Political Ideas of Cicero

This article throws light upon the three political ideas of Cicero.

The political ideas are:

1. Natural Law 

2. Concept of Natural Equality 

3. Idea of State.

1. Natural Law:

The body of Cicero’s political philosophy is composed of three related elements— a belief in natural law, natural equality and the state as natural to man. “Cicero’s true importance in the history of political thought lies in the fact that he gave to the Stoic doctrine of natural law a statement in which it was universally known throughout Western Europe from his own day down to the nineteenth century.”

He has combined the Platonic principles of right and justice as eternal and Stoic principle supremacy and universality of law as it exists in nature. The universal law of nature binds all men together.

The natural law is unchangeable and it is to be found in all peoples and in all nations. This universality of natural law constitutes the foundation of world-city. Since law of nature is supreme, none can violate it.

In Cicero’s words—True law is right reason in agreement with nature. In his opinion nature is the highest manifestation of right reason. It is universal applica­tion, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands and averts from wrong doing by its prohibitions.

Its commands and prohibitions always influence good men, but are without effect upon the bad. It is not a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to attempt to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely.

We cannot be free from its obligations by senate or people. There will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times.

Cicero has brought the concept of abstract reason and natural law into immediate relation with the activity of human reason and legislation of the state. If human legislation is in conformity with reason it cannot be in inconformity with nature.

It implies that, according to Cicero, human legislation violating law of nature must be declared invalid.

When everyone shows obligation to the law of nature, there is to be justice in the state. That is, violation of natural law is violation of justice. Commenting on Cicero’s idea of natural law, Gettell has said that his commentary on natural law has become a classic because of the clarity with which he was able to express himself.

2. Concept of Natural Equality:

Cicero’s concept of equality is another aspect of his political philosophy. Men are born for justice and that right is based not upon man’s opinion but upon nature. There is no difference between man and man in kind in the eye of natural law, all men are equal. So far as the learning and holding of property are concerned there is, no doubt, difference between man and man.

But in the possession of reason, in their psychological make-up and in their attitude towards good and bad, men are all equal. Man is born to get justice and in this regard no difference between men should be drawn.

All men and races of men possess the same capacity for experience and for the same kinds of experience, and all are equally capable of discriminating between right and wrong.

Commenting on Cicero’s view on natural equality, Carlyle has said that no change in political theory is as startling in its completeness as the change from Aristotle to the notion of natural equality. Aristotle also thought of equality among the citizens. But he was not prepared to award citizenship to all people.

It was confined only to selected number of persons. So Aristotle’s idea of equality was not all-embracing. Only few were equal among themselves. Cicero has viewed equality in moral perspective. All men are created by God and they are born for justice. So man- made discrimination is not only unjust but also immoral.

It is the duty of every political society to ensure certain amount of dignity to every individual. Cicero has refused the time-old idea of slavery. Slaves are neither tool nor property, they are human beings. So they have the right to just treatment and independent personality.

3. Idea of State:

The purpose of Cicero in Republic is to set forth a conception of an ideal state as Plato had done in his Republic. He has not made any attempt to conceal his indebtedness to Plato.

He has adopted the same technique of dialogue. But Cicero’s state is not an imaginary organization. It is confined to Roman state and he has cited illustrations from the history of Rome.

A Commonwealth is the property of a people. But a people is not any collection of human beings brought together in any sort of way, but an assemblage of people in large numbers associated in an agreement with respect to justice and a partner­ship for the common good.

The first cause of such and association is not so much the weakness of the individual as a certain social spirit which nature has implanted in him. For man is not a solitary or unsocial creature, but born with such a nature that not even under conditions of great prosperity of every sort is he willing to be isolated from his fellowmen.

The above observation reveals certain features of Cicero’s idea of state. Cicero has designated the nature of the state as the affair or thing or property of the people. This term is quite equivalent to Commonwealth and Cicero has used this. In Cicero’s view, the state as Commonwealth is for ethical purposes and if it fails to achieve this mission it is nothing.

The state is based on agreement to share common good. Another feature of Cicero’s state is people have assembled together not guided by their weakness but by their sociable nature. Man is not a solitary animal. He loves and likes to habit with man. This is the inborn nature of man. It is the rational behaviour of men which is responsible for the foundation of state. Hence we may call it a necessary association.

It is useful for achieving common good. Cicero has said there is nothing in which human excellence can more nearly approximate the divine than in the foundation of new states or in the preservation of states already founded.

The desire to share common good is so much ardent that people have overcome all enticements to pleasure and comfort. “Cicero thus formulates a vision which is thoroughly political at the same time.” His idea of state and citizenship is in striking resemblance with that of Plato and Aristotle.

Sabine has called Cicero’s state a corporate body. Naturally, all its members will look after the advantages and disadvantages of each other. Since the state is a corporate body its authority is collective and it is derived from the people.

When the political power is properly and legally executed it will be regarded as the power of the people. That is, it is corporate power. Finally, the state and its law both are subject to God. In Cicero’s theory of state force does not occupy a very important place. Only for the sake of justice and right force can be used.

Like Polybius, Cicero has suggested three types of government—royalty, aristoc­racy and democracy. But in each form of government there is the germ of corruption and instability and this leads to the fall of government.

Only a mixed form of government is the proper guarantee of stability and corruption-free society. Cicero preferred a republican form of government as the perfect example of checks and balances for the stability and good of the political system.

In the opinion of Dunning, although Cicero followed Polybius in the theory of checks and balances, it would be wrong to assume that he did not possess any originality of thought. Cicero’s mixed form of government is less mechanical.

“There can be no doubt that in the border region where ethics, jurisprudence and politics meet, Cicero performed a work which gives him an important place in the history of political theory.”

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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