Now to enter the world of Paradox V. That the wise man alone is free, and that every fool is a slave. As part of the commentary of Cicero’s Stoic Paradoxes. Be mindful that the word slavery has a special meaning here as will be revealed.
A detour into the ideal military leader
Though not a military man himself, Cicero begins by talking about the ideal disposition military generals should possess as part of their character; Cicero then goes on to comment:
“But how or over what free man will he exercise control who can not command his own passions? Let him in the first place bridle his lusts, let him despise pleasures, let him subdue anger, let him get the better of avarice, let him expunge the other stains on his character, and then when he himself is no longer in subjection to disgrace and degradation, the most savage tyrants, let him then, I say, begin to command others…”
The ideal military general should be in full control of his passions in order to be fit enough to command others because a general who cannot control and indulges in his passions gives a bad example especially for someone of his standing in the army. Abject passion can affect military decisions and planning negatively and, in other cases, should he be seen by the troops, indulging in his moments of passion, it will negatively impact morale and discipline. If the general be more married to his passions than to his duty then, in Cicero’s view, such a man is not just unfit to be the general but unfit to be a freeman.
None but the wise man is free
Cicero defines liberty as the power of living as you please. To summarise, He goes on to say that the one that lives as he pleases is the one who follows righteousness, who rejoices in fulfilling his duty, whose path in life well considered, obeys the law of his country with respect and reverence and not out of dread; from this follows the next subject:
“the man who is swayed by nothing so much as by his own inclination and judgment; the man who is master of fortune herself, whose influence is said to be sovereign, agreeably to what the sage poet says, ‘the fortune of every man is molded by his character’. To the wise man alone it happens, that he does nothing against his will, nothing with pain, nothing by coercion.”
Note Cicero’s quotation of the sage poet: ‘the fortune of every man is molded by his character’ is so what life philosophy is all about! If we allow character to be also the mind then indeed the wise man’s fortune can only be prosperous if the mind has achieved liberty by first not being compelled to do things against his will, doesn’t engage in activities causing him pain and his decisions are free from corrupting coercion.
The wicked are slaves, matriarchal dominance as abject slavery and putting slaves in their place
“All wicked men therefore are slaves, and this is not so surprising and incredible in fact as it is in words. For they are not slaves in the sense those bondmen are who are the properties of their masters by purchase, or by any law of the state; but if obedience to a disordered, abject mind, destitute of self-control be slavery (and such it is), who can deny that all the dishonest, all the covetous, in short, all the wicked, are slaves?”
Cicero is quite clear here in the distinction between the human commodity slavery proper as property belonging to a master and mental slavery in the sense that one’s state of mind dances to the tune of the passions. So don’t be surprised that the wicked man, who lacks self control is also easily angered (irate) and spurned on to commit acts of wickedness be viewed as, the stoics would surely agree, temporary insanity fuelled by passion. To be said on covetousness is this, that the more pleasures a man captures, the more master will he have to serve.
Cicero views a freeman, including nobles, who under matriarchal domination as ‘a most abject slave’
“Can I call the men free whom a woman governs, to whom she gives laws, lays down directions, orders and forbids what to her seems fit; while he can deny and dare refuse nothing that she commands? Does she ask? He must give. Does she call? He must come. Does she order him off? He must vanish. Does she threaten? He must tremble. For my part, I call such a fellow, though he may have been born in the noblest family, not only a slave, but a most abject slave.”
Cicero goes on a ramble about actual slaves in Roman households competing against one another as who is more ‘genteel’:
“And as in a large household, some slaves look upon themselves as more genteel than others, such as porters or gardeners, yet still they are slaves; in like manner, they who are inordinately fond of statues, of pictures, of embossed plate, of works in Corinthian brass, or magnificent palaces, are equally fools with the others. ‘Nay, but (say they) we are the most eminent men of the state.’ Nay! you are not superior to your fellow-slaves. But as in a household, they who handle the furniture, brush it, anoint their masters, who sweep, and water, do not occupy the highest rank of servitude; in like manner they who have abandoned themselves to their passions for these things, occupy nearly the lowest grade of slavery itself.”
