March of the Ciceronians

by Jeremy Beer on July 8, 2010 · 14 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

Calling all academic Porchers, especially those in political science, theory, and philosophy. The following may be of interest. I should add that I can vouch for Dr. Haworth, especially as pertains to the quality of his drinking- and cigar-buddy company. (Anyone interested in joining us for our monthly Porcher night at Magnum’s cigar bar in north Phoenix, just let me know, and I’ll put you on the invite list.)

Letter Requesting Participation:

Dear Colleagues,

My name is Peter Haworth, and I am launching a new interdisciplinary related-group, which will be affiliated with American Political Science Association (APSA). Our group will be called the Ciceronian Society, for Cicero symbolizes both the important republican tradition that opposed a centralizing empire and the rhetorical tradition of criticizing abstract rationalism. Such a society will allow us to control panel formation at the APSA and, hence, ensure that traditionalist and decentralist perspectives get a sufficient venue at the conference, which they currently do not. This presence at the APSA, which is a relatively interdisciplinary professional conference, will allow young traditionalist-minded scholars to develop their CVs. It will also provide an opportunity to develop traditionalist and decentralist thought via facilitating the presenting and critiquing of papers.

To make this effort successful, we need to have 50 persons both sign up as a member of APSA and be willing to sign the application for our Ciceronian Society by our application deadline of August 15th. In lieu of your signature on the Ciceronian Society application, you can simply give me your name and email.  Participation in the Ciceronian Society is free of charge. For those of you who are not political scientists, you can register as an APSA member for approximately $56.

Please contact me about your interest. My email is peterhaworth[at]me.com, and my phone is 602-820-5343.

Best Regards,

Peter Haworth, Ph.D.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jeff Taylor July 8, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Thanks for the information, Jeremy.

It’s funny how I grew up thinking Brutus was the bad guy and Caesar the noble victim. I blame Dante, Shakespeare, and Hollywood. If Brando or Burton had played Cicero in a major film, instead of playing the man who murdered Cicero, perhaps generations of young intellectuals might have gravitated in a better direction. Okay, I’m probably exaggerating the influence of movies. Still, where did we go wrong when Caesar and Antony are glorified, Brutus is condemned to the inner circle of Hell, and Cicero forgotten? Almost forgotten.

I don’t think Cicero was perfect. His aristocratic conservatism failed to recognize that years of republican privilege at home and imperial aggrandizement abroad came with a price tag. Neglect and oppression of the masses made them ripe for demagogues like Catiline and Caesar. But the change that came with the birth of official empire was not a step in the right direction.

avatar J.D. Salyer July 9, 2010 at 10:50 am

I’m glad we have Mr. Taylor around to correct boneheads like Dante and Shakespeare.

avatar AML July 9, 2010 at 5:41 pm

The Dante bit is blatantly false. Dante, the Florentine Republican, despises Caesar. Cato appears in Purgatory, even though he was never a Christian, because he stood up to the tyrant Caesar. Brutus is in Hell because he betrayed his friend and confidant. Furthermore, Brutus’ role in Julius Caesar is a bit more complicated. Antony calls him the “noblest of all Romans,” the only one of the conspirators who acted for the good of Rome rather than self-interest.

avatar Jeff Taylor July 9, 2010 at 6:37 pm

And I’m glad to have Mr. Salyer and AML around to correct boneheads like myself. I’ll take my lumps when they’re deserved.

avatar AML July 10, 2010 at 12:35 am

Yes, and I probably ought to have stated the above in a more charitable manner.

avatar P.D.H. July 10, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Dear All,

You are having an interesting discussion about Dante. I wonder, however, whether AML’s claim that Dante is a “Florentine Republican” needs to be defended, especially given Dante’s De Monarchia that seems to defend empire and monarchial rule. Also, some of you might consider doing a panel on the conflict of republicanism versus empire as reflected in Western literature at the Ciceronian Society. If such topics and formats for discussion interest you, please email me about joining the Ciceronian Society: [email protected].

Best Regards,
Peter

avatar Jeff Taylor July 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I appreciate you saying that, AML. All three of us were probably too glib in our remarks–the brevity of our evaluations obscuring the complexity of the subjects. I was willing to back down in the face of two critics because I’m not a Dante or Shakespeare expert. Having had time to think about it a bit more, I don’t think I was completely wrong.

