Lessons learned from the past – In some ways, the song remains the same
Marcus Tullius Cicero expressed principles that became the bedrock of liberty in the modern world.
He insisted on the primacy of moral standards over government laws. These standards became known as natural law. Above all, Cicero declared, government is morally obliged to protect human life and private property. When government runs amok, people have a right to rebel—Cicero honored daring individuals who helped overthrow tyrants.
Cicero further distinguished the higher law from the laws of governments. He declared it was quite absurd to call just every article in the decrees and laws of nations. What if those laws were enacted by tyrants? . . . The essential justice that binds human society together and is maintained by one law is right reason, expressed in commands and prohibitions. Whoever disregards this law, whether written or unwritten, is unjust.
When the chips were down, Cicero displayed the courage of his convictions. He opposed Julius Caesar’s schemes for one-man rule. After Caesar’s assassination, he denounced Mark Antony’s bid to become dictator. For that, Cicero was beheaded.
Cicero remains an absorbingly significant builder of western civilization, as historian Michael Grant put it. Cicero urged people to reason together. He championed decency and peace. He gave the modern world some of the most fundamental ideas of liberty. Back when speaking freely meant risking death, he denounced tyranny. He has helped keep the torch of liberty burning bright for more than 2,000 years.
Excerpt from Marcus Tullius Cicero, Who Gave Natural Law to the Modern World
[Byline Jim Powell]