On this I can only conjecture, seems Cicero has observed some unnamed number of slaves who’ve thought themselves as more ‘genteel’ (cultured, educated, sophisticated, admirer of the arts?) than the assuming freemen porters and gardeners. In ancient Rome, the status of a freeman is above that of slave because the former has liberty and the latter does not, Cicero is not wrong, I can imagine him clipping these slaves across their ears and reminding them the fact they’re slaves and always will be because that was just the way ancient Rome operated, unless in some circumstance, such as the slave won his/her freedom.
It wouldn’t surprise me if another scenario similar to this has happened in one of Cicero’s villas, say the one at Tusculum. I can imagine Cicero getting annoyed by his slaves, not by comparing themselves to freemen, but competing against each other on which slave is more cultured, sophisticated or ‘genteel’ than the other; if you will, a type of sycophancy as a means to improve one’s station among the ranks of the slave household. This would explain Cicero’s finger wagging put downs like ‘(they’re) equally fools with the others ‘ and ‘Nay! you are not superior to your fellow-slaves’.
Liberty should not be squandered for catering to another’s passion
“Well! how hard a mistress is that passion which seems to be more characteristic of liberty, I mean that for public preferment, for empire, for provinces; how imperious! how irresistible! It forced the men who thought themselves the greatest men in Rome to be slaves to Cethegus, a person not the most respectable, to send him presents, to wait upon him at nights at his house, to turn suitors, nay, supplicants to him.”
So here is a scenario in which freemen behave like slaves to appease the preferences of another; that of this Cethegus character. In spending time currying the favors for another you neglect your own self-improvement, you relegate yourself not as your own independent person but as just someone else among the others standing in the shadow of your adored Adonis, as the appendage of his amongst the fanbase/groupies or as we say in Britain; you’re a tool! It’s just the way stoicism works, here you have a philosophy concerned with the self-improvement of the practitioner so don’t be surprised that it comes across as a tad bit too much individualistic!
“But what shall I say when the sway of the passions is over, and when fear, another tyrant, springs out of the consciousness of their misdeeds? What a hard, what a wretched servitude is that, when they must be slaves to chattering boys; when all who seem to know any thing against them are feared as their masters.”
Well once the deed is done and the passion of the moment runs its course then this fear, Cicero’s talking about, is the fear of the consequences, of the repercussions that may ensue. The problem here is the impulse won over the premeditations over the consequence; basically act first and reason later.
As Cicero says the resulting tyrant after the passions is fear but, in addition, that is not the only emotion that can rise up out of our consciousness after the passions have passed. Guilt and regret are other tyrants that can accompany the aftermath of the passions, like a hangover after a long inebriation, these emotions are both crippling states of mind that can lay us low into a servile state; reason is the slave to the passions to paraphrase David Hume.
I’m reluctant to speculate but, I wonder what in Cicero’s life made him talk about ‘the chattering boys’ and their (mental) slavery to them? Did he observe another being tormented by ‘the chattering boys’ who possessed illicit information or did Cicero himself was the recipient of such mischief? We will never know. On this though, whether its ‘chattering boys’ or chattering adults alone is not the issue, it’s an issue if they have personal information that can be used against you to cause you to fear them as if they were your masters; Cicero is talking about blackmail and that is to the point. Blackmail makes mental slavery of you
“Every terror of a weak, a mean, and a dastardly soul is slavery.”
“is not all fear a slavery? What then is the meaning of that more eloquent than wise speech delivered by the accomplished orator Crassus? “Snatch us from slavery.” What slavery could happen to so illustrious and noble a man? Every terror of a weak, a mean, and a dastardly soul is slavery. He goes on—”Suffer us not to be the slaves of any (you perhaps imagine that he is now about to assert his liberty. Not at all, for what does he add?)—but of you all, to whom we are able and bound to be subservient.” He desires not to be free, but to change his master. Now we whose souls are lofty, exalted, and intrenched in virtue, neither can, nor ought to be slaves. Say that you can be a slave, since indeed you can; but say not that you are bound to be one, for no man is bound to any service, unless it is disgraceful not to render it. But enough of this. Now let this man consider if he can be a general, when reason and truth must convince him that he is not so much as a freeman.”
Fear, regret, grief and guilt are all emotions that enslave the mind into a servile state beholden to the passions; but the wise man, that ideal man with his philosophy, is the antithesis of it. He has no fear, no regret, no grief and no guilt, what is left is a free mind. He does not answer to these emotions because he wholeheartedly knows the liberty of his mind is the most precious thing he has of all! With this lengthy conclusion the paradox finally ends.