Cynicism Succinctly Captures Aspects of the Human Condition — James Carville’s Comment on the Continuing Freshness of Some Ancient Roman Political Advice

© 2012 Peter Free


11 May 2012



We run in herds and aren’t very bright — like hostile sheep


James Carville, a sharp-tongued Democratic Party strategist, published a brief bit of smile-inducing cynicism yesterday.  What he said appealed to the historian part of my nature.


Mr. Carville was writing about the political advice that ancient Rome’s Quintus Tullius Cicero allegedly gave his — older and eventually more famous — brother, the orator Marcus Tullius Cicero, in 64 BC.




Marcus was then running for the office of Roman consul.


Quintus’ advice to him is supposedly contained in the Commentariolum Petitionis (“Little Handbook on Electioneering.”)


Though that document’s authorship is disputed, who actually wrote it is irrelevant to Mr. Carville’s point. 


In reflecting on our progress during the last 2,000 years, Carville commented:


There are always those who say that politics is more negative than ever and that contemporary political consultants are more cynical and unrestrained than their predecessors.


Anybody who thinks that just hasn't been paying attention, and should go read Quintus' advice to his brother.


He suggests sticking to generalities during the campaign, telling the wealthy you are for stability and peace, while assuring the common man that you are always on his side.


Oh, and accusing your opponents of "crimes, sex scandals, and corruption".


And Mitt Romney should take heart from the fact that Quintus advocates pandering and overpromising in almost every situation.


© 2012 James Carrville, Why Cicero should be every campaign strategist's mentor, The Guardian (10 May 2012) (paragraphs split and re-ordered)



The moral? — 2,000 years is not even a wink in evolutionary time, and our bread-an-circus brains haven’t evolved even a dribble since Cicero’s time


Cynicism has a frequently eloquent and insightful place in assessing humanity’s core political nature.


I suppose we can take heart in this, as we race around the pasture in irascible groups, head-butting and kicking up clods.