Thursday, March 16, 2017

Cicero on human bonds

A reader sent in this quote from the Roman writer Cicero.  I like it as it avoids both an abstract individualism and an abstract universalism and attempts to describe instead the real, particular loves, loyalties and identities that are characteristic of human life:
This from Cicero in the 1st century B.C. (De Oficiis 1.53-54):
There are several levels of human society. Starting from that which is universal, the next is that of a common race, nation or language (which is what most of all holds men together). Further down comes membership of the same city; for citizens have many things in common - their town square, temples, covered walkways, roads, laws and constitution, law-courts and elections, customs and associations and the dealings and agreements that bind many people to many others. An even closer bond is that between relations: for it sets them apart from that limitless society of the human race into one that is narrow and closely-defined. Since it is a natural feature of all living beings that they have the desire to propagate, the first association is that of marriage itself; the next is that with one's children; then the household unit within which everything is shared; that is the element from which a city is made, so to speak the seed-bed of the state. Next comes the relationship between brothers, between cousins on the father's side and cousins on the mother's side; since the relatives cannot be contained in one household, they leave to found other households, just like colonies. Next, come relationships arising from marriage, which bring even more relatives. This extension and spreading of relationships is the basis of communities; for common blood forces men to help and care for one another.

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