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1: THE STOIC ORIGINS OF LIBERALISM - William Dyer Grampp, Economic Liberalism, vol. 1 The Beginnings 
Economic Liberalism (New York: Random House, 1965). vol. 1 The Beginnings.
Part of: Economic Liberalism, 2 vols.
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THE STOIC ORIGINS OF LIBERALISM
Stoicism is not the first idea that comes to mind when one thinks about the beginnings of economic liberalism. One may, to be sure, remember that the Stoics were especially interested in the individual and recall that they have been linked, in an indistinct sort of way, with Platonism, Christianity, a Schoolman here and there, and the Enlightenment. But one is much more likely to recall Hooker and Locke; Hume and Smith are also certain to come to mind. That is because the familiar beginnings of liberalism are in the seventeenth century, especially its political ideas, and because in the eighteenth century the economic ideas were put forward in a memorable way. But in fact the origins of liberalism are much earlier. They are in the philosophic thinking about the individual, about the qualities that make him distinctive, about his responsibilities to himself, to those around him, and to nature. This kind of thinking was the substance of the philosophy of the Stoics. They certainly were not alone in dwelling on these questions. Nor have their answers been as important as those of some of the doctrines of political idealism. What is important about Stoicism is that it was the moral philosophy out of which the liberal view of the individual developed.
The Consequences of Stoicism
Neither Stoicism nor liberalism has been treated well by history. Liberalism has been defined in so many ways that its meaning in the period of the classical economists is nearly forgotten. A summary statement of it would be unfamiliar even to a modern reader who believes himself reasonably well informed. Stoicism has been treated differently but not better. It has been cursed by neglect more than misuse. What little is remembered is an impression of a moral philosophy that is austere, unworldly, passive, and a little sour. None of this, one would suppose, is relevant or interesting to the kind of people who (by another mistaken notion) are believed to populate a liberal economy.
Nevertheless, even in the common impression of Stoicism there is something that makes one want to know more about it, what its ideas were, and what their influence has been. One finds in looking into Stoicism that it has given the modern world some of its most consequential ideas about individual conduct. A few of these ideas have come directly from the Stoics; more often they have been transmitted by Christianity or through the moral philosophy of the Enlightenment. From Stoicism was derived the belief in a harmoniously constituted universe watched over by a benevolent power; the conception of man as a free agent whose every move nevertheless has been preordained by a supernatural power; the belief that men are naturally reasonable; that although inherently selfish they are led in looking after their private interests to promote the good of others; the notion that goodness, or morality, consists more in playing the game properly than in winning it; and the idea that every man’s first duty is to his conscience and that his duty to society is secondary.
THE ACTIVE AND THE PASSIVE LIFE
These ideas can direct men to an active or to a passive life; and some Stoics led one, some another. The passive side, which in fact was quietistic, is best known because Stoicism originated in a period when the active life had less to offer than the quiet. It came to Athens with the Phoenician Zeno in the third century before Christ. That was after the great period of Grecian philosophy and after the great achievements of the city states. There was nothing golden about Greece when Zeno settled there. Stoicism had begun in Asia when that country was subjugated by the Greeks and was brought to a country that was in a dry season of its fortunes. Stoicism counseled a renunciation of power, wealth, and pleasure; it urged men not to let themselves be destroyed by misfortune, pain, poverty, and tyranny. They were told they could make themselves secure by developing the rational side of their natures. That was the mind and it could be supreme and indestructible, incapable of being moved by outside forces if one so willed.
Cultivation of the mind is not identical with cultivating the soul, and indifference to the world is not the same as withdrawing from it. But each can be mistaken for the other, and that often has happened. This mistake has given us our conventional notion of Stoicism, and the notion is uncongenial to the liberal view of things, even repugnant.
The mistake is illustrated in an essay on Bacon by Macaulay who, to himself and others, was the embodiment of liberalism. In one passage he compares the Stoic attitude with that of the Baconian and liberal. Two travelers pass through a stricken land, a Baconian and a Stoic. The natives have been exposed to smallpox. The Stoic informs them that disease and death have no reality to the wise, that the only concern of the people should be to prevent their fears from displacing their reason. During this discourse, the Baconian is busy vaccinating the population. The travelers next meet some miners who cannot find a way of rescuing those of their group who have been trapped underground by an explosion of gases. The Stoic advises indifference to death, and the Baconian makes a safety lamp. The two then meet a despairing merchant whose vessel and cargo are at the bottom of the sea. The Stoic explains that wealth is immaterial, while the Baconian recovers the goods with a diving bell.
This view of Stoicism is less than all of it. Even Macaulay himself was not as independent of its influence as he thought. In his Victorian conscience were qualities that resembled those of the moral hero of Stoicism. Macaulay showed his indebtedness to Epictetus in the very essay in which he derided Stoicism. In one passage he berated Bacon for letting cupidity interfere with his intellectual efforts. The passage illustrates what Epictetus meant by saying that an admiration of riches is a mark of baseness. When Macaulay reproved Bacon for sacrificing his independence in order to secure political preferment, he was applying to a single case the general rule of Epictetus that, “The soldiers swear to respect no man above Caesar; but we to respect ourselves first of all.”1
STOICISM AND POLITICAL AUTHORITY
It is odd that an ethical system which supposedly urged a renunciation of the world should have attracted so many worldly figures and especially remarkable that the system should have had among its believers most of the rulers of the ancient world after the time of Alexander. Their behavior was anything but “Stoical” in the common meaning of that word.
One was Marcus Aurelius. As a philosopher, he is improbable as an emperor, and as an emperor just as improbable as a philosopher. He managed to be both and to be probable at each. He was not altogether great in either position, but he is memorable. His Meditations are one of the strangest records ever left by a man of action. One might, it is true, see in them a figure on whom great but distasteful duties had been imposed, but one would not suppose he carried them out firmly and with energy. Many have noticed the anomaly of a man suited for meditation and instead finding himself at the head of a great empire, ruling it with resolution, driving out dissidents, leading his armies against the barbarians, and (the crowning touch) putting Christians to death. It was almost too much for Matthew Arnold to believe, especially the killing of Christians. He said the Romans must have regarded the Christians much differently from the way the Victorians did and concluded that Marcus Aurelius “is perhaps the most beautiful figure in history.”2 One can, however, explain the conduct of Aurelius in another way, and that is by setting it against the whole of Stoicism.
The conduct of Cicero also is curious. His numerous writings contain rules of conduct that are deduced from Stoicism and are meant to guide an individual who has a variety of interests. The rules do not direct man to be indifferent to the world. Cicero certainly was not. He sought power and exercised it; he wanted wealth and enjoyed it. When he was a rising politician he often was demeaning, but once in command he could be imperious. He was bitter in defeat and proud in victory. He was thoroughly human, a point on which all his biographers agree, from Plutarch through Boissier down to Thornton Wilder in The Ides of March.
It is hazardous, of course, to judge a moral system by the behavior of its believers. Still the two should be consistent in the end. If they in fact are not, there is something wrong with the system or with our understanding of it. The latter is true, I think, of Stoicism. The disparity between its moral principles and the conduct of the Stoics actually was not great. That is because Stoicism eventually came to provide for both the active and passive life. It did not sanction everything its followers did, but neither did it censure them for an active interest in power and wealth. Its praise and blame were dispensed according to the diligence with which individuals used their talents, not by their devotion to either the spirit or the world.
An important element in Stoicism is the idea that each person achieves goodness by fulfilling the part assigned to him by providence. That is, virtue consists in conforming to nature. Epictetus counseled men to do with their own all that was in their power. If their means were large, their part would be an active one. If small, their part would be small also, and their place in the world would not be important. If an individual was born to an inferior position, if he was poor, had little ability and few opportunities, he would find greatest honor in retirement and indifference to externals. If his estate was large, his powers and position great, he could properly lead an active life and attend to externals. His behavior would be just as virtuous as the behavior of a man who consulted only his inner resources.3
By making it possible for men to live honorably in the world as well as apart from it, Stoicism became a moral code suitable to all ranks of society. The change saved Stoicism from becoming a counsel of perfection or, what in practice comes to the same thing, a counsel of despair. The change was enormously consequential but it was not consistent with the initial premises of the Stoic philosophy as they are attributed to Zeno. Yet the change was only one of many. They lessened the consistency of the doctrine and they also extended its influence. They are one reason why it survived for more than 500 years.
