Utah People's Party

…proclain liberty through out all the land….(Leviticus 25:10)

Classical Republicanism

and some related teachings of America’s Founding Fathers.

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul–We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. (The Articles of Faith 1:13)

How shall we know what is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy”? By comparing what we read, hear, or see to the words of God. Whatever fits into the world view the holy prophets teach us, is good. Whatever distracts us from the Lord’s point of view or conflicts with the teachings of the prophets is not good.  With that in mind let’s seek after ideas from the classical Greco-Roman republican tradition that are “…virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy….” Our Founding Fathers learned two distinct interpretations or perspectives on this classical tradition, the perspective in the writings of the ancient philosophers and historians  themselves and the perspective of Montesquieu, a French political philosopher who wrote just decades before American independence. The original perspective emphasizes the wisdom, virtue and duties of the few who should be the political elite while the perspective of Montesquieu focuses on the virtues and duties of the general citizenry. To understand both points of view, we draw from a lecture series by Doctor Thomas Pangle, professor of government, University of Texas at Austin. The series entitled, the Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution and copy righted the Year of Our Lord 2007. Doctor Pangle shows that both sides of this great debate drew key ideas from classical Greco-Roman republican tradition.

Some persons referred to below who were not major leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and are not mentioned in ancient scripture, listed approximately by when they lived

  • Cicero, most famous Classical Republican political philosopher, died 43 B.C.
  • Montesquieu, a French political philosopher who wrote decades before American Independence.
  • Jefferson (of Virginia), principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Third president of the U.S.A.
  • Madison (of Virginia), father of the Constitution, an author of the Federalist
  • Skousen, Author of a Book called The Five Thousand Year Leap
  • Pangle, a twenty-first century professor, author of lecture series the Great Debate.

Original Version

Rather than interpreting and summarizing the classical republican ideas that influenced America’s Founding Fathers entirely in his own words, Doctor Pangle quotes the following words of Thomas Jefferson, taken from a letter he wrote to John Adams.

I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. … There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents. … The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. … May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government? The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent its ascendancy. … I think the best remedy is … to leave to the citizens the free election and separation of the aristoi from the pseodo-aristoi, of the wheat from the chaff. In general , they will elect the real good and wise. (Thomas Jefferson, Quoted in Pangle, Lecture two, Classical Republicanism, p 33)

We note that when Jefferson discusses the natural aristocracy, he does not limit their role to governing. Rather Jefferson states that this natural aristocracy is among us for all the following, our

  • instruction,
  • trusts, and
  • government.

Doctor Pangle establishes a relationship between Thomas Jefferson’s words above and the ideas of ancient republican thinkers.

…in the political theory elaborated in the writings of the great Greco-Roman political philosophers and historians, Republican government had been understood more in aristocratic than in democratic terms. Republics, at their best, were understood to be shaped by and for an elite, but not an elite defined by or aimed at money or wealth. Instead, an elite genuinely dedicated to wise and sometimes heroic civic virtue, generously preoccupied with a politics of caring for the welfare of the whole community, a welfare defined more in spiritual than in material terms. Thus an elite which conceived of its highest task as that of leading the community in cultivating a refined life of the mind, centered on public, communal religious worship and celebration and reflection, in great public religious festivals, such as produced the magnificent Greek and Latin tragedies and comedies.(Pangle, Lecture Two: Classical Republicanism, p 31)

This political philosophy dating back over two thousand years to classical antiquity, an age preceding the birth of our Lord in Bethlehem, aspires to a republican form of government led by “… an elite genuinely dedicated to wise and sometimes heroic civic virtue, generously preoccupied with a politics of caring for the welfare of the whole community, a welfare defined more in spiritual than in material terms.” This was the classical republican understanding of “civic virtue”, the character trait that made a political leader a blessing to his fellow citizens. We believe that Elder Dallin H. Oaks was familiar with this historical meaning of the term “civic virtue” when he wrote

“Citizens … should be practitioners of civic virtue in their conduct toward government. They should be ever willing to fulfill the duties of citizenship. This includes … numerous voluntary actions they must take if they are to preserve the principle of limited government through citizen self-reliance” (“The Divinely Inspired Constitution,” Ensign, Feb. 1992, 74).

Let’s compare this notion that civic leaders should be “…generously preoccupied with a politics of caring for the welfare of the whole community, a welfare defined more in spiritual than in material terms…” to what President Gordon B. Hinckley praises in the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

…our Founding Fathers were men whom the God of Heaven had raised up, men who saw with a greater vision and dreamed a better and more inspired dream, men more concerned with the good of the whole than with their own personal comfort, reputations, or image before the people. On May 14, 1787, fifty-five of them met in Philadelphia. The heat of that summer was oppressive, the worst in the memory of the city’s residents. There were differences of opinion, sharp and deep and better. But somehow, under the inspiration of the Almighty, there was forged the Constitution of the United States. On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine of the fifty-five attendees signed the document. (Hinckley, Standing For Something, Introduction, page xvii)

His book bears copy right in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand so Gordon B. Hinckley wrote Standing For Something after He was already President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. To be “more concerned with the good of the whole than with one’s own personal…” circumstances in mortal life is essential to civic virtue or public spirit. The whole that President Hinckley refers to is the whole community of which a person is a citizen.

