Cicero's influence on subsequent political thought is taken for an established fact, but the nature of that influence remains uncertain.1 He was an important figure in natural law theory, but beyond that outmoded field how far does his influence extend? Is he worth studying anymore? Our uncertainty is compounded by shifts in fashion among succeeding generations of scholars and the baggage they bring with them. Can we make the case that Cicero is important without forcing him to say things that are important to us? We may take the term "property" as an example. Few words in modern political philosophy are as powerful as "property," and its almost inevitable companions "private" and "rights." Thus my title, to a contemporary political scientist, almost tells the whole story: Cicero defends property rights. That is important. From this much might be expected to follow perhaps even the whole train of Lockean abuses that leads inexorably to possessive individualism. This is indeed what we find when we read the only full-length study of Cicero's political thought of the past generation, Neal Wood's Cicero's Social and Political Thought. In this paper I propose to re-examine Cicero's defense of property rights, and to raise the question whether Wood's account of Cicero and property rights is persuasive.
Wood expresses his view of the place of property rights in Cicero's thought in bold terms: "Cicero ... is the first important social and political thinker to affirm unequivocally that the basic purpose of the state is the protection of private property."2 This is a somewhat more compact restatement of his earlier claim that Cicero "is the first important social and political thinker to give a succinct formal definition of the state, and to conceive of its major purpose largely in non-ethical terms, as the protection and security of private property."3 Wood's evidence for this claim comes from a number of sources in Cicero's writing, but primarily from the formal definition of the polity in De Republica 1.39 and several passages in De Officiis. The most explicit support comes from De Officiis 2.73, where Cicero says:
For political communities and citizenships were constituted especially so that men could hold on to what was theirs. It may be true that nature first guided men to gather in groups; but it was in the hope of safeguarding their possessions that they sought protection in cities.4
In order to make sure that his audience has not misunderstood the point or taken it as mere rhetorical overstatement, Cicero reminds them at 2.78: "For, as I said above, it is the peculiar function of the state and the city to guarantee to every man the free and undisturbed control of his own particular property." Because De Officiis offers the clearest statements about property rights in Cicero's surviving writings, it is appropriate to concentrate on that book, as Wood does.
The explicit statements on the purpose of the polity are extended and supported, Wood argues, by the general doctrine of De Officiis that there can never be a conflict between right or justice (ius) and expediency or utility (utilitas). Because private property ownership is in the interest of the individual, securing that ownership is in the interest of the community as a whole, and this commitment to ownership then becomes central to justice within the polity.5 In other words, Wood says, the private interest or utility of individuals constitutes the test of justice for Cicero. This is not in tension with the idea that the polity is the natural expression of human rationality and sociability, which lead to virtue, because the desire for possessions, and more generally the desire to secure one's interests, is also basic to human nature (132). "Nor," Wood says,
is Cicero's conception of the authentic state as the embodiment of justice at odds with the purpose of securing property. Any violation of private property is unjust. Hence, in order to be just the state to be a true state must guarantee the security of each citizen in his possessions. This means, of course, that property differentials, which are characteristic of human society, must likewise be maintained and protected if the principles of natural justice are not to be violated (132).
This conception of justice is in keeping with what Wood calls Cicero's "economic individualism," grounded in a distinction between the private and the common that antedates human society, as Locke would later argue. Wood notes that Cicero stops short of endorsing a natural right to property, yet holds that each is entitled to appropriate from the common stock as much as is necessary for himself and his family.6 Nature creates families, the first society, while the desire to protect property creates the second society, the state. The state thus exists to regulate the advantage-seeking to which men are prompted by nature, guaranteeing to each his own, no more and no less. This explains, and to some degree justifies, the "acquisitive individualism" of Roman society:
The acute competition and struggle of members of the ruling class for power and riches, the unbridled exploitation of the provinces, the resort to violence and the proscription of great families, and the rapid rise and fall of family fortunes are all manifestations of an increasing social atomism that brings to mind a Hobbesian state of nature. ... [Cicero's] message to his contemporaries is to seek their own economic advantage, but always in a rational and enlightened way (115).
When we put the economic individualism characteristic of Roman society together with the description of the formation of states in 2.73, we get a founding process that seems an obvious precursor of the social contract, and a state with a familiar-sounding set of social problems.
By tying Cicero's "economic individualism" to the class interests of the Roman aristocracy, Wood can use what we know of Cicero's personal interests and commitments to reinforce the point that he considers protecting property to be the end of the polity. Wood finds support in Cicero's correspondence, and from his politics. As a novus homo, Cicero had worked to advance his political career by assiduous attention to the interests of the wealthy, and indeed he comments to Atticus at one point that the rich are his constituency.7 The centerpiece of his politics was the defense of the traditional role of the Senate and the senatorial class. He clearly shared the acquisitive tendencies of this class, and believed that property ownership was crucial for maintaining his own status in the community. To the extent that the laws secured the Senators' property, the laws also guaranteed their power; hence, in Wood's penultimate formulation, "the basic function of the state is the protection of private property and the security of the dominant propertied classes" (129, emphasis added).
Wood's argument that protecting property is the "main" or "basic" function of the polity in Cicero's political thought, and that he drew upon this theoretical position to defend the interests of the Roman aristocracy against schemes of redistribution must be taken seriously. Cicero's explicit statements, his theoretical premises, and his political program all seem to support this view. Our task, then, if we are seriously to question Wood's thesis, must be to proceed along several lines. First we must make clear why, in spite of Wood's evidence, this claim might seem problematic on the surface. We must then discuss Cicero's political program, as he conceived it at the time De Officiis was written in the latter part of 44. Next, we must look at the theoretical grounding Cicero gives to support that project. Part of this inquiry is necessarily negative can we, as it were, falsify Wood's hypothesis concerning Cicero's theory of property? If so, then in the final section an alternative can be proposed.