My point about Dante wasn’t that he loved Caesar, but that he despised Brutus and helped cast that republican in a very unfavorable light. I don’t think that’s a false assessment. Just because he was willing to put Cato in Purgatory rather than Hell doesn’t mean he didn’t libel Brutus. Spreading a bad report is spreading a bad report; the nuances of motive are irrelevant as the negativity trickles down.

Also, I think Dante showed poor judgment in consigning Brutus to the center of Hell. We’re to believe that Brutus was as sinful, as worthy of punishment, as Judas? Yes, both betrayed friends. But there is not a moral equivalence in the two friends who were betrayed. One friend was a bad man, the other a good man. There is a difference.

It’s also interesting that of the three men in the inner circle of the Inferno, two were republican enemies of Caesar: Brutus and Cassius. What about Nimrod? Pharaoh? Herod? Caligula? Nero? Or if he didn’t want to go with tyrants, were there no other betrayers of friends who betrayed someone more noble than Julius Caesar? Couldn’t you argue that Caesar himself was a great betrayer–of senators, of citizens, of Rome itself?

I’m not sure we should describe Dante as “the Florentine Republican.” Yes, he lived in Florence, which was a republic, but that doesn’t make him a republican. Plato wasn’t a democrat just because he lived in democratic Athens. The way I read De Monarchia, Dante was more of a monarchist than a republican. Section 6, “Freedom under Monarchy”:

“He who lives under a Monarchy is most free. . . . Men exist for themselves, and not at the pleasure of others, only if a Monarch rules; for then only are the perverted forms of government set right, while democracies, oligarchies, and tyrannies, drive mankind into slavery . . . And because the Monarch loves his subjects much, as we have seen, he wishes all men to be good, which cannot be the case in perverted forms of government. . . . Although the king or the consul rule over the other citizens in respect to the means of government, yet in respect of the end of government they are the servants of the citizens, and especially the Monarch, who, without doubt, must be held the servant of all . . . Therefore mankind is best off under a Monarchy, and hence it follows that Monarchy is necessary for the welfare of the world.”

This is a very idealized depiction of monarchy. How often in the real world, over the millennia, have we seen it practiced? Rarely if ever. It’s like American politicians calling themselves “public servants” when they’re usually self-serving public rulers. During this part of the book, Dante cites Aristotle (“the Philosopher”) but he doesn’t present a mixed constitution as an alternative to monarchy. I don’t see republicanism, at least in the sense of government structure or who rules, in Dante’s thought here. Maybe you’re thinking of other things he wrote.

Contrast Dante’s endorsement of monarchy, and desire to see a revivified Roman Empire (in the form of a strengthened and enlarged HRE), to Cicero in The Republic, The Laws (section 2, “The Main Types of State”):

“In kingships the subjects have too small a share in the administration of justice and in deliberation . . . Therefore, even though the Persian Cyrus was the most just and wisest of kings, that form of government does not seem to me the most desirable, since ‘the property of the people’ (for that is what a commonwealth is, as I have said) is administered at the nod and caprice of one man. . . . Underneath the tolerable, or, if you like, the lovable King Cyrus (to cite him as a pre-eminent example), lies the utterly cruel Phalaris, impelling him to an arbitrary change of character; for the absolute rule of one man will easily and quickly degenerate into a tyranny like his.”

Cicero explicitly endorsed republicanism in theory and practiced what he preached in resisting JC. I don’t think that’s Dante, who was pinning his hopes for Florence on the Holy Roman Emperor of his day.

JDS’s sarcasm implies that Dante and Shakespeare are above criticism (in the condemnatory sense of the word). I don’t agree. They weren’t divine. Dante himself ran into trouble with the RCC because he sided with imperial power over papal. Even great writers make mistakes. You can blame me for unfairly or ignorantly challenging one of the greats–and I could be guilty of doing that–but there’s nothing wrong with the act of questioning or criticizing.

I didn’t say Dante and Shakespeare were idiots. I said the way they portrayed the imperial victors in Rome, and downplayed or attacked the republican losers, probably had a bad effect on subsequent generations. Criticizing them isn’t the same as claiming to be their equal as a poet or playwright. (I do agree with Tolstoy, however, that Shakespeare is overrated.)

