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.

1 comment:

Grant said...

I happened upon it, and I have enjoyed what you have so far on your blog.

As an example of what you're dicussing in this post, I've cut and pasted an article from an Arizona newspaper regarding the issue of what one owes to society, if anything, in order to receive it's moral sanction. I would have simply linked to it, but the website requires registration. Too much of a hassel.

Forbes has skewed view on giving

Thomas S. Sanders


There is much with which to take issue in Steve Forbes' meandering paean to the virtues of free enterprise ("Business, philanthropy: 2 sides of coin," Feb. 17, 2008); for instance, his statement that the income tax is "the price you pay for working."

However, most prominently wrong-headed is his view of the relationship between business and philanthropy.

In Forbes' mind, there is skulking about the land a long-standing, widely accepted cliché that business is bad because it is practiced by greedy, selfish people, and that charity, by contrast, is done by selfless people and is therefore good. He provides as evidence his interpretation of the words "giving back," "which are often employed in describing someone's philanthropic activity.
" 'Giving back' implies you took something that wasn't yours," Forbes says. "You succeed in business; you make up for it by giving your ill-gotten gains away."

He posits that "the moral basis of commerce is meeting the needs of other people. You don't succeed unless you provide a product that others voluntarily want in a free market." And, "business and philanthropy are not polar opposites. They are, in fact, two sides of the same coin."
But, what Forbes is actually saying is that, because it is moral at its heart and provides things that people want, successful business is the virtual equivalent of philanthropy — that the two are on the same side of the coin.

He is also saying that the morality inherent in successful business and attendant, substantial profit makes "giving back" unnecessary, and that, by extension, it's perfectly fine to hoard money.

Such a philosophically egoistic viewpoint aligns Forbes far more closely with Ayn Rand than with prominent American philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie or Bill and Melinda Gates.
Where Forbes goes astray — far astray — is in his gross misrepresentation of what "giving back" actually means. Dictionaries define "philanthropy" as the effort or desire to increase the well-being of humankind through monetary contributions or other charitable aid. Within the context of true philanthropy, implicit in "giving back" is the concept of showing appreciation of and gratitude toward the society that made possible the amassing of wealth by returning some of that wealth to the society's worthy causes, thus benefiting — and improving — that society.
From Forbes' self-serving perspective, by successfully providing a commodity that people want to buy, a businessman has done for society all that he needs to do.

It is indeed true that, because ours is a free society, no successful businessperson is obligated to be charitable. Fortunately, a great number of such prosperous individuals across America have not subscribed to Forbes' upside-down view of philanthropy and their benevolence has made our country a far better place.

Here in Tucson, the Donald Diamond and Jim Click families (to name only a couple of local benefactors) have contributed and continue to contribute significant amounts of the resources they've acquired through commercial success to help meet many of the philanthropic needs of the community in which they reside and do business.

They don't "give back" because their resources were ill-gotten; they do so because they can, and because they know how important it is that they do so.

That's what real philanthropy is all about.