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«udged by the conventional standard of the number of monoJ graphs, scholarly articles, and dissertations on Cicero's philosophy, regard for Cicero as ...»

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Cicero intended in the passage in question to point up the inherent impossibility of the regime portrayed in the Republic is a matter deserving further consideration. Here it is possible, however, only to comment on some apparent inconsistency in Strauss in holding to this interpretation of the Republic and on the general significance of such an interpretation. Strauss seemed to hesitate at times about the view that the best regime was impossible; that is reflected in his having written, for instance, that "the actualization of the best regime proves indeed to be impossible or at least extremely improbable.... "68 This reader believes that the text of the Republic gives ample reason for such hesitation; then too, what is one to say of the logic in a presentation of a best regime that is in the nature of things impossible. The hesitation of Strauss was probably related to his recognition of this logical problem, foralready in Natural Right and History in commenting upon the contentions of Cicero and Burke that the best regime has been realized within their respective national experiences, Strauss wrote, "These contentions of Burke and of Cicero are, if taken by themselves, in perfect agreement with the classical principles: the best policy being essentially `possible,' it could have become actual at some place and at some time."8 9 The attachment in Strauss to the notion that the best regime, that in thought or word, is impossible is akin to his reluctance to associate a Socratic-like Cicero with a natural law teaching that professes to be in harmony with the requisites of civil society. In each of these cases what is coming to the forefront is Strauss' finding in classical philosophy and his own conviction of a radical gap between the philosophic life and the civil or moral life, between philosophy and the city. Justice and moral virtue," the very realm of prudence in which classical political philosophy is rooted, are "legiti mated" only insofar as they are necessary conditions of the philosophic life. The sphere of prudence or morality is transcended by the philosopher who can look back upon it as a datum among others in the vast array of things to be understood. 70 Man is not set in a Republic when it is properly understood. This line of interpretation would avoid the inconsistency pointed out in the remainder of this paragraph. De Re Publica ii. 52 is the text of Cicero that Strauss has called upon in the four instances.

s8 Strauss, "Natural Law," op. cit., p. 81; see also "Jerusalem and Athens:

Some Introductory Reflections," Commentary 43 (June, 1967), p. 57.

69 Strauss, Natural Right., op. cit., p. 321.

70 Ibid., pp. 151-52; What Is..., op, cit., p. 94. See especially Strauss's view


potentially harmonious ambience; the practical perspective does not blend with or flow into the speculative; it is only useful to, though incongruous with, the speculative. Here it is not appropriate to do more than say that this does not seem to fit Cicero, that Cicero was convinced of the overall harmony of man's setting, that he took his bearings from the practical perspective and made his judgments in the speculative realm in accord with that perspective. Cicero was capable of accepting the constraints of a given political situation, of working for a second-best when circumstances made it the best that could be had, of encouraging amelioration in Rome by portraying ancestors and ancestral ways as better than they actually were. He was as capable of this as he incontestably was of flattering an audience to win his case. These capacities need not entail, and do not seem to, an inherent incongruity between the peak of human thought about the right or the just and the potential of human nature.

Compared to Strauss' dependence on Cicero, Voegelin in his major works rarely turns to Cicero. There are relatively few citations of Cicero, but on several occasions Cicero or passages from his writings receive extended consideration. Voegelin looks to Cicero, the philosophical writer, giving no consideration to his speeches and letters. Although he finds Cicero seriously deficient as a philosopher, there is no evidence that the tradition of hostile criticism of Cicero is directly responsible for Voegelin's judgment; it appears, rather, that the grounding-points of his own thought, his understanding of the nature of philosophy and his historical elaboration of its life, set the standard for his judgment of Cicero. For Voegelin, Cicero is implicated with his judgment of Rome, and Rome is, in turn, implicated with the Ecumenic Age, but this is, of course, a statement from the perspective of one looking at the substance of Voegelin's work as we now have it. Whatever encounter Voegelin had directly with the thought of Cicero no doubt helped him work out his view of Rome and the Ecumenic Age.

As Strauss and many others, Voegelin employs Cicero as a source for information on philosophy at that time. This is in evidence in

a significant discussion in his recently republished essay, "Reason:

The Classic Experience"; there Voegelin draws on Cicero's Tusculan Disputations to reveal a Stoic understanding of "mental disease as a of the "status of morality" in "A Giving of Accounts" (with Jacob Klein), The College (St. John's College Magazine), 22 (April, 1970).


disturbance of noetically ordered existence." 1 What is noteworthy about Voegelin's use of Cicero as a source is that he draws information only on the Stoics from Cicero and that generally, though not explicitly in the instance just cited, he associates Cicero without qualification with the Stoic teaching. Voegelin takes, for example, the statement on natural law by Laelius in the De Re Publica as Cicero's "confession," and on another occasion he treats the critique of Stoicism in the De Natura Deorum simply as the statement of an Epicurean and in a manner that suggests that Cicero was not at all sympathetic with this attack. 2 Since "Ciceronian Stoicism" plays an important role in Voegelin's overall explanation of the life and "deformation of philosophy," it may seem understandable that Voegelin is only or primarily interested in the Stoicism in Cicero.