Back to Doctor Pangle on the classical republican tradition.

The life of virtue led by civic leaders was understood not only, or even mainly, as a life  of service to the community, to the people, the supreme goal of politics was understood to be neither the promotion of the interests of the rich, with their property and wealth, nor the promotion of the ordinary person’s desire for security and liberty and prosperity. Instead, the exercise of the public and private virtues was conceived as itself the highest end or purpose of the community. The life of virtue, civic and intellectual, was held to be itself the peak of human flourishing and the purpose of the best republican community.(Pangle, Lecture Two: Classical Republicanism, p 32)

Let us consider how right or how wrong this classical republican idea is: “…the exercise of the public and private virtues was conceived as itself the highest end or purpose of the community” Is that how our Father in Heaven sees it? What do we know about His priorities and purposes? “For behold, this is my work and my glory–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) Given what He has told us about where He directs His efforts, did He gather us together into communities so that we could practice public and private virtue or so that we might enjoy security, prosperity, or equality during mortality?

We return to Doctor Pangle’s general discussion of classical republican thinking as expounded in the outline to lecture two: Classical Republicanism.

Practically, the classical theorists recognized that in almost all actual situations this noble aspiration had to be compromised …to win the necessary support….(p 23)

The best practical republic was conceived in classical theory as a mixed regime–a republic that combined aristocracy with some democracy by taking considerable power out of the hands of the moral elite and placing it in the hands of the majority of the populace. (p 24)

In the best version of this compromise, the few of distinguished virtue had to share power with the ordinary people and govern with their consent. But, it was hoped without becoming the mere servants of the people. (Pangle, p 24)

By “without becoming the mere servants of the people” We think Doctor Pangle means that the moral elite were to lead not follow. They were not to become servants in the sense of obeying the wishes of the people, but they should work to promote the people’s best interests understood in spiritual terms.

… in a Christianized version this original classical conception had been the dominant political outlook of the new England Puritans, who had been a cornerstone of the American republican tradition.(transcript p 32)

So the idea that a political philosophy for Americans should integrate Christian faith and classical Greco-Roman republican tradition really dates back to a time generations before the mortal lives of Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. In their day, the word “Puritan” was no longer in use and the main religion–in the region called New England which is now the northeast corner of the United States including such states as Massachusetts and New York–had come to be called Congregationalist. Our Founding Fathers built on truths that their civilization had known for generations while still part of the British Empire.

Back to the idea that political leaders should not necessarily follow the wishes of their follow citizens. In the Church today, we do expect our Bishops and other priesthood leaders to work for our spiritual welfare (and in certain cases our material welfare as well) but we would not expect a priesthood leader to do whatever we might wish. The same is true of a good, wise and honest citizen promoted to a public office. One of the best possible services that a political leader can do for his beloved fellow citizens is resisting their wishes when they ask for an unjust law. Such a wise and righteous leader would then, as patiently and lovingly as he could, explain why that law should not pass, and invite his fellow citizens to repent of the sin of asking for such a law so that they might be forgiven and get the favor and blessing of the Lord.

For now let us move on to understanding the terms Republic and Democracy. The English word republic came from two words “res” meaning thing, and the word public, so the compound word means public thing or thing belonging to the public. Democracy was understood to mean a society in which the citizens assemble in person to make their laws rather than sending representatives to do it for them. To men such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison,”representative democracy” would have been a contradiction in terms. Our Founding Fathers always called their system of government, “republic” never “democracy”. Remember what Doctor Pangle wrote that we quoted above.

The best practical republic was conceived in classical theory as a mixed regime–a republic that combined aristocracy with some democracy by taking considerable power out of the hands of the moral elite and placing it in the hands of the majority of the populace. (p 24)

Including some “democracy” in the system meant having the ordinary citizens assemble, then debate and vote on issues in person. Classical philosophers thought of including this democratic element as a compromise needed to win public support for the political system, but Montesquieu argued that this “compromise” improved the system.

Version of Montesquieu

Now Montesquieu, … argued that the true virtues of the classical republics were more popular , egalitarian–“mediocre,” as he put it. Montesquieu contended,… that the classical republic at its best was democratic rather than aristocratic. At its best, Montesquieu insisted, the classical republic put supreme power in the hands of the assembly of all the citizens, meeting frequently, to pass by majority vote the fundamental laws …, and also to elect, and later to pass judgment on, administrative officers…. (transcript, 33)

…Montesquieu stressed, a true democracy requires in all its ordinary citizens an intense public spirit. Each and every citizen must be willing to devote considerable time and energy and expense to public service, to long meetings, to elaborate discussions, to important committee work, and so on. Montesquieu calls such “virtue” in the people the very “principle,” as he puts it, or the “spring” of democracy. Montesquieu explains that this democratic virtue requires among the citizens a deep spirit of kinship or fraternity. (The Great Debate: Advocates and Opponents of the American Constitution, Lecture Two: Classical Republicanism, Transcript, p 33 – 34)

As we understand it, the word “spring” here means source. A spring is the source of the water in a river. Virtue in the citizens is the source of a democratic political system. It is true that

…democracy requires in all its ordinary citizens an intense public spirit. Each and every citizen must be willing to devote considerable time and energy and expense to public service, to long meetings, to elaborate discussions, to important committee work, and so on. (see above)

It is clear from teachings of Latter Day Prophets and Apostles that it pleases the Lord when citizens do these things and disappoints Him when they do not. We show on our Citizens Page that the Lord’s requirements for all citizens are greater than what many citizens really do. Furthermore, these Prophets and Apostles insist that good or bad government is the consequence of good or bad citizens.