Zeno and the Moral Sage
Zeno began with a conception of the universe. It was that the universe was composed of material objects, of things which he and the early Stoics called “real” and “solid” and which they believed could be apprehended fully by the senses. Their view was meant to oppose the Platonic conception that the universe consisted of ideal constructions of things which existed completely only in the mind and which were represented imperfectly by the objects the senses perceived. The elements of the Stoic universe were looked upon as being in a continuous state of growth, each moving with the other in a harmonious design toward a predetermined end. Presiding over the universe as prime mover, source of harmony, and governing power was the force of nature. It was called phusis, which literally means the process of growth. This particular conception—the idea of nature—appears again and again, especially in the period of classic liberalism in political philosophy. It sometimes is called providence, occasionally God, but often nature and will be called that here. Nature was the exclusive reality in the Stoic system.4
From these premises the Stoics quickly moved to what was their principal interest, the substance of human conduct. On the other fields of philosophy their influence has been negligible, but in ethical theory it has been profound. In order to explain conduct and to judge it, the Stoics inquired into the characteristics of the individual and their origin. As moral philosophers they tried to answer two questions: Why do men behave as they do? By what standards shall their behavior be judged? The first led them to what they believed was the distinctive characteristic of man—his reasoning faculty. It is the cause or motive of behavior. The second question they answered by asserting that behavior is to be judged by its reasonableness. It is good if reasonable, bad if not.
THE LOGIC OF STOIC MORALITY
A contemporary moralist would find this rather slim. What the Stoics said was that men were directed by reason and were virtuous if they were so directed. That is like saying all men have brown hair and are good men if they have it. If men always behave according to their nature, then there is no meaning in the statement that men are good when they behave according to their nature. Hence, ethical statements are meaningless. If however they are asserted to be meaningful, the assertion implies that men do not always behave according to their nature. This in turn implies that their nature does not always direct them, from which it would follow that the statement is wrong that men are directed by reason because they are reasonable by nature.
This is harsh on the early Stoics but it does indicate where they went wrong. They did not distinguish between the positive character of the first question (What determines behavior?) and the normative character of the second question (What is good behavior?). More than that, they answered both questions with the same proposition: That reason determines behavior and reason determines good behavior. I do not mean positive propositions have no place in ethics; I believe they have. The Stoics were not wrong because they asked two different sorts of questions but because they seemed not to realize that the questions were different.
This weakness is not as obvious in the early writings as I have made it here. As the Stoics developed the answers to each question, they introduced other ideas that served partly to conceal the weakness in the answers and partly to remove it. They said, for example, that man’s reason was given to him by nature and was a part of the rationality, or harmonious design, of the universe; that nature intended man to use his reason, and that when he did he was acting naturally and hence in harmony with the universe. Such behavior was virtue. That is, virtue consisted in conforming to nature’s intention. In some such way the Stoic doctrine can be made rather substantial looking. But I do not believe I do it an injustice in saying its early postulates were weak.
Yet, the weakness was not a fatal one in the sense of lessening the power of the philosophy to influence conduct. The emphasis of Stoicism was on the second question: How shall behavior be judged?—a question of value. It was not on the first: What causes behavior?—a question of fact. Stoicism was more interested in morals than in psychology.
From these initial ideas, the Stoic doctrine came to be known as a code of self-abnegation. As nothing but the life of reason had any reality, the Stoic could not be interested in anything external to the mind, nor could he even recognize an external except as something to be avoided. He was indifferent to wealth, honor, rank, and power, because all of them were separable from reason and so were unreal and immaterial. He also was unmoved by bodily comfort or discomfort, by pain, by disease, or by health, because they too were external to his real being. Most of the things that Stoicism disparaged are things the modern world values in some way, and the austerity of the doctrine puts one off. . . . Still there is something about it that commands respect or at least attention. What Marcus Aurelius wrote about pain may seem ingenuous:
But if it happens in such wise as thou art not formed by nature to bear it, do not complain, for it will perish after it has consumed thee.5
A psychiatrist might tick him off as a masochist, and a logician call him a maker of truisms. But Aurelius did not mean that the Stoic enjoyed pain. The Stoic did not, any more than ordinary mortals; but he was different from them in refusing to allow pain to disturb the equanimity of his mind and the exercise of his reason. One may think that such a mind is not aware enough of external reality, but one would have to admit it was something to be reckoned with. There is a story of the Stoic who was captured by the soldiers of a foreign conqueror and told to renounce his beliefs. He refused and was tortured. Still unable to make him recant, the soldiers told him he would be put to death. He answered that they could do whatever they wanted with his body but whatever they did they could not injure his philosophy. That was in his mind, and their authority, in its physical or moral aspect, did not extend to that. The story is similar to many accounts of martyrdom, except for one difference. The difference made Stoicism unique. Unlike the Christian or the communist martyr, the Stoic did not go to death believing his ideas someday would prevail, or that he would secure salvation from a higher power. He went to his death because his integrity was worth more to him than his existence.
“No man in his senses refuses the things which are dear to him, unless he thinks he is already abundantly provided with other things which he values still more.” So it is remarked in a Renaissance discourse on manners, the Galateo of Della Casa; and the idea is an echo of the Stoicism of 1500 years earlier. There is an even stronger echo in Tawney’s Equality, a book that reveals the ambivalence of democratic socialism toward liberal and idealistic political theory. In a liberal strain, Tawney wrote about power:
To destroy it, nothing more is required than to be indifferent to its threats, and to prefer other goods to those which it promises. Nothing less, however, is required also.
REASON AND VIRTUE
The early Stoics emphasized the supremacy of reason as the mark of virtue, and the emphasis was so pronounced that they often did not distinguish between the two. Initially they regarded reason as the means by which virtue was achieved. Later it became virtue itself, and the moral hero was the man who used his rational faculty. The errant individual was one whose behavior was unreasoning. Goodness came to mean the way an individual chose from among different kinds of possible conduct instead of meaning the conduct itself. Gilbert Murray, in his admirable lecture on Stoicism, said that the essence of Stoic morality was the idea that goodness resides in the act of choice and not in the thing chosen.6 An individual was to be judged not by what he did but by the way he did it. If in all his acts he consulted his reason, he would be assured of attending only to the reality of life and of avoiding its immaterial aspects.
It is difficult to know how much of a departure this represents from the initial Stoic conception of virtue. There certainly is a difference between saying a man is good because he does a particular thing and saying that he is good because he does it in a reasonable way. For most kinds of conduct, the distinction is one between ethical standards and nihilism. But the distinction probably cannot be made for the kind of conduct in which the early Stoics were interested. To them the exercise of reason would lead to only one kind of behavior: the life of reflecting on man’s place in the universe. Such behavior was the essence of virtue. To do what was reasonable was to reflect upon man and nature. No other course was possible. On all other matters of conduct and existence to which a man might attend out of interest or necessity, the early Stoics had little to say because they considered such matters to be unreal. Their best advice was the counsel of rationality. If this standard were applied to all of man’s interests, he would have to believe that goodness was in the act of choice because it was inseparable from the thing chosen.
Out of these ideas the Stoics constructed the moral sage: the completely reasonable person. He invites comparison with the economic man. The Stoic hero uses his rationality to achieve virtue and he is virtuous when he is rational. The economic man also has rationality. He uses it to accumulate wealth.
The Stoic hero was no more “real” than the economic man (rather less, if anything). Neither was meant to describe individuals as they actually were. But the weakness of the Stoic conception was something different from unreality or unfactualness. Once we turn away from its radiance to a disinterested study of the doctrine we encounter many difficulties. Perfect rationality, it has been observed, is a self-contradiction, to know everything is to banish all questions, and there is nothing left on which the reasoning faculty can exercise itself. Even more often it has been remarked that the idea of a natural order is troublesome. If the good is foreordained, why should man strive to bring it about? Overlooking the conceivable impiety of such conduct, what shall be said of it from a mundane viewpoint? Does not the faith in a natural order deprive men of their will and enervate their conduct? The Stoics are said to have resolved this difficulty by making virtue reside in the effort to do one’s duty. But does this really solve the problem—does it not merely substitute the effort to do good for the good itself? If all things are predestined to come to pass, so is the striving for virtue as well as virtue itself.
So, too, is evil, or error, or failure, or weakness, or whatever the opposite of virtue is called. In such a universe, an individual cannot be made responsible for his faults or esteemed for his merit. There is not much point in discussing individual behavior, the exercise of reason, the wisdom or folly of choice. One could reflect upon such ethical matters, perhaps, but one could hardly reason about them for the purpose of influencing conduct.
Yet the Stoics, like many others, insisted that the individual was a free agent capable of making choices and responsible for their consequences. One is reminded of how Milton considered the problem in Paradise Lost, of how he raised the question, defined and disposed of it, all in about thirty lines, of which the following are typical. God explains to His Son how Satan and the other angels were made free, how He knew they would revolt, and how they must be held responsible for their disobedience.