It would be foolish to deny that Cicero considers property rights important. But is the security of private property "the basic purpose of the state"? Is the defense of property supported by an "economic individualism" that looks very much like modern liberal individualism? There are some initial reasons for approaching Wood's thesis with skepticism. For example, we might wonder why so cautious a writer as John Locke never mentions Cicero as a source of his ideas in the Second Treatise. It seems characteristic of Locke to disclaim originality wherever he can, and we know that he knew Cicero's works, including De Officiis, very well. In spite of this, Locke does not cite Cicero's views on property as the foundation of the state, which suggests that Locke did not find in Cicero the similarities to his own doctrine that Wood does.
Also at the threshold, we are confronted with what has long been held to be Cicero's more or less orthodox Stoicism in De Officiis.8 The Stoic position, which Cicero articulates elsewhere (notably in the Tusculan Disputations and De Finibus), is that virtue alone is sufficient for happiness, and that external circumstances like wealth or poverty do not affect it one way or another. The wise man would be happy on the rack. De Officiis does not explicitly contradict this.9 Taken as a whole, the book leaves the reader with the impression that virtue is the most important thing one might acquire. If Wood is correct that for Cicero "the basic purpose of the state is the protection of private property," then Cicero's apparent emphasis on the polity as an instrument for living virtuously, rather than living well, may be misleading. In the first book, Cicero seems to make it clear that the purpose of the state is the promotion of just relations among human beings, i.e., its purpose is ethical rather than economic, or perhaps better, public rather than private.10 Further, Cicero's apparent concern that the immoderate pursuit of wealth is the root of Rome's political trouble would not fit well with a defense of individual property rights as the basic principle of the polity.
Another surface reason for approaching Wood's thesis with some skepticism concerns his interpretation of the Latin terms res and res publica. These terms are not as readily translatable as they might seem. Even more vague are the terms Cicero uses in the passages from Book II cited above: the phrase "that one's own might be held (ut sua tenerentur)," for example, does not use a noun at all. To render Cicero's "one's own" as "private property" is not unreasonable, but the translation does bring with it some contemporary baggage that may not be helpful on this journey. Res publica is equally troublesome; we cannot simply call it "republic" as we would like. "State" seems even more problematic, given the modern distinction between "state" and "society." In Roman law, res publica is not only the government, but "public property," as distinguished from res privata. The public property is property that "could be owned by no individual and could be used by everyone," such as beaches or waterways.11 It is thus somewhat misleading to say, as Wood does, that "Roman notables sometimes even think of res publica as their possession, to be used as they would their own property."(126) In the first place, Roman law had developed an elaborate set of rights and duties owed to neighbors; one's rights over one's own property were not absolute.12 In the second, to think of the public things in this way implies a detachment of possessors from thing possessed that is probably foreign to Roman thinking. The distinction between res publica as "public property" (the beach, say), and res publica as "state" or "government" is probably much clearer to us than it would be to Romans. As Christian Meier says in discussing the crisis of the aristocracy, "the citizen body could be said to be a political order rather than to have one, and ... there was no duality of society and state; rather the body politic had itself become a political unit."13 We should not attribute to the Romans the concerns, and the politics, of a later age, and we must beware likewise of introducing our own priorities and assumptions into Cicero's defense of private property. With this admonition to skepticism, we begin our investigation of Wood's thesis.
The first issue concerns the place of property rights in Cicero's political agenda in 44 as he develops it in De Officiis. His program in the book is twofold. First, he intends to teach Marcus how to be a gentleman who can also succeed in Roman politics. Second, through Marcus, Cicero wants to address the general crisis of the Roman aristocracy. The two objectives quickly collapse into one. A gentleman needs to understand how to manage his property, but more importantly he needs to understand how to put it into perspective, and this perspective is missing in Marcus' generation. Accumulating property is necessary, and also honorable, because it contributes to one's reputation, at least up to a point. Yet thanks to Julius Caesar the competition for a good reputation, or gloria, among the Roman aristocracy had exceeded all bounds by 44. This competition created the "social atomism" that Wood describes, and that Cicero sees as causing the destruction of the Roman republic. Marcus and his contemporaries must put aside their private ambitions and become public-spirited men, like the great heroes of the Roman past. In effect, Cicero is trying in this book to accomplish the awkward task of putting the genie back in the bottle.
The central questions of De Officiis concern the conditions of success in Roman politics. Cicero proposes to redefine "success."14 This is an important element of Books 2 and 3, for it is with respect to the useful things wealth, military success, friends, influence, position that Marcus is likely to be misled by the examples of contemporary Roman statesmen. The bad examples Cicero has in mind, of course, come from the series of politicians from the Gracchi onward who have taken property from some and given it to others. Sulla, for example, followed up his "honorable cause (honestam causam)" with a dishonorable victory, by auctioning off the goods of his enemies and claiming that he was selling "his spoils." The hope of seeing another such division of the spoils is a constant incentive to civil war.15 The disrespect for property rights shown by Sulla was not only a precedent for future redistributions but an incentive to them, as Cicero says at 2.29: "The seed and occasion of civil wars will be present for as long as desperate men remember and hope for that bloody spear [indicating an auction of "spoils"]." By creating this incentive, the harmony or Concordia of the society is broken in such a way that repair is extremely difficult.
