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Cicero: Dirty Tricks, Roman-Style

March 17, 2012

Philip Freeman in Wall Street Journal:

It was a bitter and volatile campaign, with accusations of inconsistency, incompetence and scandal filling the air. Candidates competed to portray themselves as the true conservative choice, while voters fretted about the economy and war threatened in the Middle East. The year was 64 B.C., and Marcus Tullius Cicero was running for Roman consul.

Cicero was a political outsider from a small town near Rome, but he was a brilliant man and gifted speaker, with a burning desire to gain the highest office in the ancient republic. As the campaign approached, his brother Quintus—a practical and sometimes violent man who would later help Julius Caesar conquer Gaul—decided that his older sibling needed to learn a few things about how to win an election.

“My dear Marcus,” he wrote, “you have many wonderful qualities, but those you lack you must acquire, and it must appear as if you were born with them.” Quintus knew that the odds were against his brother: “To speak bluntly, since you are seeking the most important position in Rome and since you have so many potential enemies, you can’t afford to make any mistakes. You must conduct a flawless campaign with the greatest thoughtfulness, industry and care.”

And so he laid out an election plan for Marcus in a short pamphlet in Latin that remains almost unknown to modern readers. The candid advice that Quintus gives would make Machiavelli blush, but it rings as true today as it did 2,000 years ago. [More]

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