To the implied question of how Satan’s choice could have been free if his maker had foreknowledge of it, God declares:
Having done so, they are accountable.
Just how this strikes one is probably determined by the predispositions one brings to it. It strikes me as a statement of what one must believe if one is to believe in an omnipotent power and at the same time believe in individual responsibility. Milton hardly proves his contention in the ordinary sense of that word. He asserts it, and, one notes, he uses his thirty lines to repeat the assertion rather than to demonstrate it. Milton, incidentally, thought the predestination doctrines of Calvin were damnable.
The kind of assertion he makes seems to me to be a necessary part of any moral doctrine that presupposes a supernal force. Yet one must dwell on the problem of reconciling freedom and predestination. Stoicism certainly did not reconcile them. While accepting the reality of a divine power, it did not release individuals from responsibility for their behavior. There is a story of the Stoic who one day became angry with his slave. The slave was exasperatingly slow in bringing the master’s drink and when he finally served it he spilled the cup. The master stormed and scolded and began to beat the slave, all in a way that was far from being Stoical. “But master,” the slave remonstrated, “do you not know that my transgression was foreordained from the beginning of time!” “Just so,” the master answered, “and likewise is my beating you for it!”
Another of the difficulties in Stoicism is the disturbing presence of evil in a universe that is benevolently constituted and governed. Evil is the product of unreasoning behavior and so must be unreal. But being “unreal” does not mean it has no “existence”—and we are forced to look for a distinction between reality and existence. These are old, old troubles and have beset many other ethical systems. Stoicism was no more unsuccessful than they in reconciling obvious evil with a benevolent providence and freedom with predestination. It was, however, more successful than most in the influence it exercised and in the long period of time in which it was the ruling ethical doctrine.
The Modifications in Stoicism
One reason for its success was the modification of the doctrine. It was made less demanding and so came within the ability of more men to practice it. The original Stoic definition of virtue—the finding of one’s place in the universe by the use of reason—was not a helpful precept for the mass of men. They were not curious and reflective enough. Even if they had been, they could not all have come to the same conclusions, as their betters in fact had not. These were two more difficulties of Stoicism: that not all men were equally reasonable and that among those who were there was disagreement over the conclusions to which their reason led them. Had Stoicism retained its original purity it would have excluded from its authority the majority of men, it also would have excluded all of those among the reasonable minority who disagreed that virtue consisted of the reflective life and only that.
THE EXTENSION OF INTERESTS
In time the Stoics came to approve of many other kinds of behavior. As they did they lessened their emphasis on reason as the only important human characteristic and attended to others. Among them were man’s interest in what we would call material comfort (and which the early Stoics called immaterial), his desire for esteem, rank, and honor, his interest in political power, affection for family and friends, liability to pain, capacity for discomfort, distress, and fear, and other human failings. Seneca distinguished between the rational and the irrational elements in men and he said that irrational conduct was not always an evil.7
Megara says in Mad Hercules.
Marcus Aurelius, although he did not attend to irrational behavior as much as Seneca did, also recognized its reality and he was more perceptive about the causes of error. One, he said, was simply unreasoning behavior. Another is weakness. He said repeatedly that happiness is to be found only in the life of reason. But that life is not for everyone:
. . . the mind which is free from passions is a citadel, for man has nothing more secure to which he can fly for refuge and for the future be inexpugnable. He then who has not seen this is an ignorant man, but he who has seen it and does not fly to this refuge is unhappy.
It is clear that the Stoics thought some men were not made for the life of reason, some because they could not be reasonable, some because they would not. The failings of the former were not evils. Unreasonable behavior “is only harmful to him who has it in his power to be released from it, as soon as he shall choose,” Aurelius said, meaning that an evil man is one who is able to be virtuous but chooses not to be.8
Epictetus modified Stoicism even more. He denied that reason had its origin in nature, saying instead that it was the product of education. He made reason separate from the moral sense of the individual and said that only the moral sense was natural or innate. This is the quality that leads men to choose good and avoid evil. He departed so far from the doctrine of Zeno as to say that when the reason of the individual dictated one course and his moral sense another it was the latter which should be followed.9 This meant the individual should not accept the moral values given by education and environment—the factors which created his reason—if the values contradicted his inherent sense of right and wrong. Aurelius while declaring that all men were made for common association and were meant to conduct themselves for their mutual advantage, said nonetheless that each man must reserve to himself the ultimate judgment of what is his own interest, including his supreme interest in virtue.
When he wrote his Meditations much of the early austerity of the Stoic doctrine had diminished, and in its place there was a tolerant regard for human feelings. He did not deny the supreme value of the reflective life—actually, he reaffirmed it—but neither did he ignore the many people who did not live reflectively. Moreover, he found that natural law could guide them as well as it could guide rational individuals. Natural law, he said, disclosed certain virtues that govern the relations among different individuals and it revealed others that governed a man’s relation to himself. The two most important virtues of a social kind were benevolence and justice (as they were also to Smith when he wrote The Theory of Moral
Sentiments). They must always, Aurelius said, guide the individual in that part of his conduct which affects others. The virtues ordained to one’s self were tranquility, simplicity, modesty, and of course rationality.10 In setting down the specific virtues man should seek for himself and in his relations with others, Aurelius was advising him to pattern his life on the order of the universe. The universe was naturally just, benevolent, peaceful, and harmonious, and so must the life of man be. The early Stoics had said just this about the universe, but they did not extend the principle to the ordinary behavior of men because such behavior did not interest them. Not only was Aurelius interested in such behavior, he was also concerned with what might be done if it did not conform to nature. When he prescribed guides to conduct he knew that they would not always be followed, and he offered counsel for those who departed from virtue:
When thou hast assumed these names, good, modest, true, rational, a man of equanimity, and magnanimous, take care thou dost not change these names, and if thou shouldst lose them, quickly return to them.
But if amends cannot be made, then:
depart at once from life, not in passion, but with simplicity and freedom and modesty, after doing this one [laudable] thing at least in thy life, to have gone out of it thus.11
To advise men that the only alternative to a virtuous life is a virtuous suicide may seem an unbending code. It is. But it does acknowledge the reality of nonreasoning behavior, which is something early Stoicism did not do. That doctrine simply turned aside from errancy, believing it had no reality. Although what Aurelius advised was extreme, there was nothing in it that was self-abasing. In one of his finest passages he wrote: “for the pride which is proud of its want of pride is the most intolerable of all.”12
There was instead in his doctrine an effort to place the individual in an order of things larger than himself, to judge behavior for its harmony with this order, to view the life of the individual as one element in it. He said:
Short then is the time which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives, and short too the longest posthumous fame, and even this only continued by a succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago. . . . Wherefore, on every occasion a man should say: This comes from God; and this is according to the apportionment and spinning of the thread of destiny, and such-like coincidence and chance,13 . . .
There is a curious suggestion of this statement in a dialogue in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons which reveals how the Stoic view, in its passage through time, could retain its outward form while being completely divested of its meaning. Two young men, representative of the new generation of Russians which is receptive in a feverish way to European ideas, are discussing the meaning of life. Bazarov, a nihilist, observes:
I think; here I he under a haystack. . . . The tiny space is so infinitely small in comparison with the rest of space, in which I am not, and which has nothing to do with me; and the period of time in which it is my lot to live is petty beside the eternity in which I have not been, and shall not be. . . . And in this atom, the mathematical point, the blood is circulating, the brain is working and wanting something. . . . Isn’t it loathsome? Isn’t it petty?
Arkady, his friend, puts a period to the declaration by adding, “Allow me to remark that what you’re saying applies to men in general.” There was nothing singular about this point of view. Dostoevski made “a sense of degradation” essential to many of his characters. Nor was this a uniquely Russian trait, although it seems to have appeared in that literature first. It is in Russia that Bazarov’s attitude produced some consequential reactions. One has been a repudiation of reason in favor of belief in a misty notion of love. In Anna Karenina Levin discovers that his reason has led him to an impiety in which he can find no meaning—“an agonizing error, but it was the sole logical result of ages of human thought in that direction.” He redeems himself by returning to the church and to its doctrine of love, which “reason could never discover, because it is irrational.” Another reaction has been Marxism, which has given a purpose to the materialism, or atomism, of Turgenev (which he probably got from Lucretius rather than from Aurelius). In the ideas of the Stoics there is nothing which necessarily leads to nihilism. It cannot be read from the explicit judgments of the philosophy, nor can it be made to follow by implication from the Stoic practice of cultivating the individual will. Yet there is something troublesome about any highly individualistic code, which, by turning all moral questions inward and making reason the final arbiter of truth, leads men often to an irresponsible assertion of will. The Stoic doctrine was susceptible to such a result. When the doctrine was transmitted to classic liberalism, it passed along this unsettled question.