Here of course the primary example is Caesar, who is the embodiment of the argument for expediency.16 Caesar's pursuit of gloria was a spectacularly successful example of what is, from Cicero's standpoint, a misunderstanding of what true glory is. But Caesar is not alone; he may be the most successful but he is not the only one who has used his wealth as a path to power and fame. Cicero quotes Marcus Crassus as saying that "no amount of wealth is enough for someone who wishes to be the leading man in the republic unless he can support an army from its income."17 Cicero does not take issue with Crassus on whether one should have a private army; he merely notes that one ought to avoid acquiring property unjustly. The political problem is that people lose sight of justice in their pursuit of wealth. As the examples of Sulla and Caesar show, most men will respond to those who promise the greatest rewards. In 2.21-22, Cicero twice lists the reasons why men would support another's ambitions; in both lists the self-interest of would-be supporters figures prominently. In other words, most men do not behave like Stoics, for whom wealth is a matter of indifference. One may be privately disdainful of cupidity, but in politics one cannot ignore it as a human incentive. Rome's example shows that when the political limits on the pursuit of wealth are removed, and wealth becomes a path to power, the desire for wealth and power undermines the trust (fides) that is fundamental to the polity.18 This is the political reason why Cicero is so emphatic about respect for property rights in De Officiis. The disrespect for property rights shown by Sulla and Caesar was expedient for them, but hastened the day when Romans would seek political power for private rather than public ends.19
That Cicero's defense of property is an argument for allowing those who have property to keep it hardly seems remarkable. He undoubtedly had little sympathy for the propertyless, and never advocated giving them more than a token share of political power. But to view his defense of private property as an aspect of the class struggle seems to miss the point.20 Generally speaking the Caesarian revolution merely redistributed wealth and power within the upper class. Further, we cannot overlook the significance of Cicero's condemnation of Sulla, who can hardly be called a leader of the masses. Sulla's proscriptions had sowed the seeds of the next, and of all future rounds of civil unrest. The point is that justice demands that each keep his own. Cicero is unequivocal that proscription and confiscation "robbing some to enrich others" is unjust, not only because it violates rights but also, and perhaps more importantly, because it introduces a destabilizing precedent. Any redistribution by political action creates a misunderstanding of the purposes of the polity, and of the conditions of glory. The polity is no longer a "partnership in justice," supported by trust, but a tool for seeking one's own private ends; and glory no longer comes from advancing the common good, as it did in the republic's best days. For Cicero, Caesar is the culmination of the process by which the public is subordinated to the private.21
If Marcus is to be successful in politics, he must know one more thing: Rewarding one's followers with the property of one's enemies is simply imprudent. It does not win permanent friends, and it both creates new enemies and confirms the enmity of existing opponents. The passage could have come straight from Machiavelli's The Prince:
And yet, when it comes to measures so ruinous to public welfare, they do not gain even that popularity which they anticipate. For he who has been robbed of his property is their enemy; he to whom it has been turned over actually pretends that he had no wish to take it; and most of all, when his debts are cancelled, the debtor conceals his joy, for fear that he may be thought to have been insolvent; whereas the victim of the wrong both remembers it and shows his resentment openly.22
Disturbing property rights will not have the effect one desires. That people live peaceably within the laws so long as their property is not taken away by arbitrary government action is an observation that neither requires deep theoretical insight nor a special commitment to property rights. Even those who are committed to their own selfish interests should be able to see it.
Cicero's political program in De Officiis is to dissuade the next generation of Roman politicians from trying to become the next Caesar. This is not an easy assignment. As A. A. Long notes, the Romans were always at risk of confusing what was worthy of being praised with what was praised. To be persuasive, Cicero must show that the things which are praised, such as wealth and political power, are not truly praiseworthy in the absence of justice, and that justice, in turn, does not exist in the absence of public-spiritedness. Stealing "from one to enrich another," however much it may be praised, is not truly worthy of praise.23 To the extent that such theft had become, or threatened to become, the norm in Roman politics, it threatened an endless chain of proscription and civil war. Such an unqualified disaster deserved unqualified condemnation; and the rights that were threatened deserved unqualified support.
Cicero's immediate political project, then, calls for the defense of property rights, not so much in defense of class interests but for the sake of reducing the stakes of factional strife. This immediate project is supported by theoretical premises regarding the protection of property as such. We must examine Cicero's theory with respect to three issues raised by Wood. The first is whether he embraces "economic individualism," and thus how he might approach the distinction between public and private. The second concerns the definition of justice, and the way in which justice demands that private property be respected in society. Finally we will consider the issue of "the basic purpose of the state."
Because Cicero's "economic individualism" is central to Wood's account, we must look at Cicero's discussion of economics with some care. Does nature in fact encourage each head of household privately to acquire from the common stock? Cicero is unclear about exactly how what was once common to all mankind becomes private. He seems to suggest that heads of households have a responsibility to provide for those within the household.24 Thus far, it makes some sense to say, as Wood does,
each person is expected to appropriate from the commonness of nature the things needed by himself and his family. At the very beginning of time and before the institution of the state, therefore, a distinction was made by men between common property and private property.25
The context of these arguments, however, suggests a different intent on Cicero's part. In 1.11-12, the human love for offspring, which seems to be the origin of the household, is said to be common with animals. But reason sets humanity apart by giving foresight and the ability to prepare for the future. This preparation is moral, and not economic, as Cicero makes clear in 1.12-13. The reason that gives humans foresight also leads them to seek the truth.26 Likewise in 1.21-22, he explains that no one should seek to acquire the property of others, but should hold on to his own, whatever division of the common stock falls to his lot. He further indicates that he agrees with the Stoics, who make no exceptions when they say that all things are "created for the use of mankind," and include human beings in "all things." We are born for each other, and this claim is in its nature reciprocal; all human beings have responsibilities to all others as human beings. This is less an endorsement of economic individualism than of universal duties.
