Front Page Titles (by Subject) FRAGMENTS. - Treatise on the Commonwealth
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FRAGMENTS. - Marcus Tullius Cicero, Treatise on the Commonwealth [54 BC]
The Political Works of Marcus Tullius Cicero: Comprising his Treatise on the Commonwealth; and his Treatise on the Laws. Translated from the original, with Dissertations and Notes in Two Volumes. By Francis Barham, Esq. (London: Edmund Spettigue, 1841-42). Vol. 1.
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The passions resemble so many rapid curricles. In order to direct them safely, the first duty of the driver is to become well acquainted with the right road. If he knows this thoroughly and keeps it, he may drive as fast as he pleases without hurting himself; but if he once misses his track, though he goes ever so slowly and carefully, he will be sure to get on rough ground, perhaps break his neck over a precipice, or at any rate, deviate into tracks which lead to mischief.
end of the second book.
INTRODUCTION to the THIRD BOOK OF CICERO’S COMMONWEALTH.
Cicero here enters on the grand question of Political Justice, and endeavours to evince throughout the absolute verity of that inestimable proverb—“Honesty is the best policy”—in all public, as well as in all private affairs. St. Augustin, in his City of God,” has given the following analysis of this magnificent disquisition:—
“In the Third Book of Cicero’s Commonwealth (says he) the question of Political Justice is most earnestly discussed. Philus is appointed to support, as well as he can, the sophistical arguments of those who think that political government cannot be carried on without the aid of injustice and chicanery. He denies holding any such opinion himself, yet in order to exhibit the truth more vividly through the force of contrast, he pleads with the utmost ingenuity the cause of injustice against justice; and endeavours to show by plausible examples and specious dialectics that injustice is as useful to a statesman, as justice would be injurious. Then Lælius, at the general request, takes up the plea for justice, and maintains with all his eloquence that nothing could be so ruinous to states as injustice and dishonesty, and that without a supreme justice, no political government could expect a long duration. This point being sufficiently proved, Scipio returns to the principal discussion. He reproduces and enforces the short definition that he had given of a Commonwealth, that it consisted in the welfare of the entire people, by which word “people” he does not mean the mob, but the community—bound together by the sense of common rights and mutual benefits. He notices how important such just definitions are in all debates whatever, and draws this conclusion from the preceding arguments, that the Commonwealth is the common welfare, whenever it is swayed with justice and wisdom, whether it be subordinated to a king, an aristocracy, or a democracy. But if the king be unjust, and so becomes a tyrant, and the aristocracy unjust, which makes them a faction, or the democrats unjust, and so degenerate into Revolutionists and Destructives—then not only the Commonwealth is corrupted, but in fact annihilated. For it can be no longer the common welfare, when a tyrant or a faction abuse it; and the people itself is no longer the people when it becomes unjust, since it is no longer a community associated by a sense of right and utility, according to the definition.”—(Augustin Civ. Dei. 3—21.)
This Book is of the utmost importance to statesmen, as it serves to neutralize the sophistries of Machiavel, which are still repeated in many cabinets.