Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why Tyrants cannot be Happy

For what person is there, in the name of gods and men! who would wish to be surrounded by unlimited wealth and to abound in every material blessing, on condition that he love no one and that no one love him? Such indeed is the life of tyrants - a life, I mean, in which there can be no faith, no affection, no trust in the continuance of goodwill; where every act arouses suspicion and anxiety and where friendship has no place. For can anyone love either the man whom he fears, or the man by whom he believes himself to be feared?
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Loeb De Amicitia Page 165
Amor misceri cum timore non potest! Love can not be mixed with fear! How true is it then that even if a tyrant was never brought to justice he has in the process of his crimes destroyed everything worthy of life, thus separating himself from any possibility of happiness. While being at war with the whole of mankind he is simultaneously at war with himself, bounding not only his victims but himself with the wretched fetters of despotism. So let no one say that it is ever in our interest to commit an injustice if we can avoid getting caught, as the punishment is not in getting caught but in the injustice itself, as you are removing by violence the very thing which can bring you happiness, virtue. As Epictetus said of a thief who had stolen his lamp, "He gained my lamp because he was superior to me in vigilance, he however paid this price, he consented to be a thief."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On the Importance of Writing Well

In a free republic, with the liberties of speech and of the press, there can be few things more important than writing well, as we are bound not only by right but by law to convince other men by reason and not be force. Writing must follow grammar but to it must be added art. Truth must not only be presented, it must be illuminated; that is to say made obvious by rational and elegant argumentation. The former so that it may conform to the truth, the latter so that it pleases and encourages further investigation of it by your audience.
Grammar teaches us how to write correctly but it does not teach us how to write well. It says that such a sentence is organized correctly but says nothing of its content - its truth or its elegance. A man who can arrange a sentence with the proper use of commas is not a good writer unless he can add to that a logical structure to the whole, truth in the particulars, and beauty in both. Dry language is unappealing, but so is ostentatious language; the use of meaningless words and artifice simply because they have the appearance of elegance is to be avoided just as much if not more so then the opposite vice, which at least does not deviate from the truth.
These then are my opinions on the subject of writing, a brief overview, but that is all the time I have available to me. I will try to write everyday, or at least every other day. By this I hope to attain to some elegance; hoping, but not likely to gain, that style which Samuel Johnson described in Joseph Addison, "familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On why the Tyranicides Owed Nothing to Caesar

What sort of ''benefaction`` is it to have kept yourself from a nefarious crime? In such circumstances not to have been slain by you seemed to me justly not so much a matter for gratification as for bitter regret that it was in your power to do so with impunity.

Phillipic II, Marcus Tullius Cicero, pg 69 Loeb Edition

I have often heard, from people knowledgeable in the history of antiquity, the claim that Brutus and the other republicans which supported his tyrannicide were ungrateful to Caesar since they were spared from murder. That somehow Caesar by restraining himself from further crime created in the spared victims some obligation to him for having not taken life which was not his to take. Cicero compares this to a brigand who takes your possessions but leaves you with your life. Caesar marched on Rome and usurped, by the standards of the day, a free country and set himself up as dictator for life. These crimes are not dissolved by keeping himself from committing further ones. By these acts alone he rendered his own life forfeit and killing him by any means possible was just. An act of tyrannicide is the only thing due to a tyrant.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Some Good Quotes

Some time in the near future I will endeavor to write about the importance of learning to write well, the primary purpose in my own case of creating this blog; but before that I will give some quotes out of my collection which have struck me as being particularly interesting as well as elegant. I have made into italics those parts I deemed the most important.


Compared to this how mean and despicable were all the triumphs of Ceasar, “the world’s great master and his own.” How small, how diminutive is the ambition of that soul, which can be satisīŦed with the conquest of the world by force, or with a mastery over itself so partion, as to be only a composition with crime, a half-war forbearance from the extreme of guilt, compared with the sublime purposes of that mind, which not by the brutal and foul contest of arms, but by the soul-subduing power of eloquence and of virtue, conquers time, as well as space; not the world of one short lived generation, but the world of a hundred centuries; which masters, not only one nation of contemporaries, but endless ages-of civilized man, and undiscovered regions of the globe. These are the triumphs, which Ceasar, and men like Ceasar, never can obtain. They are reserved for more exalted conquerors. These are the palms of heroic peace. These are the everlasting laurels, destined for better uses, than to conceal the baldness of a Caesar, destined to be twined, as a never fading wreath, around the temples of Cicero.
Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory by John Quincy Adams, Page 133-134, Vol. 1

