Cicero and Today’s Politics
“The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity and the brute by instinct.” – Cicero
I’ve always believed that freer, economically liberal nations that achieved tremendous economic prosperity thanks to their rights-respecting institutions (e.g., rule of law, property rights, intellectual property protection, freedom of contract, separation of church and state or secularism, limited or non-intrusive government and stable monetary system), would one day be savagely, brutally attacked by enemies from within.
No, I’m not specifically referring to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s ‘enemies from within’: the communists. This epithet, which has become so popular today with U.S. President Barack Obama’s reelection, was first used by Mārcus Tullius Cicerō (106 BCE– 43 BCE), a Roman philosopher, scholar and statesman, in describing the “traitors” who “rot the soul” of the Roman empire during his time.
Cicero believed that an ‘enemy from within’ is many times more dangerous than an ‘enemy at the gates’. He once said: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly.”
That so prescient, so timeless a statement reveals Cicero to be one of the earliest thinkers who were conscious of mass psychology. He clearly understood human nature and the role of philosophy, which permitted him to objectively grasp and evaluate the social and political psyche of his time. Well, that’s never surprising because Cicero was Rome’s greatest Aristotelian.
Unlike the ‘enemy at the gates’, the traitor or enemy from within “moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself”.
To Cicero, the traitor may not even know he’s actually a traitor– that what he’s doing is for the greater good of his own people or country. The enemy from within can be a passionate yet clueless ideologue strongly motivated by good intention. Like Cicero said:
“For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague.”
After Cicero’s death– he was murdered on December 7, 43 BC– the inevitable decline and fall of the Roman Republic followed.
As to the inevitable collapse of the Roman empire due to big government and its adoption of inflationary monetary system, Cicero didn’t put the blame on Caesar, but on the people of Rome “who have enthusiastically acclaimed and adored him and rejoiced in their loss of freedom and danced in his path and given him triumphal processions.” Yes, he blamed the people who hailed Caesar when “he speaks in the Forum of the “new wonderful good society” which shall now be Rome’s, interpreted to mean “more money, more ease, more security, and more living fatly at the expense of the industrious”.
Sounds eerily familiar, right? Didn’t the Greeks, the Spaniards and the Americans blissfully cheer and celebrate the tragic loss of their liberties and rights when they elected their statist, anti-freedom leaders who dutifully worked to guarantee the expansion and preservation of the “greater good” and to spread the wealth around? Didn’t the people call for more redistribution of wealth, higher taxation and more government powers to ensure the protection and preservation of the alleged ‘rights’ of the impoverished, the ordinary laborer, the ‘oppressed’ women, the LGTB community, including the welfare of spotted owls and mother nature?
Class warfare and the politics of envy came to America and other formerly prosperous nations the world over over the past few years. A dangerous, hybrid social virus, class warfare, which was invented and propagated by statist intellectuals to change the ‘oppressive’ system and status quo that ironically benefits them, infected the minds of the multitude– their understanding of reality and their already distorted view of morality.
There are two types of ‘enemies from within’: one is the traitor who knows what he’s doing and deliberately works to achieve his goal, while the other is a useful idiot. Both of them are altruists. The useful idiot (useful to political and corporate elites), who doesn’t even know he’s a traitor and whose political ideology is against everything he stands for, can be more dangerous than the deliberate/dishonest traitor. However, both types are socio-political ideologues passionately motivated by good intention and by the greater good.
Meanwhile in the Philippines, the altruistic, well-intentioned traitors and enemies within blissfully talk about guaranteeing women’s “pleasurable sex”, funding condoms to defeat overpopulation and poverty, and doling out taxpayers’ alms to the poor without really focusing on what creates wealth. Filipino ideologues and politicians believe they can defeat poverty, social inequality and overpopulation by simply passing new laws and by giving the government more dictatorial powers to serve and deliver the greater good.
Now, another great economy has been under constant siege by enemies from within: Hong Kong.
“The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” — Thomas Jefferson
Here’s a related story from WSJ:
After Hong Kong’s implementation of its first minimum wage law, a lot of people have wondered whether the city is throwing over its free market principles. Hong Kong is well-known to economists and the corporate world as the freest economy in the world. However, over the past several months the city government has been passing statist laws and measures (like the ones designed to tackle speculation in the property market, stamp duties of as much as 15% on property that are re-sold within two years, tightening of credit available for pricier purchases and food labeling law) that are opposed to laissez-faire system.
Simon Lee, co-founder of free-market think tank the Lion Rock Institute, made the following observation.
Mr. Lee: We are Fine –- The Government Shouldn’t Intervene So Actively
“Some of these [control] measures were introduced reluctantly. I think legislators are living in this illusion where everybody is asking the government to do something. I would argue that there is a silent majority in Hong Kong that thinks everything is fine and that what we need is time to recover from some of the damages.
Controlling prices is fooling ourselves by covering up the costs elsewhere. Property prices have been going up and the government was asked to do something by people who do not really own property, as well as by Beijing, which has been fighting inflation through administration. If we are trying to fool ourselves into believing that it will be fine after we fend off speculators, then we are not looking into the real issue, which is the peg to the U.S. dollar. The best way to go is to let the Hong Kong dollar float.
The government wants to help workers, but at the end it is proposing a policy that will displace them. If you make labor more expensive, companies will turn to capital [that is, they will buy equipment that replaces human labor].
Hong Kong is a highly competitive market — capital is largely available by a hugely efficient financial system. We are unlike other countries that have minimum wage. One of our biggest worries is whether minimum wage law is going to block social mobility.”