“Cicero’s politics in De officiis.”

Anthony A. Long, “Cicero’s politics in De officiis,” in A. Laks and M. Schofield (1995), 213-40., 1995.


–   Modern historians tend to be very severe in assessing Cicero’s political acumen, especially the stance he adopted at the end of his life. ‘In the Rome of Antony and Octavian he was an obstructive anachronism’, a man who ‘never penetrated to an understanding of the basic economic and social issues that cried out for remedy, and which were bound to be a source of political instability until something was done about them’. These assessments, which I take from David Stockton, are fairly representative. From a Hegelian view of history, Cicero in 44–43 BC was not the man for the hour. His attempts in the Philippics to rally support for a Republican opposition to Antony show how little he understood the linkage between political effectiveness or insight and real influence over the sources of power. So, with hindsight, it may be said. Yet, on a longer view of history, Cicero’s political thought grows in interest — less because of its practical relevance to his own times than as an attempt to diagnose what had gone wrong in Roman Republican ideology and what would be required to put it right.

The work I am referring to as the basis for this claim is De officiis. It is one of the ‘great books’, but no one today perhaps can read it with fresh eyes.

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