To prove that the Americans ought not to be free, we are obliged to depreciate the value of Freedom itself; and we never seem to gain a paltry advantage over them in debate, without attacking some of those principles, or deriding some of those feelings, for which our ancestors have shed their blood.
On Moving His Resolutions for Conciliation with the Colonies by Edmund Burke, 1.3.46 OLL(Online Liberty Library)

Is it not the same virtue which does everything for us here in England? Do you imagine then, that it is the Land Tax Act which raises your revenue? that it is the annual vote in the Committee of Supply which gives you your army? or that it is the Mutiny Bill which inspires it with bravery and discipline? No! surely no! It is the love of the people; it is their attachment to their government, from the sense of the deep stake they have in such a glorious institution—which gives you your army and your navy, and infuses into both that liberal obedience, without which your army would be a base rabble, and your navy nothing but rotten timber.
On Moving His Resolutions for Conciliation with the Colonies by Edmund Burke, 1.3.143 OLL

You thought it necessary to take arms, to prevent him from tyrannizing at this rate: but was it your intent, that by preventing him [Marcus Antonius], we might sue to another [Augustus Caesar] who would suffer himself to be advanced into his place, or that the republic might be free and mistress of itself? as if our quarrel was not perhaps with slavery, but to the conditions of it.

The History of the Life of Marcus Tullius Cicero by Conyers Middleton, Page 287

For those creatures who have received the gift of reason from Nature have also received right reason, and therefore they have also received the gift of Law, which is right reason applied to command and prohibition. And if they have received Law, they have received Justice also. Now all men have received reason; therefore all men have received Justice. Consequently Socrates was right when he cursed, as he often did, the man who first separated utility from justice; for this separation, he complained, is the source of all mischief.
Loeb De Legibus, Page 333-335

Sunday, February 10, 2008

On the Republic of Cicero and Polybius

The ancients recognized three different types of simple government monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy which may be thought of as the rule of the one, the few, and the many respectively. Each was thought susceptible to a degradation into a similar but despotic form of itself. Where monarchy would degrade into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, and democracy into license and mob rule. Polybius noted this in book six, concerning the Roman constitution, from his history of the rise of Rome. Later Cicero confirmed this sentiment in his treatise on the Republic. They both came to the conclusion that the best way to avert these dangerous tendencies in each of the simple forms is to form a government comprised of all three, so that each branch may balance the other two. This mixed constitution, it may be recognized, is the basis of our own and is defended by the dictates of reason and the testimony of history.

Of the three simple forms of government Cicero judged monarchy the best, since the virtues of a leader may render his reign beneficent to the liberties of the people. In the end, however, he concluded that even this form of government is likely to be be rendered tyrannical since the condition of the state depends wholly on the virtues of a single man. The despotism following the destruction of the Roman Republic attests to this natural tendency; the history of modern times no less so.

According to Cicero democracy is the form of government least like a republic. Unlike those other forms the mob can assume the mask of the people. A tyrant may be slain or an oligarchy expelled but neither can be done to the great mass of the people who vote for the destruction of the lives and properties of other men. They mistake license for liberty, emotion for reason, and begin to destroy any people that calls up their envy. There is another awful tendency in democracy in that it quickly degrades into tyranny. The people raise to eminence an unscrupulous demagogue to the highest levels of power and once raised he convinces the people to surrender their liberty and at once becomes a tyrant.

The greatest men may then object to this abuse and form a government where the ``best'' people rule. The people may then become jealous or they may be abused encouraging an overthrow of the aristocracy; thus is born a never ending cycle of revolution where the degraded state of any simple form leads to its contrary. An oligarchy inspires a democracy, tyranny an aristocracy, and so forth. The only remedy, Cicero and Polybius assert, is to form the constitution in such a way as to counter these tendencies so that the monarchical element may check the aristocratic and the democratic and visa versa.

Though this form is the most advantageous to the liberty of the people and vital to the preservation of free government, it is justly recognized that the foundation of any good state is the virtue and knowledge of the people. Without which, not even the most perfectly shaped government will long endure. This is an important lesson which if not learned quickly speeds up the dissolution of our rights and the forging of our chains; always keeping in mind that the object of government is not for every man to have a share, but rather the preservation of liberty.