This is clear enough from the play in which the man said, "Let them hate provided that they fear." He found to his cost that such a policy was his ruin.
When Antony and Octavian later reconciled, forming the Triumvirate with Lepidus, the young Caesar made no real effort to save Cicero when Antony immediately proscribed him. He had been informed, privately, of Cicero's quip to friends that the young man "must get praises, honors and push." In December, 43, almost two years to the day from his dinner with Caesar, Cicero was caught by Antony's soldiers in a halfhearted escape attempt. His brother Quintus and nephew had already been murdered. Cicero died bravely. His head and hands, cut off, were brought back and nailed to the Rostra from which he had so often moved the crowd. Fulvia, Antony's remarkable wife, drove pins through the golden tongue which had so often pierced other Romans.
In spite of vacillation and doubt, Cicero was staunch throughout his entire career in his determination to bring back the informal constitution of the Republic. The issue is whether that conviction was based on a real politics understanding of the viability of the Republic in the new age of empire. As Everitt writes, "His weakness as a politician was that his principles rested on a mistaken analysis. He failed to understand the reasons for the crisis that tore apart the Roman Republic. Julius Caesar, with the pitiless insight of genius, saw that the constitution with its endless checks and balances prevented effective government, but like so many of his contemporaries Cicero regarded politics in personal rather than structural terms. For Caesar the solution lay in a completely new system of government; for Cicero it lay in finding better men to run the government and better laws to keep them in order."
Everitt's distinction is a vital one for America today. Though politicians have yet to invade Washington with private armies, politics has become largely an exercise in gaining and keeping power; the vast discretion that Congress has granted to the executive branch and the regulatory agencies has undermined the rule of law; and elections have become a modern version of offering bread and circuses to the populace. The system is broken and cannot be fixed, as Cicero seems to have believed the Roman system could, merely by electing better people. But Cicero was right in this: Even the best system must rely on a leavening of good men, and virtue, as he knew, is a matter of individual choice and character. Thus, Cicero realized that any reform of the political system had to be grounded in principles of morality, and it was here that he made his most enduring contribution to mankind.
Cicero is known to the ages not only as a master orator but as a philosopher of rhetoric, whose works have been essential reading for students of rhetoric ever since. But Cicero saw the goal of his art as more than winning lawsuits or Senate debates. He justified the study and use of rhetoric as a way of bringing moral principles effectively to bear on the issues of individual and political life. Today, rhetoric of this sort is largely a lost art.
Even more important was Cicero's understanding of law, a subject that Everitt might have covered much more fully. Romans saw their law as norms particular to their city and civilization. Cicero, by contrast, believed that law reflects the rational ordering of the universe and that human law is man's participation in that higher law. "Law," he said, "is the highest reason, implanted in nature, which commands what ought to be done and forbids the opposite. This reason, when firmly fixed and fully developed in the human mind, is Law." Thus, Cicero saw an objective basis for morality and law. To be valid, human law cannot be based on the subjective preferences of a particular city or country; it must be founded in and reflect this natural law.
And because the natural law applies to all humans, in virtue of their common nature as rational beings, it is universal as well as objective. As Cicero said in his Republic, "There will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and at all times." During Rome's imperial period, many of the magistrates who administered law in the far-flung provinces of the empire were steeped in Cicero's view of law and thus acted with justice, even as decadent emperors debauched and murdered in Rome. Although Cicero did not save the Republic, his philosophy helped save the best of Roman civilization.
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