We have already noted that in 2.73 Cicero gives a two-part account of the growth of human association that seems familiar from social contract theory, which of course would be compatible with economic individualism. The question is whether Cicero intends this to be a full statement of his position on the issue, as Wood suggests. The passage at 2.73 is the third time in De Officiis that Cicero has discussed the process of founding the polity, and each time (1.11-12, 1.53-55, 2.73) he varies the account slightly. There is no intrinsic reason for giving the statement at 2.73 priority over the statements in Book I, which are less emphatic about property rights. Indeed, since Cicero is discussing merely useful things rather than ultimate ends in Book II, perhaps we should expect a difference in emphasis. Moreover, it can perhaps be explained without reference to the social contract or economic individualism. It may not even be original. The account Cicero gives in De Officiis seems to have more in common with the two-step founding of the polis in Aristotle's Politics than with Locke. Aristotle concludes his account by saying that "there is in everyone by nature an impulse toward this sort of [civic] partnership. And yet the one who first constituted [a city] is responsible for the greatest of goods."27
The purposes of the household, for Cicero and for Aristotle, need to be completed by the founding of the city. Cicero confirms this by saying in 1.57 that the most important of social links is the one between the individual and the polity. Nature's intentions are not identical with the process of formation of the various institutions; the last in time is first by nature. Furthermore, Cicero distinguishes between the purpose of an institution (by nature) and the motives of those who form it. Natural law, we might say, is not coterminous with the intentions of the framers. The men who first created the polity were unformed by the moral and civic education that the family alone cannot provide. It is nature's intention that men should form cities so that that education can take place. The ends or purposes of the institution are not fully revealed in or determined by its beginnings.28 The existence of the household prior to the state does not, in itself, support the idea that protecting property is the state's end or purpose.
The idea that Cicero promotes economic individualism also receives little support from the discussion of wealth creation in Book II. Apparently some of Cicero's discussion derives from Panaetius, but he says at 2.16 that he has shortened Panaetius' account. Cicero's version of the labor theory of wealth creation is set forth in 2.12-16. He divides the things useful for life into animate beings and inanimate things, and then proposes a distinction within animate beings between rational and irrational ones. Cicero notes, however, that even many inanimate things are provided by human effort, just as human effort makes domestic animals useful. Cicero presents economic life in 2.12 as a social phenomenon, an example of the principle that human beings are born to help each other. Because it is a social creation through the cooperation of many, the economy is governed by principles of justice, which is concerned with the way people act toward one another. That is, as he says at 2.15, property, in the form of things useful for life, stems from the same impulse of human sociability that is also the foundation of the political community.29 Any human artifact stands at the end of a social chain ideas must be communicated, animals trained, and so forth. It would be absurd to expect any human being to survive alone, without the assistance of others: without society there would be no producing, no selling, and no property.
Property, then, like the res publica itself, is a realized form of human cooperation and is subject to the rules that govern that cooperation, i.e., the rules of justice. To the extent that property is "by nature," then, it is so because human cooperation is a natural phenomenon as well as a natural obligation. Cicero, in other words, does not hold, as Locke does, that property exists by nature because one's labor is uniquely one's own; indeed Cicero is explicit that "there is no such thing as private property by nature" (1.21). One may also say that for Cicero labor itself is not private, as it is for Locke, but public or at least quasi-public. Like virtue, labor is, in its most important sense, in the service of the community.30 Economic activity is not the defining human characteristic, reason is.31 Cicero never deviates from this position. Thus property as something to be acquired and desired is always on the list of "things preferred," but not among the things required for happiness, as Cicero follows Panaetius' Stoic usage. Reason, and the society that reason produces, however, are among the requirements. Property itself, as a creature of law and of cooperative production, is a social phenomenon. Economic individualism does not seem to describe Cicero's position.
It is characteristic that in his discussion of Cicero's definition of "the state," Wood omits half of Cicero's definition. In Book 1 of De Republica, Cicero defines a res publica in this way:
[Scipio] Well, then, a commonwealth (res publica) is the property of a people (res populi). But a people is not any collection of human beings brought together in any sort of way, but an assemblage of people associated in an agreement with respect to justice (iuris consensus) and a partnership for the common good (et utilitatis communione). The first cause of such an association is not so much the weakness of the individual as a certain social spirit which nature has implanted in man. For man is not a solitary or unsocial creature, but born with such a nature that even in a condition of abundance ... [he would not wish to be isolated from other human beings].32
Wood summarizes this definition as: "The purpose of the state as given by Cicero in his formal definition is the common interest, utility, or advantage (utilitas)."33 In other words, Cicero's two part definition of a people is collapsed into a single one, and then applied to "the state" which is the people's property. Yet, as his definition suggests, for Cicero the common interest is linked with the existence of a social consensus concerning justice. By reading out the consensus about justice, Wood can argue that the social instinct reveals itself as the urge to associate with one's family, the "basic natural human association in which all things are held in common." The social instinct is limited to this small circle, while the state preserves "the property of citizen heads of households regardless of class or status." Wood thus reads the definition of a people in the light of the two-step process of state formation. By reading out half of Cicero's definition of the res publica, Wood reads into Cicero the public-private dichotomy that is characteristic of modern liberal political thought.
