Virtue in Chains

Marcus Tullius Cicero was a remarkable jurist and student of the moral sense. But in his time, his Roman Republic was rotting from within.  Executed on orders of Mark Antony, Cicero lived until the death throes of his beloved republic.

Once, however, he – without knowing it – put his finger on the disease which was eating away at the life force sustaining Republicanism – the culture which valued and sustained a res publica – a “common thing.”

This month of June in 59 BC, 2,081 years ago, Cicero wrote a letter to his friend, Atticus.

Atticus, as I recall, was out of Rome in Greece on a business trip.  The triumvirate of Crassus, Pompey and Julius Caesar was in power unconstitutionally.  Crassus allegedly fixed elections and bribed juries.  Pompey had legions loyal to his person.  Caesar had smarts.

Cicero wrote: “We are held down on all sides.  We don’t object any longer to the loss of our freedom. … All with one accord groan of the present state of affairs, yet no one does or says a thing to better it.”  The only one to speak or offer open opposition is a young Curio.

All this, wrote Cicero, dolor est maior, cum videas civitatis voluntatem solutam, virtutem adligatam: “only makes sadness the greater for we see that the will of the community is not tied down, its virtue is in chains.”

Whenever virtue is in chains, the state does not belong to citizens, but to those who dictate the terms and conditions of life.

That is the way some years ago, the Caux Round Table took for its motto the Latin phrase – Virtue is not Chained: