The Cicero Trilogy by Robert Harris
I have decided that my first real project for 2016 will be to read and discuss the Cicero Trilogy of novels by Robert Harris ( ’Imperium’, ‘Conspirata’, and ‘Dictator’). I will devote an article to each of these invigorating historical novels, but first I want to discuss Cicero, the Roman leader and humanist. No person in human history has been as profound a force for good as Cicero, and today we need his reasoned guidance more than ever.
Perhaps the toughest of all battles in law and politics involve fighting corruption within the ruling aristocracy. This is as true today as it was in ancient Rome and throughout history. Cicero fought hard and died in defense of the Roman republic against tyrants, only to be followed by a series of wild and wacky and vicious Roman emperor / dictators. He devoted his life to reason, humanism, and education.
Early Christian scholars studied Cicero’s writings in Latin, and he has been praised for creating the language of the civilized world. The Italian Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero’s letters in the 14th century is often credited with starting the European Renaissance. Cicero’s writings were also the guiding light of the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century which had the goals of liberty, progress, reason, tolerance, and fraternity. The founding fathers of the United States incorporated the principles of Cicero into the US Constitution to provide the necessary checks and balances in government to maintain the country as a republic. Two cities in the United States named after Cicero in New York and Illinois are an indication of his influence. Thomas Jefferson called Cicero as a writer the first master of the world.
Marcus Tullius Cicero expressed principles that became the bedrock of liberty in the modern world. He believed in natural law, that certain rights or values are inherent by virtue of human nature and human reason. He believed the purpose of positive laws is to provide for “the safety of citizens, the preservation of states, and the tranquility and happiness of human life.” Perhaps we can best understand Cicero through a few of his quotes:
“Not for ourselves alone are we born.”
“What is morally wrong can never be advantageous, even when it enables you to make some gain that you believe to be to your advantage. The mere act of believing that some wrongful course of action constitutes an advantage is pernicious.”
“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.”
“We must not say every mistake is a foolish one.”
“The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity and the brute by instinct.”
Even today our republic must contend with the same enemies that Cicero fought against over two thousand years ago. Rich citizens buy politicians wholesale, and these bought politicians are little more than automatons who always do their financiers’ bidding at the expense of everyone else. Overly ambitious politicians take wild and reckless and vicious positions to fire up the masses to vote for them. Theirs is a naked grab for power, dressed up as patriotic necessity. Those qualities which Cicero admired including sound reasoning, moderation, and tolerance mixed with respect for others seem to be in short supply today. Above all, Cicero was saying ‘Be Reasonable’, yet today we appear to be living in an age of unreason.
So in the following few weeks I will be exploring this Cicero trilogy of novels by Robert Harris. There may be other articles interspersed between these Cicero ones, but Cicero will remain on my mind. Today we need Cicero more than ever.