Cicero's context suggests a different result. In the passage that follows his definition (1.41), Cicero makes clear that the "deliberative body" in the polity "must always owe its beginning to the same cause that produced the state itself." The first, fragmentary, sentence in that section indicates a common origin for the state and for the virtues, which presumably is the naturally implanted "social spirit." In other words, a fuller examination of the passage suggests that the common interests of the society are not the cause that produced the polity itself, but that the social partnership or consensus is. Wood later notes, correctly, "that for Cicero no contradiction existed between the two key elements of his definition of the state: ius and utilitas, right or justice and interest."34 Yet by his insistence that the purpose of "the state" is "the common interest of those concerned, interest defined in terms of security, protection, and well-being," Wood appears to make utilitas the prior principle, indeed the test of whether justice is being served. This does not appear to be supported by Cicero's explicit statement. For Cicero the iuris consensus is the prior principle by nature, for it is the principle most in keeping with the nature of man as a rational and social being.
As Wood himself admits, for Cicero the fundamental cause of the political community is human nature understood as rational and social. Cicero's position on this issue is consistent throughout his political writings, from De Republica to De Officiis, and there is no need to multiply examples here.35 But Cicero does say, both in De Republica and in De Officiis, that "common interests" are also important. In one sense the two parts of Cicero's definition of res publica in De Republica match up with the division of subjects in De Officiis. We may say that the first book of De Officiis is concerned with a gentleman's activity with regard to the society's agreements about justice. Book II then concerns his activity with respect to the common interests, and the third book deals with the conflicts between them. The ambiguities and ambivalences in De Officiis, I think, can be in part attributed to Cicero's efforts to harmonize the gentleman's conventional horizon with that of nature i.e., the social consensus about justice with justice by nature. Wood wants to see Cicero's project as using Greek philosophy to shore up the position of the ruling class; it becomes simply ideology in the Marxian sense. But this may too quickly gloss over Cicero's conviction that the values of the senatorial oligarchy needed to change, lest it produce more Caesars.36
In testing Wood's hypothesis, we must also consider the context of Cicero's strong declaration of the value of property rights. Cicero follows his explicit defense of property rights in 2.78 with an almost Machiavellian explanation of why this principle is one the politician violates at his peril, as we have seen. But it seems clear that Cicero's emphatic endorsement of property rights gives them no special standing in the polity; it stays firmly within the horizon of the expedient or convenient or useful things. Only in Book II do property rights assume this kind of importance for Cicero. Again, the context is important. A just polity will protect property rights. But the polity must also do many other things control its territory, raise revenue, and so forth that cannot be said to constitute its purpose. In Book II, Cicero puts the protection of private property in that category. It does not affect the conception of the polity as fundamentally in pursuit of other ends specifically, in De Officiis of a justice that is grounded in human sociability. Preserving vested property rights promotes the social trust that permits justice to flourish.37 It is useful to justice, but it is not justice.
We are now in a position to make a conclusion about the hypothesis of Cumming and Wood, that Cicero "was the first important political thinker to affirm unequivocally that the basic purpose of the state was the protection of private property."38 We have noted above that this is indeed what Cicero says in 2.73 and 2.78, and that this claim is made in the context of a condemnation of any type of redistribution of goods or wealth. Yet it seems clear, on a review of the evidence, that Cicero, first, does not endorse privacy or the private in the modern sense. Cicero was not a Lockean, and indeed holds to a theory of human motivation that is quite different from Locke's. Nor does he say that the protection of property is the basic purpose of the state. As emphatic as he is in 2.73 and 2.78, Cicero's endorsement of property rights is in fact equivocal. Protecting property is just, but it is not justice. The purpose of the political community is to establish justice, which depends on observing good faith. Good faith engenders trust, which supports the natural human tendency to be social. For Cicero, property is an expression of a pre-existing social trust and cooperative activity that is extended and completed by political institutions. We must seek elsewhere for "the basic purpose of the state."
If securing property rights is not the basic purpose of the polity, what is? What is the point of Cicero's (equivocal) defense of property rights? In the course of reviewing Wood's hypothesis, some of the features of an alternative have emerged, but we must now try to bring them together. Restoring trust, in both institutions and fellow citizens, is the political program of De Officiis, theoretical and practical. Beneath all of Cicero's admonitions to Marcus about his reputation lies the concern that he become someone worthy of others' trust. The foundation of trustworthiness is the virtue of justice. The prevailing spirit of Roman politics has become one of radical distrust, and consequently of injustice. It is, as Wood says, rapidly becoming a Hobbesian jungle. Bad faith is rampant. Cicero believes that the terms of political success need to be redefined in such a way that success no longer breeds distrust, and so he must establish, as he says at 1.23, that "keeping faith is fundamental to justice, that is constancy and truth in what is said and agreed." As we have seen, trust in one's fellow citizens is, for Cicero, the foundation of the political community. Cicero emphasizes the importance of this point because to the extent that trust or good faith has disappeared in Rome, the city threatens to cease being a political community altogether. Within this context, protection of everyone's property rights is a critical step in restoring and maintaining social trust.
