Classical Rome and the Twelfth Century: The Redefinition of Political Ethics and the Idea of Unity

Classical Rome and the Twelfth Century: The Redefinition of Political Ethics and the Idea of Unity

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The Roman Empire achieved glory and power by uniting the distinctive nations that it conquered to create a unique sense of community that is unrivaled to this day. It was Rome that brought us the famous orator Cicero who examined the question of membership in the res publica which encompassed all the various nations that formed the Roman republic. Cicero was able to use the Roman republic not only to examine a unique idea of membership, but also establish a distinctive set of political ethics and examine human morality. Cicero’s argument regarding moral behavior and civics is so precise and logical that it has transcended time; it maintains the adept ability to influence other famous thinkers and significant literature produced in other cultures and eras. For example, John of Salisbury’s book Policratcus is a treatise of political speculation which incorporates Cicero’s classical thought processes regarding moral obligation of the state and its citizens. However, even though both Cicero and John of Salisbury utilize the same classical terminology of the state and unity, it is imperative that we acknowledge that Cicero’s argument regarding the organization of the state and human obligation is based on reason while Salisbury’s argument regarding the body politic and morality is based on faith.
In order to be capable of comprehending John of Salisbury’s argument regarding moral obligation of the state and its citizens, we must first understand Cicero’s framework of political ethics and his own reassessment of the supremacy of moral reflections. Cicero’s chain of logic begins with Stoic thought which asserted that the world is nature, nature is divine reason, and therefore inherent reason exists in all aspects of the world. Humans a...

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...eason. Conversely, Salisbury’s argument relies on the inflexible hierarchal structure, passive membership, and avoidance of sin that all stem out of faith. Salisbury claims that “so long as the duties of each individual are performed with an eye to the welfare of the whole, so long, that is, as justice is practiced, the sweetness of honey pervades the allotted sphere of all” (257). However, this argument has very different meanings depending the time, the place, and the culture. For Salisbury the welfare of the commonwealth was based on obedience of divine law and utilization of faith, while Cicero has forever cemented in our minds that we are all bonded together by obligations because we operate on divine reason.

Works Cited

Cicero. On Obligations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Salisbury, John. Policraticus. New York, NY: Russell & Russell, 1963.

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