Cicero’s political philosophy — V — How to build a nation that actually works

Which system of government is best? Here’s an ancient answer that can teach us a lot

by Massimo Pigliucci

“Our political community is not the work of a single genius but of many, nor was it formed in the life of one person but over a number of generations and centuries.” (Cicero, De Re Publica II.2)

What sort of system of government work best for human beings? This is a hugely important question that has been pursued for millennia and that is still very much relevant nowadays. In this next to the last installment of our book club series devoted to Walter Nicgorski’s Cicero’s Skepticism and His Recovery of Political Philosophy, we are going to examine the surprisingly original and, more importantly, useful answer articulated by the Roman advocate, statesman, and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero.

[See also part Ipart IIpart IIIpart IV]

As is well known, the Greeks and the Romans invented democracy, though of different kinds. (I will likely write more about this soon.) Ancient Athens was an experiment in radical democracy, where the people would directly vote on all sorts of matters and the motion would carry by a simple majority. The result wasn’t always great, as exemplified by the trial and death of Socrates. The Roman Republic, by contrast, was closer to what we today call a representational democracy, where the chief political offices — those of Consul and Tribune — were decided by ballot and were characterized by term limits (one year). It is true that the Senate was more of an aristocratic body, but new members could also be admitted to it by merit, as was the case for Cicero himself, who was a “new man” from a family outside of Rome and without aristocratic pedigree. … (continue at Medium)

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