Accepting Useful Tyranny

Cicero, de Officiis 3.83

Behold for yourself the man who wanted to be the master of the Roman people and of all nations – and he made it happen! If anyone says that this desire is honorable, they are out of their minds. For it is to approve the passing of laws and liberty, and to think that wicked and detestable oppression is a glorious thing. Whoever confesses that it is not a noble thing to rule as a monarch in that state which was free and rightly ought to be, but that it was a useful thing for the one who was able to pull it off – with what upbraiding or with what conviction could I even attempt to ward that person off from such an error? For is it possible, by the gods, that the most shameful and base patricide of the fatherland might be useful to someone although he, who bound himself that way, be named a parent by his oppressed citizens? Utility must be directed by honor, and indeed, as these two things seem to differ from each other in name, in actual fact they seem to mean the same.

Quid igitur minuta colligimus, hereditates, mercaturas, venditiones fraudulentas? Ecce tibi, qui rex populi Romani dominusque omnium gentium esse concupiverit idque perfecerit. Hanc cupiditatem si honestam quis esse dicit, amens est; probat enim legum et libertatis interitum earumque oppressionem taetram et detestabilem gloriosam putat. Qui autem fatetur honestum non esse in ea civitate, quae libera fuerit quaeque esse debeat, regnare, sed ei, qui id facere possit, esse utile, qua hunc obiurgatione aut quo potius convitio a tanto errore coner avellere? Potest enim, di immortales, cuiquam esse utile foedissimum et taeterrimum parricidium patriae, quamvis is, qui se eo obstrinxerit, ab oppressis civibus parens nominetur? Honestate igitur dirigenda utilitas est, et quidem sic, ut haec duo verbo inter se discrepare, re unum sonare videantur.

Leave a Reply