- Cicero’s Ideal Statesman in Theory and Practice by Jonathan Zarecki
In this well-organized study of Cicero’s political thought, Zarecki traces Cicero’s intellectual and political life following the rector figure of the De Re Publica, the portrait of the ideal statesman he renames the “rector-ideal.” His book, as explained in the introduction, seeks to demonstrate that Academic skepticism had a “profound influence” on Cicero’s political philosophy (2), that the “rector-ideal” was “more than a philosophical archetype with no intended functionality beyond its literary use” (3), and that this ideal statesman became, in the unfortunate vocabulary of higher education, Cicero’s “rubric for assessing” Pompey, Caesar, and Antony as well as the “primary stimulus” for his own behavior during the 40s (4). Furthermore, even if it is not stated as a primary goal, Zarecki wishes to make the case that Cicero had a “greater sympathy towards individual power than is generally allowed” (5). Over the course of the book’s five chapters, Zarecki offers the occasional insight into the relationship of Cicero’s political thought and his actions, yet his approach is ultimately reductive: the “rector-ideal” becomes his own idée fixe, and Zarecki himself, much like his version of Cicero, becomes trapped within the limitations of his own intellectual creation.
The first two chapters combine biographical and intellectual sketches to draw the background to the De Re Publica, beginning with Cicero’s Academic skepticism (chapter 1: “Academic Skepticism and Cicero’s Political Philosophy”) and then continuing on to the turbulent period from his exile to Pompey’s sole consulship, with a nod to the De Oratore (chapter 2: “Cicero’s Philosophical Politics”). The final three chapters cover the De Re Publica in relation to Caesar and Pompey during the civil war (chapter 3: “De Re Publica and the Outbreak of Civil War”), through Caesar’s victory and the Caesarian speeches (chapter 4: “Rex Caesar and the Rector-ideal”), and finally Cicero’s “post-Caesarian philosophy” and the end of the rector-ideal (chapter 5: “The Ultimate Failure of the Rector-ideal”).
Building on Heinze’s original 1924 discussion of the rector, as well as on subsequent scholarship, Zarecki proceeds through his argument with deliberate care. In good Ciceronian fashion, he introduces his argument with a careful definition of his terms and explication of his assumptions, and then follows Cicero’s career with an eye always on the “rector-ideal.” Zarecki’s first two goals are easily met, especially given the generalized form in which he discusses them. So, for example, the result of Academic skepticism’s influence is that Cicero was open to new ideas (42), and that the rector-ideal was not an epistemic conclusion but an [End Page 277] opinion, “in the Philonian sense” (43–44). And that Cicero used his portrait of the rector not to influence the actions of Caesar or Pompey, but to influence his own actions (11 and 91), turns out to be a simplified version of Heinze’s conclusion, that Cicero wrote the entire De Re Publica “not only for others, but for himself, in order to establish a guiding principle for his political activity,” and that in the years following its publication he used this work to assess his own behavior (“Ciceros ‘Staat’ als politische Tendenzschrift,” Hermes 59 , 73–94). Where Zarecki departs from previous scholarship is in the last of the goals listed above, but once the terms of the argument shift from “individual power” to a more strictly defined form of monarchy, the conclusion becomes far more qualified (rightly so) and much less interesting: Cicero was accepting of monarchy “in the most basic sense of the word, the rule by a single moral individual who served the best interests of the state” (161), a claim that does not seem more than is generally allowed, and one that Heinze had long ago acknowledged as well-founded (87–88).
Zarecki covers complex ground in a lucid fashion, with some stimulating insights along the way. Yet while...