Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 November 2022
The introduciton opens my exploration of Cicero’s notion of will. I argue that the will is an original Latin contribution to the Western mind. Cicero’s letters, speeches, and treatises show how his skill for language gave him a subtler take on events and a richer repertoire of persuasion. Practical uses of will are foremost: mapping alliances, winning elections, and navigating the “economy of goodwill.” From his earliest writings, however, voluntas emerges in normative claims about law and politics: that Rome’s mass of precedents could be rationalized through Greek ideas. Chief among these is Plato’s precept that reason must rule, and thus an alliance of philosophy and tradition can save the dying Republic. Transmuting political failure into philosophical innovation, Cicero lays the foundation for an idea – the will and its freedom – with tremendous consequences for Western thought. For Cicero, voluntas populi becomes the binding force of a nominally popular but functionally aristocratic constitution. If this state of affairs looks familiar in today’s “democratic” republics, we have Cicero in part to thank. Insistence on the singularity of popular will and mistrust of the common citizen lie at the heart of today’s political crisis and will require Ciceronian creativity to fix.
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