In De Officiis Cicero's program requires him to use examples of conventional Roman attitudes and values in order to establish the principles of natural justice. At the same time, those conventional attitudes and institutions are, in their own way, facts with moral implications.39 Cicero wants Marcus to think not only about what his natural duties are, but about "what people will think." The uneasy relationship between conventional attitudes and natural justice can be seen in the "debate" Cicero stages between the Stoic philosophers Diogenes and Antipater in Book III. The debate concerns whether a seller ought to disclose everything that he knows about the property or goods he is selling. Diogenes takes the position that one should not misrepresent goods for sale, but need not disclose everything. There is no ethical reason, he argues, that one should not seek to sell his goods for as high a price as possible. Antipater, on the other hand, holds that a seller is morally bound to "consider the interests of your fellow-men and to serve society," hence one ought to disclose everything, even if it means accepting a lower price.40 In their very thoughtful treatments of this debate, Malcolm Schofield and Julia Annas are both concerned about Diogenes does Cicero represent him fairly or accurately? Does he misunderstand Diogenes' argument? Could a Stoic really say these things? These are good questions, and both authors give thoughtful, if contradictory, answers.41 But I suggest that in looking for Cicero's teaching about private property we need to ask why Cicero introduces this debate, and what benefit he expects Marcus and Marcus's generation to get from it.
Cicero ends up siding with Antipater, he says, because:
The fact is that merely holding one's peace about a thing does not constitute concealment, but concealment consists in trying for your own profit to keep others from finding out what you know, when it is for their interest to know it. And who fails to discern what manner of concealment that is and what sort of person would be guilty of it? At all events he would be no candid or sincere or straightforward or upright or honest man, but rather one who is shifty, sly, artful, shrewd, underhand, cunning, one grown old in fraud and subtlety. Is it not inexpedient to subject oneself to all these terms of reproach and many more besides?42
In other words, Cicero urges Marcus to be honest in his business dealings, not because (or not only because) it is good in itself, but because it will contribute to a good reputation. This is the basic principle of Cicero's business ethics. Yet one must manage one's household prudently; one wishes to be considered honest without being taken for a babe in the woods. Although "an honest man will not be guilty of either pretence or concealment," Cicero does not fully commit him to Antipater's style of bargaining. 43 The point is that people measure their fellow citizens by the trust they have in them. Trust is the foundation of a good reputation, as it is of the polity itself. Private property, therefore, seems to be a kind of link between the individual and the state, as a test of character for both.
Does nature ever dictate a distribution of property or indicate a property right? In De Officiis 1.21, Cicero is emphatic: "there is no such thing a private property by nature." All titles appear conventional in this formulation. There are no human ends associated with property ownership that would allow one to say that one title is superior to another, although the human beings who use the property are subject to the ends nature determines for human beings. In De Republica 2.27, however, Cicero suggests that sometimes nature does indicate rightful ownership. In recommending indifference to possessions, Scipio says that by the "common law of nature" things belong to the man who knows how to use them. Knowledge, then, may offer a title by nature, although the comment is something of a digression in its context. A similar point is made more directly in De Officiis 3.28-32. There, Cicero is responding to the argument that one ought to treat family members differently from other fellow citizens, and citizens differently from foreigners. He goes on to observe that the "tightest bond" of human fellowship is that it is against nature (or natural law) to deprive another of his goods unjustly. But then Cicero continues that sometimes it is just to expropriate the goods of one who is worthless, as long as the common good is the purpose of the expropriation. It is in this context that Cicero gives his explicit (and influential) endorsement of tyrannicide at 3.32: "it is not contrary to nature to rob a man, if you are able, whom it is honorable to kill." The essential natural principle is the fellowship of humanity, which governs not only property rights, but the value of one's life itself.
Are property rights absolute? Cicero's explicit statements may not be as clear as they seem. To be sure, Cicero does not seem ever to have seriously entertained the idea that a redistribution of wealth was the key to solving Rome's social problems.44 Perhaps we can get a provisional answer, however, from Cicero's attitude toward taxation and from his treatment of the example of Aratus of Sicyon. There are times, Cicero says, when a property tax is necessary in spite of the statesman's best efforts. When that is necessary, "every effort must be made to let all the people realize that they must bow to the inevitable, if they wish to be saved." Sometimes taxation is necessary, although it would appear to be only a last resort, from Cicero's point of view. No doubt it would be preferable simply to tax the empire.45 Still, that property may be taxed in extreme situations illustrates the principle that property rights are not absolute, but that what is absolute is the common good. That is, justice and the common good may require that property rights be qualified for the good of society.
