I was re-reading Cicero’s De Officiis (On Moral Responsibility) after our recent Global Dialogue. I trust you have received a copy of the statement of participants in those dialogue discussions on the immediate need to promote responsibility across cultures and sectors, from individuals to organizations.
Our Caux Round Table Principles for Government rest on a premise of responsibility using the concept of office as a trust.
I was reading Walter Miller’s translation from the Latin and was quite surprised to see, for the first time, that Cicero had advocated the same moral vision for those in government as does the Caux Round Table.
For the administration of the government, like the office of a trustee, must be conducted for the benefit of those entrusted to one’s care, not of those to whom it is entrusted. Now, those who care for the interests of a part of the citizens and neglect another part, introduce into the civil service a dangerous element—dissension and party strife (Book I, XXV, 85).
Our Principles for Government start with this standard of conduct:
Fundamental Principle: Public power is held in trust for the community.
Power brings responsibility. Power is a necessary moral circumstance in that it binds the actions of one to the welfare of others.
Therefore, the power given by public office is held in trust for the benefit of the community and its citizens. Officials are custodians only of the powers they hold. They have no personal entitlement to office or the prerogatives thereof.
Holders of public office are accountable for their conduct while in office. They are subject to removal for malfeasance, misfeasance or abuse of office. The burden of proof that no malfeasance, misfeasance or abuse of office has occurred lies with the officeholder.
The state is the servant and agent of higher ends. It is subordinate to society. Public power is to be exercised within a framework of moral responsibility for the welfare of others. Governments that abuse their trust shall lose their authority and may be removed from office.
It is reassuring to discover that our approach has an excellent precedent.