MORALITY AND CUSTOMARY BEHAVIOR
When Stoicism brought nonrational interests within its scope, its intention was to apply its principles to a great many kinds of “secondary” behavior—the customary or ordinary conduct of men. The rules devised for such behavior were at first regarded as inferior to the ultimate standard of virtue. Later they became more important, more absolute, and eventually became duties.
The English word “moral” comes from the Latin mores, meaning custom, and originally conveyed much less of an ethical injunction than later. Logan Pearsall Smith in his interesting little book The English Language says that Cicero coined the Latin word for moral. Cicero, as we shall see, attended to secondary interests of men more than any of the other Stoics did. These changes had two important effects on philosophy. It lost much of its austerity and came within the power of ordinary men whatever their interests happened to be. It also became relevant to the particular interests—political and economic activity—which always have been an important part of the life of ordinary men.
Once it admitted that such activity could be a reasonable interest of the individual, Stoicism became a social philosophy as well as a code of personal morality. Its social philosophy rested on the idea that virtue consists in doing the best one can with one’s own. In this way one conforms to nature. Conformity would not necessarily lead men to the reflective life. If their endowment was an intellectual one, it would. But if they had also a considerable property in those things which Zeno called “externals” their reason would lead them to an active part in the world of affairs. If their endowment consisted mainly of the externals of life and only slightly of reason, they would be destined for an honorable if not a leading place in society. But if all they had were the attributes separable from reason and were wholly wanting in reason itself, then Stoicism had no place for them. As inclusive as it became, it was never indifferent to the reasonableness of conduct.
On the opening pages of this chapter, I indicated the importance of this new idea of virtue. It was important from a conceptual viewpoint because it made a considerable change in the tenets of the early Stoics, and it was important in extending the influence of Stoicism, in making it a doctrine that could apply to all ranks of society and all interests, in giving it a hold on the minds of men and their leaders for a longer time than any other ethical system with the possible exception of Christianity.
As the new conception of virtue was applied to economic conduct, the Stoics inquired into a number of enduring political and economic questions. Their answers were not always clear and unequivocal, but this was less important than their recognition of a social aspect of conduct. They wished to know how an individual should conduct himself before his governors, what were the proper qualities in a statesman, what was the ideal government, and what was the meaning of law. In economic affairs they were interested in knowing why an individual sought to acquire wealth and what was the propriety of such conduct. They examined some of the ethical problems which arise when a number of individuals engage in buying and selling and other economic relations. They inquired into the legitimacy of private property (an aspect of the first economic question), the ethical value of different kinds of economic activity and occupations, and the proper relation between the economic conduct of the individual and the powers of government.
The observations of Epictetus, a later Stoic, are of interest principally for the importance they place on self-interest. Although his Discourses and his Manual are mainly about the responsibility of man to nature, they do include many observations on the political and economic activities of men. The view which Epictetus held of virtue was so much more extensive than that of his earliest predecessors that he examined forms of conduct which had no interest whatever for them. His observations are also important for what they suggest about the proper method of examining the ethical aspect of social behavior.
THE CONCEPTION OF SELF-INTEREST
Epictetus said that men were motivated mainly by self-interest, that the propriety of self-interest depended upon the object to which it was directed and the way in which it was expressed. In making egoism his premise, he followed the founders of Stoicism who believed that men were naturally inclined to consult their own advantage. That was perfectly proper, indeed highly virtuous, because their interest consisted in conforming to nature. But Epictetus admitted that there could be incidental objects to which men might direct their attention, and on this point he departed from his early predecessors. He recognized that men were interested in political power; but instead of urging them to turn from it as from a worthless object he tried to prescribe a code for political conduct. It was highly elliptical and offered little practical assistance. From this point of view it had little to commend itself. But it is important for the contrast it provides with the early Stoic indifferences to all politics except that of a utopian character. In an interesting chapter in the first book of his Discourses, Epictetus explains “How One Should Behave Toward a Tyrant.”
“I am the mightiest of all men,” the tyrant says. The Stoic replies by wanting to know if the tyrant can enable men to will their conduct as nature would have them.
The tyrant declares, “All men pay me attention.” The Stoic answers:
Do I not pay attention to my ass? Do I not wash his feet? Do I not curry him? Do you not know that every man pays regard to himself, and to you only as to his ass?
But I can behead you.
Well said. I forgot, of course, one ought to pay you worship as if you were fever or cholera, and raise an altar to you, like the altar to Fever in Rome.14
This defiance was not unreasonable or even imprudent, although it would seem so today. In fact it was dictated by reason, because man must consult his own moral sense in order to conform to nature. But he will be doing more. He also will be acting in the interests of others as well as of himself.
This is not mere self-love: for it is natural to man, as to other creatures, to do everything for his own sake . . . in general he [Zeus] has so created the nature of the rational animal, that he can attain nothing good for himself, unless he contributes some service to the community. So it turns out that to do everything for his own sake is not unsocial.15
There is a close similarity between this particular Stoic conception of self-interest and the view of the classical economists that if each person seeks to improve his fortune he will benefit others as well as himself. The similarity is most apparent in the famous remark of Smith that the individual who intends only his own gain often is “led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”
Contemporary economists will find it curious that Epictetus was one of Smith’s forerunners; they may rightly wonder if the connection is anything more than an historic oddity. The two philosophers did not view the social advantage of self-interest in the same way; yet there was an underlying agreement which supports the verbal similarity of the two statements. Both men insisted that the individual knew his interest better than others could know it, that he could not allow his rulers (or anyone else) to dictate it or direct him to it, that he must be the ultimate judge of whether or not his interest was being served. Both made the individual the central element in society because they believed he was capable of reasonable behavior. We usually think of Smith as believing individual welfare consisted of wealth, but that is because his economic theory is more familiar than his social philosophy. Wisdom and virtue actually were his standards, and in them he found the most estimable expression of human conduct. He had a wider view of conduct than Epictetus did, but both believed that the values of the individual were supreme and that in trying to realize them the individual acted in the interest of society as well as of himself. How much aware Smith was of his relation to Epictetus, I do not know. There is a report of an unpublished manuscript of Smith entitled “Meditations on the Letters of Seneca Written Solely from the Stoic Viewpoint, etc.”16
When Epictetus urged men to defy a tyrant, he was urging them to place their integrity above their duty to the state and was reminding them that their moral sense must tell them when the two were in conflict. The idea implies that the political environment into which an individual was born or found himself had less influence on him and less authority over him than his will had. The idea is a negative one, as were most of the political ideas of Epictetus. Although he wrote much about the authority of the will, he wrote little about the explicit ends to which that authority should be directed, i.e., about the specific rights of the individual. Nor did he write in any helpful way about the methods men should employ to secure their rights. Presumably he thought government could be made into a reasonable institution, that men properly could interest themselves in such an endeavor, and that once government was made reasonable it would attend to itself. This was more than the early Stoics had said about government but was not enough to be a political philosophy or a guide to political conduct (both of which Cicero developed out of Stoicism). The probable explanation for Epictetus’ summary treatment of politics is that he did not think it was as important as the other interests of men but yet he could not, as his predecessors did, ignore it.
THE ECONOMIC IDEAS
His observations on economic conduct have the same summary quality. He recognized it as a proper object of self-interest and yet did not inquire much into its particular forms. One can infer from his observations a rudimentary notion of economic psychology, which was, briefly, that individuals were motivated by a desire to secure material comforts and that they also were inclined to want even more wealth than material comfort alone requires. He approved of the gratification men obtained from economic goods and of the desire to accumulate riches if such objects were kept in their proper place. By that he meant that neither comfort nor wealth should be made ends in themselves, that man’s liking for them should be subordinated to the more important, more lasting, and more “real” satisfaction which comes from the life of reason. Such a view of economic morality seems not to open the way for a lively interest in money and of course does not. Nor could the view justify the kind of preoccupation with wealth which economists of a later age occasionally assumed men to have. But it was an important concession. Material (i.e., economic) self-interest was conceded to be a valid motive of conduct. Epictetus acknowledged that men properly could be interested in something other than the life of pure reason.
He did not, one must repeat, approve of an unrestrained expression of acquisitiveness. He was tireless in admonishing men to set aside the pleasures of the world in favor of the enduring satisfaction of the reflective life. He was as scornful of men who made wealth an end in itself as he was of those who worshiped political power. One notices, however, a shade of difference. He seems to suggest that those who are preoccupied with riches suffer more from weakness than baseness while those who bow to tyranny are base.
He justified in two ways such economic conduct as he thought was proper. It was reasonable, he said, for men to do all within their power with their own, and an individual who acquired wealth was utilizing his endowments. Moreover, an individual could properly want economic goods because they were necessary and useful. The belief that men must do the best they can with their own was, as I have said, a notable departure from early Stoicism. The belief was used by Epictetus to justify economic self-interest. He did not, however, use it as extensively as other later Stoics did. His restraint was a part of his reluctance to examine social conduct in any detail. The reluctance was a source of ambiguity in his ideas.
THE POLITICAL IDEAS
The ambiguity is present in his remarks on political behavior. He urged men to defy tyrants, and the urging was done in such a way as to cast doubt on the necessity of government itself. If the government directed them to do something that their reason opposed, they were to defy the government. If it told them to do what their reason would have told them anyway, they did not need a government. One interpretation of his political doctrine is that it made the government a method by which the reason of many individuals could be brought to support those whose reason failed them. In this view, the government would express the opinion of the good and the wise, which all men had the power to be although not an equal power, and would direct each man to behave properly toward others when his intellectual faculty failed him. This interpretation, which is conjectural, makes Epictetus’ political doctrine a version of the social contract theory, all versions of which have in common the idea that the government is a mutual aid society. The theory to be helpful must explain: How can men distinguish between a legitimate government and a tyranny? How shall they conduct themselves when they are convinced the majority is wrong?—which is what happens when their reason leads them to differ with others. To the first question, the implied answer in Epictetus is that men will know the distinction if they think hard enough about it. There is no answer in his writings to the second question, because disagreement cannot reasonably occur in a universe where the reason of all men leads to the same conclusion. The questions were not managed in this way by the liberals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. To them a legitimate government was one that secured the rational consent of the governed. They acknowledged that reasonable men could disagree, and if the differences were serious the consequence was crime or civil war.
There is even more ambiguity in the two ideas Epictetus used to justify economic conduct—necessity and use, and the utilizing of one’s endowments. If an individual may acquire economic goods because they are necessary, he must limit his activity to the satisfying of his needs (assuming needs can be defined in any way that is not truistic). Any accumulation of wealth beyond this amount is then undesirable and wrong. If usefulness is the standard, instead of necessity, the individual then must know to what use he is to apply his wealth in order to conduct himself morally. There is, however, nothing in Epictetus’ doctrine that suggests the proper use of wealth. The other justification which he offers—endowment—has no clear relation to the first. If an individual engages in economic activity because he wishes to utilize his endowments, he may acquire an unlimited amount of wealth; the more successful he is in caring for his fortune the larger it will become and far exceed what is necessary to existence.
The ambiguity about economics can have a mischievous consequence. It becomes apparent when one passes from individual to social behavior. Let us suppose the ethical justification for economic conduct is that men may be diligent about their property because property is an endowment which must be utilized. Epictetus emphasizes this justification. What follows is that individuals who have no property cannot reasonably engage in economic activity. If a poor man were to try, he would not be directing his interests to a worthy object. Having no property, he would have no endowment to utilize, and his conduct would be unreasonable. Indeed, he might even be guilty of making wealth an end in itself. The difficulty can be removed by assuming that one of man’s endowments is a desire for wealth. By gratifying this desire he is utilizing an endowment. But there is no justification for such an assumption. If an individual was born into a society with an unequal distribution of wealth and if his own wealth was small, he was by the precepts of Epictetus forever confined to poverty. Yet for a rich man to attend to his wealth was altogether moral so long as he did not make wealth an end in itself. We of course do not know what is meant by making wealth an end in itself. Epictetus nowhere explained it and he did not explain what he meant by making wealth a means.
THE PROBLEM OF EQUALITY
The acceptance of these ideas meant supporting the existing order of society. Whatever the distribution of wealth happened to be, that was just what it should be. The only way to change it, to reduce inequality, would have been by helping the poor to improve their position, but such assistance would have been immoral. Actually such a social philosophy was worse than one which sought to preserve the status quo. Wealth, like other forms of power, is cumulative, growing upon itself. A society which prevents the poor from acquiring wealth in order to maintain the existing distribution is one in which inequality will grow with the passage of time. A doctrine which counsels against redistribution—for the reason that wealth is less important than other values or for any other reason—is a doctrine that is indifferent to one of the major issues in most social philosophy: the distribution of power.
The doctrine of Epictetus was far from modern ideas of equality and it also was distant from the teachings of other Stoics. Although the early members of the school offered no explicit advice about economic and political conduct, they did, by insisting upon the importance of the individual, assert the absolute equality of all persons. In Zeno’s lost work, the Republic, he is said to have outlined the ideal society, and in it there would be complete equality, including equality of status between men and women. (There also would be, it seems, no economic endeavor of any kind apart from meeting the most elementary needs of individuals, nor would there be much of an organized government since courts of law were explicitly banished.) In some other of the lost writings of the early Stoics, they are said to have favored communal property. That, too, differs from the doctrine of Epictetus.
This dissection of it is not an exercise in hairsplitting (at least not intentionally) and is not meant as an analysis of his logic for the sake of analysis. My intention is to show the problems he created by his reluctance to make social behavior as real as individual behavior. They could have been avoided if he simply had ignored political and economic behavior, or if he had given it as much attention as he gave to individual behavior. This is not to say that his conclusions would have been agreeable to everyone. But they would have been less equivocal, and we should have known better what we differed about. Epictetus did neither. He raised a number of questions about social conduct—some of them very important. Having raised them, he offered complete answers to only a few. The rest he either neglected or dismissed with a cursory generalization that seemed in the Stoic vein but actually was irrelevant.
The probable reason for the ambiguity in Epictetus is not hard to discover. He was influenced by the early members of the school, and they were interested only in individual behavior. The close attention he gave to such conduct is a mark of his indebtedness to them. But their ideas were not the only ones that affected him. He belonged to the period of Stoicism when it became a social philosophy—notably in the work of Cicero—and he showed an interest in social conduct. But the way he wrote of social problems and the peremptory manner he disposed of some indicates he thought they were less important than individual behavior.
There is one more observation to be made about Epictetus. Although he unduly subordinated the social aspect of behavior, he nevertheless did not commit any great error in what he did write about it. In particular, he avoided the egregious mistake made by so many of the ancients. That was to believe that when individual engaged in market activity they were doing something that either was wrong or was pointless. Aristotle, for example, stated that the exchange of commodities produced nothing of value, that it was “spurious” and “unnatural” behavior, and he strongly suggested that what one person gained from exchange another person necessarily lost; that is, exchange is immoral. The mistake is of more than antiquarian interest. It occurs throughout the history of social thought and is discernible in discussion of economic policy today.
The error cannot be laid to Cicero. For his observations on the exchange process and on other matters, his economic and political ideas seem to me to be the most interesting in Stoicism—interesting for the great variety of problems they cover, for the detail in which they often are presented, and for the direct manner in which they are expressed. His philosophy was an impressive effort to apply the tenets of Stoic morality to the social behavior of men. His political and economic views are best understood in relation to the other elements of his philosophy.
THE PLACE OF REASON
Like all of the Stoics, Cicero believed that the differentia of man was his power of reason, but Cicero was unique in the uses to which he put the idea. He made it the ethical and psychological foundation of society. Other Stoics made reason the informing power in man’s relation to nature and to himself; the later Stoics, like Epictetus and Aurelius, made it the power that guided the relations among individuals. Cicero made reason the central element in a relatively complete theory of society. He used the idea to explain how a social system came to be established, with government, economic organization, and other institutions, to explain why men conduct themselves as they do in their relations with each other; and to explain how they ought to conduct themselves.
His conception of what was included in the reasoning faculty was, as one may imagine, more extensive than that of his predecessors. Moreover, Cicero was interested in man’s similarity to animals as well as his differences. He said that man in common with the beasts has the instinct of self-preservation. From the traits of man in their entirety, Cicero deduced six particular characteristics of behavior. They were the desire to associate with others “in the common bonds of speech and life,” or gregariousness; and closely allied was the inclination to form companies and “public assemblies”; the inherent affection of the individual for his children; the desire to provide materially for them and for himself; the interest in truth; and the desire to seek out order, moderation and beauty in the visible world.17 Of these characteristics, gregariousness seems to be the most difficult to infer from either the human or animal traits of man, particularly as Cicero says elsewhere that it is not related to self-preservation. Nor does it seem to be a derivative of reason, unless he was thinking of the same sort of thing as the seventeenth-century philosophers were when they said man could exercise his reason only in communication with others. However this may be, gregariousness interested Cicero as much as any of the characteristics. It is essential to his social philosophy and if it is not inferable from his postulates it can be taken as an independent trait.
