have a corresponding set of rules based on natural laws. And the most important component? The citizens must have the moral rigor and knowledge to live by such a set of rules that demand the best from those who would enjoy liberty and happiness.
Are we those types of citizens?