Cicero On Anacyclosis
Marcus Tullius Cicero, in 54 BC, in his work “The Republic of Cicero” had some things to mention on the topic. Regretfully, we are missing some of his key work due to the loss of the historical documents, but we do have some preserved statements from Cicero:[i]
“…and this great mischief arises whether under the rule of the better class, or under a tyrannical faction, or under the regal government; and even frequently under the popular form. At the same time from the various forms of government of which I have spoken, something excellent is wont to emanate. For the changes and vicissitudes in public affairs, appear to move in a circle of revolutions; which when recognized by a wise man, as soon as he beholds them impending, if he can moderate their course in the administration of affairs, and restrain them under his control; he acts truly the part of a great citizen, and almost of a divine man. Therefore I think a fourth kind of government, moderated and mixed from those three of which I first spoke, is most to be approved.”
In this, Cicero is stating that all three forms (rule by many, rule by one, rule by few) are less than desirable. A fourth, being a mixture of the three, is desired. In many ways, this is what we’re trying to build on this website.
Additionally, Cicero notes how those leaders who can withstand the circle of revolutions are very wise men, perhaps even divine men. This was the power of the cycle, especially during Cicero’s time, that it would potentially take a divine man to stop it within the context of the current frameworks.
He goes on:
“And this I say of these three kinds of government, not of the agitations and disturbances incidental to them, but of their tranquil and regular state. Those varieties are principally remarkable for the defects I have alluded to. Then they have other pernicious failings, for every one of these governments is travelling a dangerous road, bordering on a slippery and precipitous path.”
In effect, they will all crash eventually. He goes on to address a way to correct it:
“For as in stringed instruments or pipes, as well as in singing with voices, a certain harmony is to be formed with distinct sounds, an interruption to which cannot be borne by refined ears; this kindred and harmonious concert being produced by the modification of dissimilar voices. So a government temperately organized from the upper, the lower and middle orders blended together, harmonizes like music by the agreement of dissimilar sounds. And that which in song is called by musicians, harmony, is concord in a state; the strongest and best bond of safety in every republic; yet which without justice cannot be preserved.”
Cicero noted some very interesting elements of a sustainable government all the way back in 54 BC. This is how long the cycle has been occurring and how long humanity has been rejecting learning from their history.
Cicero, in De republica, speaks in-depth on a few key topics. These topics include a well-regulated mixture of the three government forms (no strict democracy or rule by many), the need for a proper distribution of classes (upper, middle, and lower. Meaning to not seek out “equality” or a destruction of either one group), and the importance of understanding the “regular curving path” from which governments follow.
All of these items are equally important, as more modern republics have demonstrated. If any class becomes too powerful over the others, massive problems form. If any of the government forms are left entirely to their own devices, they will degrade. Addressing these items are key issues of addressing anacyclosis.
[i] Cicero, Marcus Tullius. De republica. Gutenberg.