It is remarkable, nonetheless, that he gives no evident attention to Cicero's claims to be an Academic and a follower of Socrates. Accordingly there is, in Voegelin's writings, no attention to Cicero's effort to sort out the claims of the schools of his time and a tendency to underestimate the complexity of Cicero's dialogues as vehicles of his teaching. Without attention to these matters Cicero has little chance to make any claim as a philosopher.

Voegelin's most direct attack on Cicero as philosopher occurs in The New Science of Politics wherein Augustine's dissatisfaction with Varro giving priority to the "human things" over the "divine things" in Rome provides the occasion to take up Cicero." ``-The more supple Cicero," wrote Voegelin, was in basic agreement with "his friend" Varro and that is best expressed in the De Natura Deorum.

Cicero is then presented as a kind of Roman who represented "the compactness of Roman experience, the inseparable community of gods and men in the historically concrete civitas, the simultaneousness of human and divine institution of a social order." Roman compactness is for Voegelin an "archaic survival"; it is an anachronism in the process of historical "differentiation" and a somewhat innocent anticipation of "Gnostic immanentization." Cicero's De Re

Publica is interpreted by Voegelin as a document of this archaic

7 1 Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, trans. & ed. Gerhart Niemeyer, (Notre Dame:

University of Notre Dame Press, 1978), pp. 99-101.

72 Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974), pp. 46, 40.

73 Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), p. 87 if.

74 Ibid., passim but especially p. 168.


compactness. It stands against the Greek way in its rejection of the "fictitious" city of the Platonic Socrates in favor of the superiority of the Roman political order. It will not range as Greek learning did but turns instead to problems useful to the Roman order, and it prefers "the vita civilis of the statesman.. to the vita quieta of the sage. "76 Later in The Ecumenic Age, Voegelin shows an additional perspective on Cicero's constricted view. There in the context of a detailed discussion of Polybius as "pragmatic historian," Voegelin sees in the work of that Romanized Greek the "appalling decline of philosophy" to the "common understanding," and a pragmatic outlook which holds that "what did not count in the game of power

did not count at all." Then Voegelin turns aside to Cicero and adds:

There was already in the making the attitude of Cicero who with a sneer dismissed the best polities of the Hellenic philosophers as fancies of no importance by the side of the best polity that was created on the battlefields by the imperatores of Rome. The intellectual and spiritual atmosphere forcefully reminds one of Stalin's dictum: How many divisions has the Pope?

The "atmosphere" was that of the Ecumenic Age at its peak; that age was "an epoch... when the societies which had differentiated the truth of existence through revelation and philosophy succumbed, in pragmatic history, to new societies of the imperial type." 77 The old societies are dissolved by "the blows of pragmatic history" into an ecumene which "had not yet sufficient life of its own to react against the orgy of obscene destruction.... "78 Cicero as a Roman is seen as infected with the virus of pragmatic success.

Thus Voegelin appears to reach a fuller understanding of what first appeared to be almost a mystery of archaic Roman compactness. 79 His judgment of Cicero the philosopher remains, however, constant.

There seems at times to be almost an anger on Voegelin's part with what he clearly considers to be Cicero's betrayal of philosophy.

The thinker who can speak of philosophy as a "foreign" learning," to be respected but nevertheless to be considered as a spice that will add perfection to superiority, has, one may safely say, understood

–  –  –

79 Rome never seems to get from Voegelin the measured respect he has for tradition-oriented later regimes as that in England and for regimes like the United States with a common sense foundation.


neither the nature of the spiritual revolution that found its expression in philosophy nor the nature of its universal claim upon man.

The peculiar way in which Cicero mixes his respect for Greek philosophy with amused contempt indicates that the truth of theory, while sensed as an enlargement of the intellectual and moral horizon, could have no existential meaning for a Roman. 80 Thus Voegelin reveals surely the most important basis for his judgment of Cicero. Cicero's teaching is ultimately without intelligibility for his psyche has not "become luminous for the order of reality through the revelation of the one, divine ground of all being as the Nous."s l Cicero's outlook or "philosophy" is a form of what Voegelin calls a "secondary ideology"; it is "richly supplied with ordo, but. lacking... the noetic clarification that renders conscious the origin of the ordo in the existential tension toward the ground." 82 Here it is appropriate to mention that the monograph, Cicero and The Politics of the Public Orthodoxy, by Wilhelmsen and Kendall appears to be a friendly attempt to refine Voegelin's assessment of Cicero as a philosopher. This essay draws on a Voegelinian framework of analysis and takes some direction from Voegelin's brief consideration of the De Natura Deorum in The New Science of Politics.