Cicero made it the origin of societies. They come into existence because men shun loneliness and find happiness in associating with each other as friends, as members of groups formed for a particular purpose, as citizens living under the laws of the state, and (most important) as self-conscious beings aware of certain universal characteristics uniting each of them to all of the others.
THE CONCEPTION OF NATURAL LAW
The desire that brings men together however does not guarantee that their government will be moral or even that there will be a government at all. What makes government possible is the reasoning faculty of men—not their gregariousness. By reason men discover the natural law. It is the force that rules the universe and themselves as one element of it. By acting reasonably they can create a society that reproduces (or tries to reproduce) the order, wisdom, and benevolence of nature.
Cicero’s conception of natural law is significant. It was an application of the Stoic doctrine of universal governance to the common relations among men, to their secular activities and especially those directed toward acquiring wealth and those centering about political power. What Cicero tried to do was to bring together the accumulated knowledge of how men ought to conduct their social relations and to make it consistent with the Stoic conception of natural law. To be sure, there was nothing unique in looking to nature for guidance in worldly conduct. It had been done before, more logically and with greater resplendence, by the Greeks, especially by Plato. But the Greek philosophers were more interested in ideal constructions, and their counsels of perfection were a little too true to be good. Although Cicero’s ideas when taken separately were less original and when placed together were not always consistent, they nevertheless were important. His effort must be appraised in relation to the influence of other doctrines. That is, it should be judged by the effect it and other doctrines had on men in the business (both ordinary and extraordinary) of living. The effect of his ideas was, I think, considerable, particularly when later ages are taken into account.
The effect is apparent in many ways. Cicero held that men could determine the meaning of virtue by the use of reason, or, more generally, that by the use of their reflective power they could discover the laws that should direct their social relations and their individual conduct. “True law is right reason in agreement with nature,” he said, and again: “Law is intelligence.”18 Some eighteen centuries later Montesquieu wrote that “Law in general is human reason”19 —and the similarity was more than verbal: Their language had the same meaning. Like his successors in the Enlightenment, Cicero used the word “man” to mean not a few or a class of rational beings but all men. As the reasoning faculty was implanted in each of them, each could learn how to conduct himself in accord with natural law—not everyone with complete success, but well enough to take his place as a member of the human community with equal rights, privileges, and dignity. Cicero’s doctrine emphasized the behavior of individuals in their relations with each other, as early Stoicism did not. He meant his moral standards to apply to everyone. It cannot be said of him as Matthew Arnold said of other Stoics that they laid upon man a “burden well-nigh greater than he can bear.”20
Natural law as a universal code of behavior was an idea common to the Stoic writers. It was expressed as explicitly by Marcus Aurelius as by Cicero. Aurelius said:
If our intellectual part is common, the reason also, in respect of which we are rational beings, is common: if this is so, common also is the reason which commands us what to do, and what not to do, if this is so, there is a common law also; if this is so, we are fellow-citizens; if this is so, we are members of some political community; if this is so, the world is in a manner a state.21
But Cicero was different from the other Stoics in refusing to consider his social philosophy complete once its principles had been set down. In the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius there are many such persuasive passages as that above, but one would have to read closely indeed to find any guidance for ordinary conduct. Such conduct usually is pedestrian, but that can make it more, not less, important.
THE ORDER OF OBLIGATIONS
Cicero stated there were four cardinal virtues—truth, righteousness, spirituality, and order. He said that man’s highest duty was to the gods, his second to the state, his third to his parents. It was the second obligation, however, that he wrote most about. In the same work in which obligations are classified (Of Moral Duties), he said, unguardedly, the “duty which is connected with the social obligation is the most important duty.”22 This inconsistency is not important in itself but for what it reveals to have been his greatest interest. This interest is apparent throughout his writings. In an excursus on the value of learning, he objected to Plato’s statement that the philosopher shuns those things for which common men are most avid. Cicero contended that such an attitude led to a neglect of duty by the very men from whom most must be expected. The philosophers, he said, “hampered by their pursuit of learning . . . leave to their fate those whom they ought to defend.”23 The things for which most men are avid are those to which their self-interest leads them, especially such objects as political power and wealth, and the philosopher cannot be indifferent to them.
One would think that because man’s first responsibility is to the gods he should cultivate spiritual knowledge. But Cicero said that an understanding of society was more important because practical results would follow from the understanding. Actually he does hardly more than to acknowledge the priority of spiritual obligations. Having done that, he quickly passed to social duties and made them in fact paramount.
The “chief end” of all individual conduct, he said, should be the development of social well-being, which consists of making “the interest of each individual and of the whole body politic identical.”24 Men can do this by making natural law their guide. It enables them to form the ideal government. one that combines the best features of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Cicero rejected each of them separately because he thought each in itself had decisive shortcomings. A democracy, because it is subject to license, cannot maintain enough authority. The others are inclined to excessive authority. “There should be a supreme and royal element in the State, some power ought also to be granted to the leading citizens, and certain matters should be left to the judgment and desires of the masses,” he said.25 The ideal government, then, was one that distributed power among the three major political groups in society—royalty, aristocracy, and the people—in order that the chief ends of government could be served. They were liberty, equality, and stability.
It is useful even at this early point to compare Cicero’s political ideas with those of classical liberalism. In the classical age, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the great objects of government were liberty and authority, and there was no explicit reference to equality. The slogan of fraternity during the French revolution was equalitarian, but equality is not necessarily liberal. It can be an expression of political idealism. In France it had elements of both. The authority of which Hume wrote in his political essays was quite similar to Cicero’s conception of stability. The ideas of freedom in the two periods were somewhat different but not radically so. Equality in the liberal sense was not expressly urged in the later period, but the idea of equality was accepted in the sense of all persons being equally endowed with rights—so fully, in fact, that the very absence of any express reference to it was a mark of its universal endorsement. The classic liberals also endorsed a political structure that distributed power among the same three groups which Cicero said should have it. The idea eventually developed into the tripartite structure of government, such as that established by the American Constitution. During the Enlightenment it was called one of the grandest inventions of the human mind.
Cicero (unlike the Enlightenment) was not explicit about how each of the three groups would be represented or about how much power each would have. He said repeatedly that the ends of government could be secured only by distributing power, but he was vague about just what kind of political structure would do that. He did say society always should follow the principle that the greatest number should not have the greatest power. This eliminates the danger of popular liberty degenerating into turmoil, but in itself doesn’t restrain the authority of the magistrate and counsels, which could be enlarged into tyranny. (That did happen in Cicero’s own lifetime, and he was one of the victims)
The ideal government clearly needs the most able men in society. Cicero urged men to look on politics as their principal duty, and he disliked intellectual effort that was not in some way connected with it. He said the ideal statesman combined virtue with political expertise.26 He had to be a philosopher, but he had also to be a great administrator. Cicero gave the closest attention to the statesman—to his qualifications, his duties and relations with others, to his power for good or evil. He said there are certain men who are meant by nature to rule, because they are strong in virtue and ability to administer. In a naturally ordered society, their ability would be recognized and they would naturally come into places of power. How they use power is important. Their conduct forms the morality of the state of course, but they do more. By their position they influence the purely private behavior of individuals and its morality. Cicero said there was something even more immoral than men in high office departing from virtue, thereby injuring themselves, others, and defying nature’s will. What is worse is that those outside government imitate the wicked in it, and in the end society itself is corrupted. The baleful influence of bad governors is an idea that has been repeated down the ages. Jefferson often expressed it, and in his letters there are numerous references to Cicero.27 His opposition to Hamilton and the leading Federalists was partly a personal one. He did not object to them only because he disliked their politics. He feared their habits would be adopted by the mass of people, who in turn would become just as bad. The idea, incidentally, does not flatter the common man in whom Jefferson, according to most commentators, had great faith.
