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No Room for Class Consciousness in an Utopia


Marcus Tullius Cicero is the man who lived in the period of the fall of the Roman Republic, the most active period of the Roman history, (106-43 BC). He was one of the important figures in his time as an orator, lawyer and statesman. His main contribution to the Roman world is to create a Latin philosophical vocabulary and terms, which are still used. His way of using the language was at the top level; his various speeches in the senate and the court showed that he was extremely impressive and successful orator. I always think that I had better fall into a cesspit than defend myself against Cicero in the court if I were a Roman citizen.

Besides his superior skill as an orator and lawyer, his political career was a remarkable one that Cicero placed politics above all his activities. At that time prominent offices were under the control of wealthy and aristocratic families. Although Cicero’s family was neither aristocratic nor wealthy, he was elected to each principal offices (quaestor, aedile, praetor) at his early age, and he finally became consul for the year 63 BC. He even received the honorary title, the Father of the Country (Pater Patriae). After Julius Caesar’s assasination, Cicero became popular during the period of instability. However, he failed to escape from being murdered as the enemy of the state because of his opposition to Mark Antony. At this point I do not want to go into historical details.

Cicero was obviously a patriotic republican. But how come he became the enemy of the state once he was the Father of the Country? What did he overlook? It is likely to find the answer to these questions if we trace his state model in his On the Republic (De Re Publica). Firstly, Cicero bases the degeneration of the Roman Republic on lack of some noble values, and believes that the Roman Republic would overcome the difficulties if the Roman elites, particularly in the senate improved their character and put their individual virtue and social stability before their fame, wealth and so on. Secondly, he asserts that his model, the republic, was the superior to any other goverment because it brought monarchy, aristocracy and democracy together. But Cicero’s state model was in fact based on a system ruled by the aristocratic class, even if his idea of concordia ordinum was a coalition of the senate and equites.

This kind of system, concordia ordinum, is too unrealistic an even utopic , expecting a group of aristocratic families to protect the public interest! It is a Ciceronian utopia, which shows us Cicero had no class consciousness. I have used the term ‘utopia’ in particular, where individual and social identities, consequently class consciousness, are reduced to the lowest level possible. If a group of elite people had the power in a society, no matter it is a democracy, monarchy or aristocracy, they would by no means make concessions to the majority. They will never give up their gracious living. The idea of reconciliation between the classes, whose interests are completely opposite to each other, is just a vain attempt and wishful thinking.

I want to draw your attentions to similarities to present days: the bottom line is the most important thing for the head or owner of a private company. Neither they care what their workers have been experiencing or suffering, nor they try to improve workers’ standard of living, but they definitely care just the bottom line! Labour class is merely a tool to yield the profit to them. I think that Cicero, the Father of the Roman Country, had a lot of painful experiences to teach us already. Having class consciousness must be the primary mission for the working class.

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reminds me of Chris Harman's words about Cicero in A People's History of the World, p81 :-))

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