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The Republic and The Law

by Cicero

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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704724,732 (3.66)8
Cicero's On the Commonwealth and On the Laws are his most important works of political philosophy. The present volume offers a scholarly reconstruction of the fragments of On the Commonwealth and a masterly translation of both dialogues. The texts are supported by a helpful, concise introduction, notes and other aids. Students in politics, philosophy, ancient history, law and classics will gain a new understanding of this seminal thinker thanks to Professor Zetzel's volume.… (more)
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» See also 8 mentions

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Cicero wrote his dialogue, The Republic, just before the civil war that ended the Roman Republic. In it he discusses the history of Rome and its constitution. The Republic of Cicero is in one sense modeled after Plato's Republic, but it is different as well. Cicero presents a more realistic view of the state based on the Roman Republic that was in its last stages during Cicero's lifetime. He assimilates the philosophy of Plato, but also Aristotle's Politics and others.

In it he discusses the nature of different political organizations including Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy, among others. His discussion of the best states and his comparison of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy is thoughtful --- highlighting the differences and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each; he concludes that the best regime may be one that is a blend of all three.

In the sequel essay entitled The Laws he promulgates a doctrine of Natural Law, which he then applies to all mankind. His code of law is developed for a reformed Roman Republic that, unfortunately, he never lived to see -- and after his death was preempted by the imposition of the Empire under the leadership of Augustus Caesar.

The following remarks give some indication of the best of his thinking: "The aim of a ship's captain is a successful voyage; a doctor's, health; a general's, victory. So the aim of our ideal statesman is the citizen's happy life---that is, a life secure in wealth, rich in resources, abundant in renown, and honorable in its moral character. That is the task which I wish him to accomplish---the greatest and best that any man can have." ( )
  jwhenderson | Jan 31, 2021 |
The works included here are rather fragmentary -especially The Republic, so it's hard to give the works a fair appraisal. That being said, I did gain some insight into ancient Roman politics. I also think some of the ideas in here speak to us all these centuries later. There is one quote that had to do with the anarchic tendency of democracy that particularly caught my attention:

"In a state of that kind total freedom must prevail. Every private household is devoid of authority…Father fears son, son ignores father, respect is completely absent. In the interests of universal freedom there is no distinction between citizen and foreigner… Youngsters assume the authority of older men… As this unlimited license comes to a head… citizens become so tender and hypersensitive that at the slightest hint of authority they are enraged and cannot bear it. In consequence they begin to ignore laws too; and the final outcome is total anarchy."

The above struck me because of how relevant it is to our current state of democracy in this country, where a certain contingent of voters really see no difference between criminal illegal immigrants, extremist foreign dissidents and legal citizens. They insist on conflating all of the above to the point that they will cause riots if people vote against them and all the while they will insist that they are tolerant, peaceful, freedom-loving, egalitarians. This country embodies to a great extent that puerile and idiotic freedom that Cicero decried.

Like Plato, Cicero recognized the shifting tides of political systems. Absolute democracy becomes the rule of an ignorant mob, who lack the knowledge and wisdom to even govern themselves responsibly, let alone govern others. Left to it's own devices, absolute democracy degrades into chaos; a chaos where everything is a constant leveling to the lowest common denominator until there is no longer any respect for authority, nor law. When society degrades to this point, it opens the way to tyranny in order to put a stop to that increasing tide of societal chaos. And that tyranny will hold sway until, once again, some control is yet again given to the masses after some kind of revolution or government upheaval; and the cycle starts again.

As was in Plato's day and in Cicero's day, so in our day. There are still tyrants waiting to seize the reigns of power and there are still ignorant and unruly masses of people that will give them the impetus they need to seize control. An ever watchful vigilance must always be on guard against both extremes. Cicero seems to advocate a mixed system of government. That is what our founding fathers attempted to create here. Even in an optimal system of government that embodies the best aspects of a republic and a democracy, personal accountability and responsibility are needed to make it work. That's what was lacking in the past and that is still what is lacking today. ( )
  Erick_M | Aug 27, 2018 |
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 (De Republica and De Legibus) 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.
( )
  booksontrial | Jan 4, 2013 |
Edition: // Descr: 533 p. 17 cm. // Series: The Loeb Classical Library Call No. { 875 C48-L 4 } Series Edited by T.E. Page With an English Translation by Clinton Walker Keyes Contains Latin and English Versions and Index . // //
  ColgateClassics | Oct 26, 2012 |
Good book, The Republic is very fragmented and therefore a little bit hard to read. We have more of Laws but it, too, is missing a bit. ( )
  jrgoetziii | Jan 11, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ciceroprimary authorall editionscalculated
Keyes, Clinton WalkerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keyes, Clinton WalkerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Cicero's On the Commonwealth and On the Laws are his most important works of political philosophy. The present volume offers a scholarly reconstruction of the fragments of On the Commonwealth and a masterly translation of both dialogues. The texts are supported by a helpful, concise introduction, notes and other aids. Students in politics, philosophy, ancient history, law and classics will gain a new understanding of this seminal thinker thanks to Professor Zetzel's volume.

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