Cicero did not profess any such faith. He placed his faith in leaders, instead, and about them he wrote most. He did comment on such matters as the powers of the governed, the meaning of law, the purpose of government, and the legitimacy of revolution. But he did not write of them so carefully nor so eloquently and his exact views on these matters are conjectural. He believed that the purpose of politics should be to make the interests of each individual identical with those of the state. One might infer that Cicero was a political idealist—that his doctrine assumed there is such a thing as a social will, or purpose or interest, independent of the will of the individual and superior to it. (To put the matter in a more familiar way, political idealism holds that the state is more important than the individuals comprising it.) Actually, Cicero’s assertion is misleading when taken by itself; when it is interpreted in the light of other statements in his political philosophy it has a meaning opposite to idealism. In his essay on the perfect state, which he called The Republic (after his “beloved” but often contrary Plato), Cicero said there was nothing men longed for more than liberty.28 In another place he wrote: “Freedom suppressed and again regained bites with keener fangs than freedom never endangered.”29 (The remark, incidentally, is a prototype of a Ciceronianism.) Now freedom happens to have many meanings, and when men say they believe in it they are not saying they agree with each other. “Freedom” in the vocabulary of politics has no rival for ambiguity and emotive power, except “democracy,” “authority,” “justice,” “right,” and most of the other important words used in political discourse. What Cicero meant by freedom was similar to what the word came to mean in the writings of the classic liberals. What he meant by political freedom is implied in his remarks on the meaning of law and of equality. What he meant by economic freedom is perfectly explicit and is consistent with its meaning in classical economics.
FREEDOM, EQUALITY, AND LAW
Cicero said that the law which governs society must affect all persons in the same way, because “rights that were not open to all alike would be no rights.”30 The idea of equality before the law was a strict deduction from earlier Stoicism. As nature gave all men reason and meant them to use it to discover virtue, so nature meant that all men should be equal and that virtue should have the same meaning to all of them. Cicero did not believe that the reasoning faculty was equally strong in all men. He said the weak in virtue were born to follow the strong. But he did believe that each man was capable of finding his place in society, and that all men stood in the same position before the law. Although not all individuals should have equal power in making or administering the law, all should have the same rights and duties before it.
The law so created was absolute. Being derived from nature, it was unchangeable. Being absolute, it was superior to the opinions or wishes or caprice of the heads of state. It governed them just as it governed the people. In these ideas there was a rudimentary conception of the rule of law—namely, that the state is created by law and limited by it. The opposite view is that the state makes the law and has unlimited powers. Cicero did not develop the idea of the rule of law in any detail, in fact, did no more than intimate or hint at it. Yet the hints were important, affecting as they did much of what he had to say about government.
They were disclosed in his ideas about equality, which for his time were extreme. He wrote of the universality of law and of the power of the people to safeguard their rights under it. He declared that the power was beyond dispute and he defended the overthrow of tyrants both as a right of the people and as a moral duty. This was not a defense of violence as a usual method of politics. It was a declaration that the power of government derives ultimately from the governed. The declaration seems to contradict the rule that the greatest number in a state never should have the greatest power. That rule, however, prescribed the distribution of power in a naturally ordered state. The right of revolution applies to a state that is not so ordered and is the ultimate recourse of a people who have no other means of obtaining for themselves the objects for which a state is established. If other means were available, Cicero was opposed to violence. He was, of course, even more strongly opposed to it in a society which respected law. “In a state which has a fixed and definite constitution,” violence is in complete opposition to justice and law and is wholly unsuitable to civilized men, he said.31
Cicero’s views on law and revolution are interesting. They were a forecast of the principles of the political theory of the Enlightenment. They were influential in their own day also. But as practical as he tried to make them, they could not manage certain problems. One was how the abuses of government should be removed and the rulers corrected. If the rulers exceed their proper power, they usually do not admit it nor do they invite discussion about how they can improve. Those opposed to an unjust government do not all of them have the same view of how it should be changed. The disagreement within the opposition may be as great as that between it and the government. The very critical problem—which Cicero does not illuminate—is how to know when political changes can be made by the rational method of discussion leading to agreement, including the agreement to disagree, and when the disagreement is so basic that it can be removed only by coercion or some other kind of force.
People inclined to rebellion never have had difficulty in discovering a violation of their rights. When the Americans decided to separate from Great Britain, they presented the world with a bill of particulars in the form of the Declaration of Independence. The principles it embodied were important, but they were not the only cause of the revolution. In the dynastic changes of England in the seventeenth century, men were never at a loss to find good reasons for their conduct. Cicero himself knew the ways of revolution and participated in conspiracies to overthrow Caesar, always with reasons sufficient to himself. I am not here expressing the common view that in politics the act prompts the idea and the idea rationalizes the act. If this were true, it would apply as much to the person making such a statement as it would to those he is making the statement about. What I wish to indicate is the difficulty of knowing when a political problem can be, or could have been, settled by agreement and, on the other hand, when it is so divisive that the only point on which the contesting groups can agree is that they must fight it out. Even “fighting it out” is not an unambiguous decision, because that can mean many things, from majority voting through the spectrum of coercion to physical violence.
One wishes that Cicero had generalized about the motives which placed him in opposition to Caesar and prompted him to plan revolution. But he didn’t, and his political doctrine is less useful than it could have been. The usefulness it does have is not always apparent, particularly when the doctrine is reduced to its leading principles. They were that the state comes into being because of the gregarious nature of men, that its purpose is to secure for them liberty, equality, and peace through a distribution of power maintained by the rule of law, that statecraft is the highest form of knowledge and statesmanship is the most honorable duty one can perform, both leading to the ideal government in which the interest of each individual and of all individuals are in harmony. Reduced to these elements, the doctrine looks quite as much a counsel of perfection as the political philosophies of the Greeks, Stoic and non-Stoic alike. It actually was not, because through his writings there runs a current of qualification that moderates what otherwise would be doctrinaire. One qualification should be set down because it is the most important and is typical of Cicero’s practical attitude. In Of Moral Duties, he said the two fundamental rules of government were the protection of the individual and the conservation of the common interest (which was one way in which he expressed his belief in liberty, equality, and authority). He then added that these rules should not always be respected, because there could be circumstances in which more harm would be done by respecting than by breaking them. In other words, the perfection of statecraft to which philosophy is directed may be set aside by the statesman if his sense of the situation tells him to. In a logical view, this is hopeless, but we cannot help being disarmed—and impressed—when he says, “the essential nature of the commonwealth often defeats reason.”32
THE STATE AND THE ECONOMY
In his writing on government, there are observations on the relationship between the state and the economy. His other writings examine economic conduct in other of its ethical aspects. He said the principal function of the state in economic affairs ought to be the protection of an individual’s property.33 This implies he believed private property was consistent with natural law. The belief was radically different from the view of property held by the early Stoics. They believed all property should be held in common, an idea which they said was a decree of nature. The idea was frequently expressed by non-Stoic Greek and Roman philosophers. Whatever were the motives for it, one of its effects was a utopian disregard for economic problems. The idea that the best is the enemy of the good is dangerous. It can excuse opportunism just as much as it can direct one to sensible compromises. But it does describe why the early philosophers, Stoic and others, did not have as much influence in economic affairs as they should have had. They insisted that economic conflict be eliminated by a method that most of society was not prepared to use—communal property. As a result, economic affairs fell into the management of other people who had less right and less ability to look after them.
Cicero adhered to the early Stoic view to the extent of admitting that private property was not established by nature. Property became private, he said, through long occupancy, through conquest, and by processes of law. Once property passed into the possession of the individual it was his alone and inviolable.34 Cicero did say there once was a natural and original community of property. But the statement was less important than his insisting upon the sanctity of property which had become private. Upholding it was the “chief purpose” of the state, he said in writing of the economic functions of government. He was opposed to communal ownership and also to any action of the state which arbitrarily altered the distribution of property. Of a proposal to distribute property equally, he said there could be no “more ruinous policy.” He of course was even more strongly opposed to action which deprived an individual of his property by violence or fraud. Such acts were in violation of justice, which itself, he declared, was a natural law. Hence he managed in the end to give private property a foundation in nature.35
In declaring the state should protect the property of the individual, Cicero meant something more than that the state should make wealth secure. He meant also that the state should guarantee the individual a “free and undisturbed control” of it.36 The distinction is important. Men of wealth frequently have learned, to their cost, that a state which promises to safeguard their property still may deprive them of the freedom to use it in their own interest (the lesson in this century being provided by Hitler to those businessmen who welcomed him as a savior from communism). Cicero’s views on property were something of a declaration for laisser faire, although neither he nor the economic liberals of a later age believed in an unrestrained freedom to acquire and use wealth. The kind of qualifications which the later liberals made are explained in other chapters of these volumes and need not be given here. Cicero’s qualifications are noted below. In the setting of Stoic doctrine, they are less important than the principle of economic freedom itself.