It is striking that Cicero's Roman examples concerning property rights are uniformly negative, and support his thesis that invasion of property rights creates social disharmony. But does upholding property rights create harmony? Perhaps not always, if we look at the example of Aratus of Sicyon. Aratus was confronted with a situation in which an unjust expropriation of property had been made some fifty years previously. In trying to right the situation, Aratus faced a dilemma. The initial expropriation was unjust, but fifty years' occupancy also gives rise to certain just expectations. From Cicero's point of view, both titles are just and neither title is just. This opens the way for what Julia Annas calls Aratus' "wholly pragmatic" solution.46 By securing a loan from the king of Egypt, Aratus bought out some of the current property holders, returning it to the original owners, and compensated some whose property had been confiscated, adjusting each situation according to the wishes of the parties. A dedication to "property rights" in the abstract does not help to solve Aratus' problem. If Cicero were to give property rights a fixed meaning, e.g., to preserve the property of present holders (which Wood suggests is Cicero's definition) Aratus' actions would not be worthy of praise. Cicero admires, not Aratus' adherence to a specific definition of legal rights, but his preservation of social harmony:
As a result [of Aratus' actions], harmony was preserved, and all parties went their way without a word of complaint. A great statesman, and worthy to have been born in our republic! For that is the appropriate way to deal with citizens; and not, as we have twice seen, to plant the spear in the forum and submit a citizen's goods to the cry of the auctioneer. The Greek, as a wise and outstanding man, thought that he should consult the interests of all; and it showed the wisdom and extreme reasonableness that befits a good citizen that he did not tear apart the interests of the citizens, but held everyone together under a single standard of equity [aequitas].47
Preserving social harmony (Concordia) is the ultimate principle of the polity as Cicero understands it, because the polity is an expression of the natural human impulse of sociability, as improved and extended by a rational agreement on the principles of justice. Thus the practical value of respecting property rights supports the theoretical goal of establishing justice. To say that the polity's "basic purpose" or "main purpose" is the preservation of property rights confuses the means to an end with the end itself. Preserving property is of course necessary for survival. In practice, their property is also something that most people care about more than they care about virtue philosophy after all begins with Socrates' attempt to get the Athenians to care about their souls more than their property. 48 Property is something that people become especially passionate about when it is taken away to be given to someone else for political reasons by government action. Both the passion to acquire and the passion to regain that which has been stolen are passions that create civil discord, as Cicero had seen very clearly in Rome.49
The basic purpose of the polity is to enable human beings to live happily, that is, virtuously. Another way of saying this is that the polity exists to achieve the common good. Conventional institutions, such as private property, can be instrumental to achieving that purpose, but are not ends in themselves. These conventions deserve respect, not because they exist by nature, but because they are products of the social and deliberative processes that both form the virtues and provide opportunities for their exercise. Nature establishes no plan for property rights. But once society has achieved a consensus on what those rights are, that consensus has moral and political consequences. Not all conventions are correct by nature, or else Cicero would not have to correct the Romans' definition of success. Still, no one is justified in violating legal rights for reasons of personal glory-seeking, as Romans have done. As Aratus' example shows, the common good, not personal self-interest or property rights, is the touchstone of justice.
1 See, e.g., Neal Wood, Cicero's Social and Political Thought (Berkeley, 1988), 1-14 (citations to "Wood" simply are to this work); M.T. Griffin and E. M. Atkins, Cicero on Duties (Cambridge, 1991), xviii; Paul Sigmund, "The Influence of Cicero ("Tully") on John Locke," paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, 1997; Gregory des Jardins, "Terms of De Officiis in Hume and Kant," Journal of the History of Ideas 28 (1967): 237-242; Marcia L. Colish, "Cicero's De Officiis and Machiavelli's Prince," Sixteenth Century Journal 9 (1978): 81-93; J. Jackson Barlow "The Fox and the Lion: Machiavelli Replies to Cicero," History of Political Thought 20 (1999): 627-645. href="#footnote1return">(Return)
2 Wood, 132. The thesis had earlier been presented in Neal Wood, "The Economic Dimension of Cicero's Political Thought: Property and State," Canadian Journal of Political Science 16 (December 1983), 739-756 (hereafter "Economic Dimension"). I concentrate on Wood's argument here because he presents it compactly and clearly. Wood acknowledges his reliance on Robert Denoon Cumming's work, Human Nature and History: A Study of the Development of Liberal Political Thought, 2 vols., Chicago, 1969, and G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (Ithaca, NY, 1981). Cumming's argument about Cicero and property rights is scattered throughout his two volume work. Although Wood's account of Cicero draws on Cumming, his position on Cicero's "economic individualism" seems a departure from Cumming's arguments. Ste. Croix mentions the issue of property only in passing, and also relies on Cumming. href="#footnote2return">(Return)
3 Wood, 120; cf. this passage at 105: "reason enables humans to create the state for the chief purpose of securing private property." href="#footnote3return">(Return)
4 Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis 2.73. For the Latin text I have used the version in the Loeb Classical Library edition; for translations I have sometimes used Walter Miller's Loeb translation, sometimes used the Griffin/Atkins translation, and sometimes used my own. href="#footnote4return">(Return)
