Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Cicero's Social and Political Thought

Cicero's Social and Political Thought

Neal Wood
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 301
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Cicero's Social and Political Thought
    Book Description:

    In this close examination of the social and political thought of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.), Neal Wood focuses on Cicero's conceptions of state and government, showing that he is the father of constitutionalism, the archetype of the politically conservative mind, and the first to reflect extensively on politics as an activity.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91128-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Neal Wood
  4. Note on the Sources
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Cicero’s Significance
    (pp. 1-13)

    Why should anyone today be concerned with the social and political ideas of the late Roman republican thinker and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero? Is it not flailing a dead horse? Cicero’s merit as philosopher has been so deflated and his popularity as sage and stylist has so declined that the endeavor would appear to be without intellectual or practical merit. Who today troubles to read Cicero, save a handful of Latinists and ancient historians, and an ever-diminishing number of students? Yet despite the many alterations in mentality and literary taste over the last two centuries, there are several good reasons...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Ciceronian Society
    (pp. 14-41)

    Polybius, who witnessed the destruction of Carthage in 146 b.c. in the company of his friend the Roman commander Scipio Acmilianus Africanus Minor, begins his great history of the Republic by stating his purpose: “For who is so worthless or indolent as not to wish to know by what means and under what system of polity the Romans in less than fifty-three years have succeeded in subjecting nearly the whole inhabited world to their sole government—a thing unique in history?”¹ He apparently was thinking of the period from just before the outbreak of the Second Punic or Hannibalic War...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Cicero’s Life and Works
    (pp. 42-69)

    The extraordinary intellectual ferment and literary creativity of the last years of the Republic were possibly in direct response to these chaotic conditions and the attendant anxieties about the future instilled among the upper echelons of society.¹ Roman culture bloomed in a spectacular way. It was the age of Varro, Lucretius, Catullus, Sallust, Caesar, and a host of minor men of letters. At the center of this flowering was aliteratusof genius who encouraged his talented contemporaries in their inventive endeavors and called for enlightenment, the figure of Marcus Tullius Cicero, to whose life and works we must now...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Law, Justice, and Human Nature
    (pp. 70-89)

    Because of its centrality to his thought as a whole, Cicero’s natural-law conception of the universe and man is the most obvious point of departure for any consideration of his social and political ideas. His unshakable belief in the rational order of the universe and man is perhaps his most basic value, the intellectual underpinning of his other fundamental norms. Far from being original, however, Cicero’s conception of natural law bears the unmistakable imprint of Stoicism. Yet he was the first major thinker in whose extant works can be found something approaching a full treatment of the subject, one which...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Moral Equality and Social Inequality
    (pp. 90-104)

    Cicero is often praised for being the first important social and political theorist to postulate the moral equality of humans, a notion basic to the theory of natural law and justice which he derived from Stoicism. A contradiction, however, exists between his basic ethical position and his acceptance in theory and practice of an inegalitarian society. He never appears to have been conscious of the discrepancy between the two stances, any more than did subsequent natural law theorists from St. Thomas to John Locke. They all take for granted that an inegalitarian society is the only feasible mode of ordering...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Private Property and Its Accumulation
    (pp. 105-119)

    If for Cicero the quintessential consequence of man’s rational nature is his potential for moral virtue, another significant result is the human propensity to acquire and accumulate private property. Our natural instinct for self-preservation forces us to acquire possessions for the survival and well-being of ourselves and our families. Human reason not only guides man in his pursuit of possessions by enabling him to determine what is necessary and how it can most satisfactorily be gained, but also serves as a moral regulator, prohibiting the individual in his drive for accumulation from making it thesummum bonumand from injuring...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Idea of the State
    (pp. 120-142)

    In view of the revival of interest in the state among social scientists, and rehabilitation of the notion by many students of politics, Cicero’s thought on the subject is of fundamental significance. He is the first important social and political thinker to give a succinct formal definition of the state,¹ and to conceive of its major purpose largely in non-ethical terms, as the protection and security of private property. He is, furthermore, the first to distinguish state from government conceptually, and possibly to take the initial step in differentiating state from society. Thus his contribution to the early modern idea...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Types of State
    (pp. 143-158)

    In theRepublic, before Cicero shows that Rome is the ideal polity he surveys other forms of state, catalogues their strengths and weaknesses, and indicates why they do not measure up to his standard of the best. This project in political science entails some sort of typology of historical states. Cicero classifies them in two broad ways: according to the origin of the constitution, and by the nature of the government. From the standpoint of the origin of the constitution, a state is either founded by one man who gives it a system of laws and government, or is developed...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Essentials of the Mixed Constitution
    (pp. 159-175)

    The doctrine of the mixed constitution is one of the most important legacies of ancient political theory to modern times. Not only did it have a decisive impact on the general development of the idea of constitutionalism since the Middle Ages, but also, in the early modern period, especially on the theory of mixed monarchy, the English Classical Republicans, and on Montesquieu and the American founding fathers, who devised and instituted the notion of the separation of powers. Basic to that notion is the historical interpretation of the Roman constitution as a mixture, expounded by Polybius, Cicero, and other writers...

  14. CHAPTER TEN The Art of Politics
    (pp. 176-205)

    Cicero is the only important political thinker who devoted a life to politics and attained the highest governmental office. We might, therefore, expect that in addition to his discourses on justice, law, and the state, he might convey in some form to his readers the wisdom and insight gained in the actual conduct of weighty political affairs. Given his brilliant intellect, superb rhetorical ability, keen analytic mind, and unrivaled experience as a practicing politician, he surely must have something of value to impart on the activity to which he was so dedicated. Little or no attention has been given to...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Conclusion
    (pp. 206-214)

    The preceding pages have attempted to describe in some detail Cicero’s social and political ideas and their contribution to the history of the subject. From this standpoint his legacy can be most economically summarized as consisting of a conception of natural law and justice; a theory of the state to which a notion of private property is central; a doctrine of constitutionalism entailing limited and responsible government through a mixed constitution, and a justification of tyrannicide; and an emphasis on politics as means. To a greater or lesser degree, the elements reflect a pronounced and unprecedented individualism. Although arising in...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 215-262)
  17. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 263-274)
  18. Index
    (pp. 275-288)