For consider how radical a departure he made from the Stoic conception of economic behavior: The founders of the school turned away from such conduct, believing it was irrational and hence unreal. Epictetus took it up hesitantly, indicating at some points an approval of material self-interest, at others a disapproval. The conclusions to be drawn from his remarks can be confusing and mischievous. Aurelius, with obvious reluctance, approved of economic freedom, saying it was harmless if men tried to acquire material goods in a manner consistent with “the reason which is common to gods and men.”37 Cicero declared forthrightly that men were motivated by the desire for material gain and that this trait must be accepted as a fact when rules are made for governing them. He did not approve of acquisitiveness in all of its manifestations, but neither did he condemn it in principle (as moralists usually have done).
His position is similar to that of Adam Smith. Smith believed material self-interest (which is not the only kind) could work great injury to society and to the individual himself, but he also believed it could produce great individual and social benefits. Moreover, he regarded the motive as so deeply rooted in man’s nature that its expression could not be prevented. Cicero said that most men treasure things only for their material value and “recognize nothing as good in our life unless it is profitable,” and he warned against the evil which avarice could create.38 But recognizing the undesirable aspects of material self-interest was not a condemnation of it. Indeed at one point he explicitly approved of the desire for material gain: he said it was a trait which derived from the natural reason in every individual.39 Cicero’s departure from the early Stoics consisted in his acceptance of self-interest as natural and real, in his interest in examining the kind of conduct it produces, and in offering ethical direction for such conduct.
THE CONCEPTION OF THE MARKET
The liberal element in his doctrine is revealed in part in his conception of the economic function of government and also is disclosed in his observations on exchange, a point on which he was unique, as I have stated above. Cicero saw in the market a method of providing for the material welfare of society and (by implication) a method of organizing economic activity. He wrote that “by giving and receiving, by mutual exchange of commodities and conveniences, we succeed in meeting all our wants.”40 A characteristic liberal view is that the relatively unlimited freedom of individuals to buy and sell is a means of enhancing the real income of the economy as well as of the individuals engaging in exchange. This is one feature of the liberal justification of exchange—that it makes for material welfare. The other is that the freedom to buy and sell is one of the prerogatives of the individual. Cicero’s defense of exchange rested upon both of these points: Exchange is proper, he said, because men ought to be free to engage in it and because it satisfies our material wants. But he did not urge unlimited freedom in the use of property, nor did he believe all kinds of economic activity had the same ethical value.
He placed occupations in order of their honor. Leading all others was agriculture, than which “none is better, . . . , none more profitable, none more delightful, none more becoming a freeman.” It was followed by the learned professions: medicine, architecture, and teaching. In the third rank was trade, if conducted on a large scale and without misrepresentation. Last came the vulgar and demeaning occupations: food mongers, entertainers, small merchants, workers and mechanics, usurers, and tax gatherers.41 His remarks on trade are especially interesting. He believed that the seller was obligated to inform the buyer fully of the product and that this duty more probably would be respected by a merchant who conducted a large business. Of the activities of the small tradesman, he was highly critical, and wrote of the two kinds of sellers very much as Smith did. The latter praised the activity of large merchants and despised “the sneaking arts of underling tradesmen.”
Cicero did not explain the exchange process completely and of course he is not to be taken literally when he wrote that by free trade we satisfy “all our wants.” Such an explanation did not come until eighteen centuries later in the period of the classical economists. It would be pointless to measure him by their achievements. Yet there was a striking similarity between his ideas and theirs. Just how direct and immediate was Cicero’s influence is the kind of question that can never be answered completely. It is apparent from the works of the economic and political liberals that Cicero was read during the Enlightenment and often quite carefully.
Cicero’s achievement is even more remarkable when his ideas are compared to those that usually ruled ancient society, not simply because his were in advance of their age—much originality has consisted in making a novel mistake as well as in finding a new truth—but because they disclosed a superior understanding of some of the mechanical and ethical aspects of economic procedure. His achievement is enhanced when we observe that for many centuries little was added to what he had written. Indeed, his work seems to have been forgotten, and the philosophers who deigned to look at economic conduct fell into the old errors which it was his achievement to have corrected, if only for a time.
The Stoic Legacy
Because of Cicero’s work, the influence of Stoic doctrine on later ages was considerably different—more extensive and more wordly—from what it would have been had it remained in its early form. As most commentaries state, Stoicism created a respect for the individual. It did so in several ways. In declaring that man was naturally reasonable and therefore capable of distinguishing good from evil, the Stoics centered their ethical doctrine on the individual. He, and he alone, was responsible for the conduct of his life. To him all credit must go for virtue and all blame for vice. This doctrine can be better appreciated when it is set against the more common view that the individual was moved by the gods and was helpless in their hands. In Greek drama, for example, the protagonist usually is fate, and the behavior of the individual is explained as an unfolding of his destiny. The Furies say of Orestes and Agamemnon, “Yea evil were they born for evil’s doom.” Reason meant something much different to Euripides, for example, from what it meant to the Stoics.
Phaedra says in Hippolytus.
In later ages the Stoic influence was disclosed in the importance that came to be attached to the conscience of the individual. In the eighteenth century, philosophers wrote with great feeling of the satisfaction that comes of an act well done and of the anguish of an evil conscience. The writing is an echo of the Stoics. And the Stoic devotion to reason—though it was austere, even harsh—was important in the development of liberal ethics. Epictetus wrote of the Stoic who was tortured for his ideas and who scoffed at his persecutors for thinking they could destroy his philosophy by injuring his body. Thoreau mocked his jailers because they believed that by putting him into prison they could make him pay taxes to a government that tolerated slavery. In the centuries after Stoicism, men sought to apply the test of reason to their conduct and their institutions—at first hesitantly, then with growing power. As they did this they were following a course laid out by the Stoics. One may conjecture that the idea of intellectual integrity came from Stoicism. The idea is by no means confined to the countries where liberalism is supposed to have been most influential. The contemporary Soviet poet Yevtushenko has a short verse entitled, “Talk.” It is about his being called a brave man because he spoke out when other literary figures were “prudently” silent. He says he was not brave at all. He simply thought that to degrade himself as they did was unbecoming to him as a man. The verse concludes by saying the future will take vengeance on the present, “remembering how in so strange a time common integrity could look like courage.”
One may also conjecture that Stoicism was the origin of the idea that the main duty of the state is to respect the worth of the individual. This idea never has been well understood, and when it has it never has been completely accepted. It means that governments are responsible to the governed. The idea is familiar, almost a cliché, but is repeatedly challenged in practice—for example, by the requirement of loyalty oaths. They imply, if they mean anything at all, that the governed are responsible to the government. Nevertheless, the Stoic idea is a durable one. Although challenged repeatedly, it has been reasserted repeatedly, and one would like to believe the balance is tilting, if ever so little, in its favor. Whether or not that is so, the idea still is with us. It is one of the bequests of Stoicism.
Discourses of Epictetus, trans. P. E. Matheson, i, 14.
 Matthew Arnold, “Marcus Aurelius,” Essays in Criticism [First Series] (London, 1865), p. 279.
 See Gilbert Murray, The Stoic Philosophy (New York, 1915).
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, trans. George Long, x, 3.
 Murray, op. cit., p. 42.
 W. W. Capes, Stoicism (London, 1880), p. 153.
Meditations, viii, 48, 55.
Discourses, i, 2, 5.
Meditations, iii, 11.
Ibid., x, 8.
Ibid., xii, 27.
Ibid., iii, 10-11.
Discourses, i, 19.
 Luigi Einaudi, Saggi Bibliografici e Storici Intorno alle Dottrine Economiche (Rome, 1953), p. 54. The title is my translation of the Italian and may not be the English which Einaudi translated into Italian.
 Cicero De officiis, trans. C. W. Keyes, i, 4.
 Cicero De legibus, trans. C. W. Keyes, i, 6.
——— De re publica, trans. C. W. Keyes, iii, 22.
 Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, trans. Thomas Nugent; rev. J. V. Prichard (New York, 1900), I, 7.
 Arnold, op. cit., p. 272.
Meditations, iv, 4.
De officiis, i, 43.
Ibid., i, 9.
Ibid., iii, 6.
De re publica, i, 45.
Ibid., v, passim.
De legibus, i, 14.
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Albert E. Bergh (Washington, 1907), VIII, 398, 401; X, 56-57; XIV, 489.
De re publica, i, 27.
De officiis, ii, 7.
Ibid., ii, 12.
De legibus, iii, 18.
De re publica, ii, 33.
De officiis, ii, 22.
Ibid., i, 7.
Ibid., ii, 21; iii, 5.
Ibid., ii, 22.
Meditations, vii, 53.
 Cicero Of Friendship, trans. E. S. Shuckburgh.
De officiis, i, 7.
Ibid., i, 4.
Ibid., ii, 4.
Ibid., i, 42.