5 Wood, 129-132. href="#footnote5return">(Return)
6 Wood, "Economic Dimension," 742-743; De Officiis 1.21-22. href="#footnote6return">(Return)
7 Wood, Cicero's Thought, 106-107; Letters to Atticus 1.19; what he actually says is "the rich are our army." href="#footnote7return">(Return)
8 cf. George H. Sabine and Thomas Thorson, A History of Political Theory, 4th ed. (Hinsdale, IL, 1973), 159: Cicero's "philosophy was the form of Stoicism which Panaetius had ... transmitted to the Scipionic Circle." href="#footnote8return">(Return)
9 cf. 1.13, 61, 66, where "indifference" to material circumstances is encouraged. href="#footnote9return">(Return)
10 See J.M. Carter, "Cicero: Politics and Philosophy," in Cicero and Virgil: Studies in Honour of Harold Hunt, ed. J.R.C. Martyn (Amsterdam, 1972), 35-36: Carter makes the point that the Stoic writers gave Cicero little in the way of systematic doctrine on the issue of property rights, owing to their indifference to the subject. href="#footnote10return">(Return)
12 Watson, 60, 74-83. href="#footnote12return">(Return)
13 Christian Meier, Caesar, tr. David McLintock (New York, 1995), 12. href="#footnote13return">(Return)
14 A.A. Long, "Cicero's Politics in De Officiis," in Justice and Generosity, ed. Andre Laks and Malcolm Schofield (Cambridge, 1995): 217: "Cicero preserves the traditional connotations of the buzz words laus, decus, etc., but thanks to his use of Greek philosophy he has shifted their denotations." href="#footnote14return">(Return)
15 2.27-29; also see 1.85 on factionalism in Roman politics. href="#footnote15return">(Return)
16 see, e.g., 1.26 href="#footnote16return">(Return)
17 1.25. href="#footnote17return">(Return)
18 On fides, see E.M. Atkins, "Domina et Regina Virtutum: Justice and Societas in De Officiis," Phronesis 35 (1990) 268, 279. href="#footnote18return">(Return)
19 Cicero discusses Caesar and gloria in 3.83-85; Long, 213-240, discusses ways in which seeking after gloria emerged as a problem, in Cicero's view. href="#footnote19return">(Return)
20 Although there is not enough space to argue the point here, part of Cicero's concern seems to be the familiar issue that leisure is necessary to the full development of civic capacities, and that the necessary leisure cannot be obtained by those who must work with their hands. This concern is not unique to Cicero, nor in itself undemocratic, as the examples of Thomas Jefferson and John Dewey suggest. Meier, esp. at 152-153, argues that it is wrong to view Caesar's transformation of Roman politics in terms of the class struggle. href="#footnote20return">(Return)
21 The view of the polity as a partnership is expressed in De Republica 1.39; on Caesar as seeking private glory, see De Republica 1.68, De Officiis 3.83-85, and Long, "Cicero's Politics," 215, 223-225. href="#footnote21return">(Return)
22 De Officiis 2.79; cf. Machiavelli, The Prince, tr. Harvey C. Mansfield (Chicago, 1985), ch. 17, p. 67: "above all, he must abstain from the property of others, because men forget the death of a father more quickly than the loss of a patrimony." href="#footnote22return">(Return)
23 Long, 225; see also 215, 217, 225-228. href="#footnote23return">(Return)
24 The discussion of common property is at 1.11-12 and 21-22. href="#footnote24return">(Return)
25 Wood, 111, emphasis added. href="#footnote25return">(Return)
26 Andrew R. Dyck, A Commentary on Cicero,De Officiis (Ann Arbor, 1996), 91-92. href="#footnote26return">(Return)
28 Mary P. Nichols, Citizens and Statesmen: A Study of Aristotle's Politics (Savage, MD, 1992), 17-19; cf. Dyck, op. cit. href="#footnote28return">(Return)
29 1.12-15. See also Cary J. Nederman, "Nature, Sin, and the Origins of Society: The Ciceronian Tradition in Medieval Political Thought," Journal of the History of Ideas 49 (1988), 8, and Cumming, vol. 2, 136. href="#footnote29return">(Return)
30 On this, see Cumming, vol. 2, 136 and the surrounding discussion. Although they appear to be in agreement about the purpose of the state, I think that Cumming would disagree with Wood's emphasis on Cicero's "economic individualism." href="#footnote30return">(Return)
31 see 1.158, where Cicero says that people do not live together for the purpose of production. href="#footnote31return">(Return)
32 De Republica 1.39. The ending of the last sentence of this fragment is missing, but the point is generally agreed to be identical with the point Cicero makes in De Officiis 1.158. href="#footnote32return">(Return)
33 The discussion is in "Economic Dimension," 747-48. href="#footnote33return">(Return)
34 Wood, "Economic Dimension," 749. href="#footnote34return">(Return)
35 Malcolm Schofield, "Cicero's Definition of Res Publica," in Saving the City: Philosopher-Kings and other classical paradigms (London, 1999), 185. href="#footnote35return">(Return)
36 Long, "Cicero's Politics," 217. href="#footnote36return">(Return)
37 Atkins, "Domina et Regina Virtutum," 268ff. href="#footnote37return">(Return)
38 Wood, "Economic Dimension," 750; see Wood, 120; Cumming, vol. 2, part 4, and Ste. Croix, 286. href="#footnote38return">(Return)
39 1.148; see Malcolm Schofield, "Morality and the Law: The Case of Diogenes of Babylon," in Saving the City, 173. href="#footnote39return">(Return)
40 De Officiis 3.52. At 3.53, however, Cicero draws our attention to the fact that a strict interpretation of Antipater's position would mean the end of buying and selling altogether. href="#footnote40return">(Return)
41 Schofield, "Morality and the Law"; Julia Annas, "Cicero on Stoic Moral Philosophy and Private Property," in Philosophia Togata: Essays on Philosophy and Roman Society, ed. Miriam Griffin and Jonathan Barnes (Oxford, 1989). href="#footnote41return">(Return)
42 De Officiis 3.57, emphasis added. href="#footnote42return">(Return)
43 De Officiis 3.61. href="#footnote43return">(Return)
44 Long, "Cicero's Politics," 213, 235; cf. Carter, "Cicero: Politics and Philosophy," 31. href="#footnote44return">(Return)
45 De Officiis 2.74. At 2.84 Cicero specifically recommends an expansionist policy. href="#footnote45return">(Return)
46 Annas, 170. href="#footnote46return">(Return)
47 De Officiis 2.83-84. href="#footnote47return">(Return)
48 Plato, Apology, 29d-e. href="#footnote48return">(Return)
49 See generally Long, "Cicero's Politics" on this issue. href="#footnote49return">(Return)