Stoic News

By Dave Kelly

Monday, April 21, 2003

Cicero's Defense of Property Rights - The Claremont Institute.

"Cicero's influence on subsequent political thought is taken for an established fact, but the nature of that influence remains uncertain.1 He was an important figure in natural law theory, but beyond that outmoded field how far does his influence extend? Is he worth studying anymore? Our uncertainty is compounded by shifts in fashion among succeeding generations of scholars and the baggage they bring with them. Can we make the case that Cicero is important without forcing him to say things that are important to us? We may take the term "property" as an example. Few words in modern political philosophy are as powerful as "property," and its almost inevitable companions "private" and "rights." Thus my title, to a contemporary political scientist, almost tells the whole story: Cicero defends property rights. That is important. From this much might be expected to follow — perhaps even the whole train of Lockean abuses that leads inexorably to possessive individualism. This is indeed what we find when we read the only full-length study of Cicero's political thought of the past generation, Neal Wood's Cicero's Social and Political Thought. In this paper I propose to re-examine Cicero's defense of property rights, and to raise the question whether Wood's account of Cicero and property rights is persuasive."


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