My main point in writing wasn’t to argue about Shakespeare and Dante, but to welcome the creation of the Ciceronian Society and to thank Jeremy for bringing it to our attention. Maybe that’s something we can agree on, even if we differ on interpretative details of history and literature.

avatar J.D. Salyer July 10, 2010 at 8:28 pm

If anything, my sarcasm implied that we might be better off judging our ideologies in light of our poets once in a while, instead of judging our poets in light of our ideologies.

But then again, probably not. With the piercing lens of Anti-Empire Coalitionism at his disposal, Mr. Taylor has little to learn from the overrated Shakespeare.

avatar Kevin J Jones July 12, 2010 at 4:02 am

It’s been suggested that Dante took such a dim view of Brutus because political instability was such a great evil of his time. One could say the same of Shakespeare.

avatar Carl Eric Scott July 13, 2010 at 10:19 am

The views Shakespeare and Dante had of Brutus and Caeser is a fascinating topic and far more important to Western politics and self-understanding than might at first meet the eye…so go to town, guys.(Shakespeare is NOT “pro” Antony and Ceaser, BTW.)

But Jeremy and Peter, could you say more about what this group will be about and why Cicero is the correct name-sake for it? I mean, despite my own Pomocon allegiances, I count myself as something of a decentralizer and traditionalist, and an advocate of policies and party politics that will practically allow greater return to these.

But what do these terms mean for y’all? What commitments do they imply?

And here’s an objection to the name. I’m not a full-bore Porcher, so what do I know about all this… But were I a Porcher first and foremost, I think my first response would be…CICERO???!!! That slave-owning corrupt-ocrat fruits-of-imperialism-enjoying ARISTOCRAT? Now, look, the preceding charges probably are shallow and misguided. But what does the name Cicero mean or symbolize to most folks? Rome at its most refined, yes, but also big-time Roman privilege.

I am open in principle to greater empowerment of the Aristocratic, as understood by Guizot, the Federalist Party, and of course Aristotle. And following my guide Tocqueville, I favor the more indirect empowerment of the Aristocratic within liberal democratic structures and within its cultural institutions and mores.

But it seems to me the loyalties of the Porch run in a more democratic down-home direction. Or, that those loyalties hold pride of place over the Porch’s aristocratic tendencies. Why those in favor of decentralizing republicanism here ought to call themselves Ciceronians is beyond me. Of course, it’s your baby, surely not to be defined by the wide range of opinions found on this website. If you’d prefer a portico to a porch, I suppose you have your reasons.

I think “McWilliams Society” would be a better name. There’s surely just as much of a critique of rationalist thought in his work as in Cicero. And overall, Cicero’s politics and political thought, by my limited understanding, is pretty bloody complicated–we have only fragmentary versions of the key political writings, there is a level of esoteric writing going on, and Cicero was a real player in Roman politics over a long and tumultuous period of time. Those factors when combined make interpretation of his political thought a bitch.

And some day, Wilson Carey McWilliams’ name will be far more famous than it is now–the sheer quality and originality of his thought, even more than Deneen’s efforts to promote it, will accomplish that. And your society could help!

Ciceronian–it sounds antiquarian, quixotic, elitist. Or, it sounds like a pretty vessel you can fill with just about whatever you want.

These are friendly recommendations presented with a good deal of ignorance as to you intentions (and I might wind up joining your society regardless), so do feel free to school me accordingly. And, it may be too late to change the name.

But starting out right can be half the game.

avatar Gene Callahan July 14, 2010 at 12:55 am

“Couldn’t you argue that Caesar himself was a great betrayer–of senators, of citizens, of Rome itself?”

Nah, the Republic was toast long before Caesar came along.

avatar Joshua Knox July 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Hello all,

If you ever want to have your entire view of Cicero – and the late Roman Republic – challenged, I highly encourage you to read “The Roman Revolution” by Ronald Syme. Slight warning: it assumes a working familiarity with the persons and events of the last century of the Roman Republic, as a solid knowledge of Greek and Latin, and a lot of patience. With that said, I found it outstanding and, as a result, do not view Cicero all that favorably.

avatar Joshua Knox July 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm

As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I declined to vote for Obama was that he reminded me too much of Cicero. But that’s another story!

avatar Matt July 24, 2010 at 8:44 am

This essay may be interesting, in light of the foregoing discussion:

Robert S. Miola, “Julius Caesar and the Tyrannicide Debate,” Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Summer, 1985).

Thomas Aquinas seems to have been largely on the side of the “conspirators” since Caesar’ assassination was one of his key illustrations of tyrannicide. One *point* for Cicero, no?

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