Wilhelmsen and Kendall perform a more extensive analysis of the De Natura Deorum and draw out into the open a utilitarian strain in Cicero's thought which merits the closest attention. Overall the essay appreciates Cicero the philosopher; he is described as "deeply grounded in Plato, and by no means the popularized and rhetorician of Stoic doctrine that some commentators have made him out to be."

But Cicero as Roman statesman is not seen in harmony with Cicero the philosopher. Wilhelmsen and Kendall do not find the philosopher, defeated by the patriot and statesman as Voegelin does, but they leave the reader with another version of "two Ciceros." Cicero is seen as unable to bring together two truths, "two orders of meaning," that of theoretical truth and that of society.

There is, it should be noted, a bit of ambiguity, only that, in Voegelin's assessment of Cicero the philosopher. He acknowledges that Cicero through his Hortensius was a mediator to Augustine of the tradition of philosophy as a way of life.84 But more importantly 80 Voegelin, The New Science..., op. cit., pp. 90-91.

81 Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, op. cit., p. 237.

8 2 Voegelin, Anamnesis, op. cit., p. 189.

Kendall and Wilhelmsen, The Intercollegiate Review, op. cit., pp. 97, 99.

84 Eric Voegelin, Plato and Aristotle (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1957), p. 272.


and as already: noted, he treats Cicero as a Stoic as well as a Roman.

Although on at least one occasion Voegelin was puzzled over the co-existence of civil and philosophic theologies in Rome, in the case of Cicero he has always seen the Stoic as subservient to the Roman. 85 And although in both capacities as Stoic and Roman Cicero is implicated with the loss of the ground of philosophic experience, in his very discussion of the "Stoic deformation of symbols" Voegelin observes that the Stoic symbolization has the civilizational purpose and effect of protecting an historically achieved state of insight against the disintegrative pressures to which the differentiated truth of existence is exposed in the spiritual and intellectual turmoil of the ecumenic situation." Voegelin then singles out Cicero as having discerned the forces of disintegration as well as the necessity of protecting the truth through language symbols.... "88 Earlier Voegelin suggested that the task of symbolization, necessary and important as it is, falls generally to lesser men. S 7 On balance then, perhaps the thrust of Voegelin's critique of Cicero is to measure him against Plato.

The Roman Cicero might be said to have a "civilizational purpose" comparable to that of the Stoic Cicero. It is to protect truth through institutions. Voegelin wrote of this effort when he reflected upon Plato's recognition that ".. institutions will be required for continuing and transmitting spiritual insights, as well as the intellectual culture that is necessary for their exposition and communication through the generations.... 88 In the light of this and other parts of Voegelin's consideration of Plato and Aristotle as well as his appreciation for the noetically informed common sense tradition of AngloAmerican institutions, one might expect some appreciation for Cicero, especially for Cicero the moral and political philosopher.

But Rome-centered Cicero apparently exemplifies too much the stable tradition-centered societies that for Voegelin are so infertile a ground for the development of a true science of politics. As he brought out clearly in his important article on "The Oxford Political Philosophers," Voegelin is wary of "philosophers" who are in too 86 Eric Voegelin, The World of the Polis (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1957), pp. 13-14; The New Science..., op. cit., pp. 89, 91;

The Ecumenic Age, op. cit., pp. 44-47.

86 Ibid., pp. 43-44.

87 Ibid., p. 39.

ss Voegelin, The World of..., op. cit., p. 240.


great a harmony with their environment. ss But is Cicero so content with the Rome of his time? To embrace a tradition is not, of course, necessarily to abandon a critical posture and that is especially so when the tradition does not authoritatively inform the initnediate environment. Yet even if Cicero's prudent discontent is acknowledged, there is still a great gap between the "theopl%af ic " peak that defines the philosopher for Voegelin and the practical perspective, the concern with "human things," from which Cicero takes his bearings. Whether that gap is unbridgeable and it must be concluded that there is a fundamental incompatibility between these outlooks should at least await a better attempt to understand Cicero the philosopher as he understood himself.

This essay has sought to recall the life and works of Cicero, to review the tradition of opposition to him and to point out and assess recent considerations of Cicero as a political philosopher, with particular attention to those by Strauss and Voegelin. It seems clear that whatever new attempts are made to understand Cicero, the political philosopher must reach for an understanding of Cicero the philosopher and that such attempts will find themselves confronting the tension between philosophy and practice. That tension, which manifested itself in Cicero's life and in much of the tradition of hostile criticism of him, is deeply involved in the consideration of Cicero by Strauss and Voegelin. To take up Cicero anew is not at all to remove oneself from some of the most interesting and central questions in current political philosophy.

–  –  –

S9 Eric Voegelin, "The Oxford Political Philosophers," The Philosophical

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