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Writers’ Wheelhouse: Cicero, on “More law, less justice”

Cicero-203x300 Writers' Wheelhouse: Cicero, on "More law, less justice"
Marcus Tullius Cicero
3 January 106 BCE – 7 December 43 BCE

Cicero: select passages

Injustice often arises through chicanery, that is, through an over-subtle and even fraudulent construction of the law. This it is that gave rise to the now familiar saw, “More law, less justice.” Through such interpretations also a great deal of wrong is committed in transactions between state and state; thus, when a truce had been made with the enemy for thirty days, a famous general went to ravaging their fields by night, because, he said, the truce stipulated “days,” not nights. Not even our own countrymen’s action is to be commended, if what is told of Quintus Fabius Labeo is true – or whoever it was (for I have no authority but hearsay): appointed by the Senate to arbitrate a boundary dispute between Nola and Naples, he took up the case and interviewed both parties separately, asking them not to proceed in a covetous or grasping spirit, but to make some concession rather than claim some accession. When each party had agreed to this, there was a considerable strip of territory left between them. And so he set up the boundary of each city as each had severally agreed; and the tract in between he awarded to the Roman People. Now that is swindling, not arbitration. And therefore such sharp practice is under all circumstances to be avoided.

Cicero, De Officiis, Book 1.10, trans. Walter Miller, (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1975), 35.


As long as our country was still governed by men it had voluntarily elected as its rulers, I was delighted to dedicate all my efforts and thoughts to national affairs. But when the entire government lay under the domination of a single individual, no one else but he any longer had the slightest opportunity to exert statesmanlike influence in any way whatever.

Cicero, On Duties, Cicero: On the Good Life, trans. Michael Grant (Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1971; 1979), 1.1, 120.


Surely, then, our present sufferings are all too well deserved. For had we not allowed outrages to go unpunished on all sides, it would never have been possible for a single individual to seize tyrannical power. As heirs of his personal estate only a few names were listed; but to take over his ambitions a whole host of vile characters was ready. …Such are the proofs that, while there are such vastly lucrative rewards, civil war will never end.

Here in the city, nothing is left — only the lifeless walls of houses. And even they look afraid that some further terrifying attack may be imminent. The real Rome has gone for ever.

Cicero, On Duties, Cicero: On the Good Life, trans. Michael Grant (Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1971; 1979), 8.29, 134-135.


You can read more selected passages from notable authors here.

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