“Montesquieu explains that … democratic virtue requires among the citizens a deep spirit of kinship or fraternity.”(see above) Or we might say that citizens should look on each other as Brothers and Sisters. Even though the people of the classical Greco Roman republics did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they clearly did have the idea of the brotherhood of man. Marcus Tullius Cicero, likely their wisest political leader, taught them
As one and the same Nature holds together and supports the universe, all of whose parts are in harmony with one another, so men are united in Nature; but by reason of their depravity they quarrel, not realizing that they are of one blood and subject to one and the same protecting power. If this fact were understood, surely man would live the life of the gods! (Marcus Tullius Cicero, quoted in W. Cleon Skousen, The Five Thousand Year Leap, p 46)

Before the birth of Christ, the prophet Malachi taught that God is the Father of men. “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (Malachi 2:10) Each person consists of both a body and a spirit. God is the Father of the spirit within each person.  The Apostle Paul had this in mind when he wrote to the Hebrews.”Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? (Hebrews 12:9) “That God is the father of every person is an important enough doctrine that the new testament asserts or implies it repeatedly. Note the following statement that we are the offspring of God, which is true only if He is our father.

That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. (Acts 17:27-29)

Two men are brothers if they have the same parent. Likewise, two women are sisters if they have the same parent. Because God is the Father of all the Spirits within all the people over the whole Earth, literally we are all brothers and sisters and should treat each other accordingly. Only when we remember this do we citizens treat each other as we should.

The classical republican tradition had great ideals written and spoken but the actual performance of Greek and Roman citizens was much like that of the Nephites we read about in the Book of Mormon. The Nephites were righteous at times but often forgot their savior and became prideful, materialistic, and contentious. King Benjamin made these observations about the nature of man and the solution to the problems in that nature.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)

Looking back on contention among the citizens of classical republics, James Madison, whom historians call the Father of our Constitution, lamented

So strong is this propensity of mankind, to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions, and excite their most violent conflicts. (James Madison, Federalist #10)

Just as the natural man is an enemy to God, even so is a natural man the enemy of other natural men. King Benjamin did not say that man must remain an enemy to God forever. Rather he said that man would be an enemy to God “…until he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit ….” The solution to the problem of enmity between mortals is the same, yielding”… to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and [putting] off the natural man…” etc.

In order for there to be such a thing as righteous leaders and righteous citizens there must be such as thing as good and evil and there must be some way to distinguish between then. We mentioned above that Marcus Tullius Cicero was likely the wisest leader of the Romans during classical antiquity. Dr. Skousen has this to say about him.

Cicero’s compelling honesty led him to conclude that once the reality of the Creator is clearly identified in the mind, the only intelligent approach to government, justice, and human relations is in terms of the laws which the Supreme Creator has already established. The Creator’s order of things is called Natural Law. (Skousen, The five thousand year leap, p 39)

We agree that the only reasonable approach to government is in terms of the laws that “the Creator has already established.” In the Short Messages we have on this website we comment on various teaching of Cicero that Dr. Skousen presents. The Five Thousand Year Leap: the 28 Great Ideas That Are Changing the World is a fabulous book. It works well as an introduction to the teachings of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and as a summary of their ideas for more advanced students. We agree with and will practice all the twenty-eight ideas that Doctor Skousen lays out in part 2 of his book.

Is it reasonable to expect that the people will be good electors, that is, able and inclined to appreciate and to vote for statesmen, and not apt to be seduced by demagogues, if the people do not themselves have a substantial portion of civil virtue? And can the people be expected to develop real civic virtue without more direct political experience [than they can get merely by voting for federal representatives] ….? Is not decentralization of government, providing powerful state and local governments, essential to the civic education of the populace?[Thomas Jefferson, quoted in Pangle, The Great Debate, Lecture 8, The Argument Over Representation, p 126-127]

Jefferson was right, state and local governments can give a far larger part of the citizens opportunities for direct participation in making important decisions than the federal government can. That being the case, state and local governments can do more than the federal government can to develop the needed civic virtue of the citizenry. But to fill this role, state and local governments must stay powerful, meaning they must keep the ability to make final decisions on important issues. The opposite of a powerful state government is one that is subordinate to federal power in all cases.

As with other pages on this site, we find on this page that we cannot teach our fellow citizens all that we would like to about a particular topic and still keep the page short enough that we can finish writing it and citizens will read it. We are delighted to point out that more teachings of Marcus Tullius Cicero and our comments on them are available as Short Messages on this website. The search feature on this site searches for relevant Short Messages so these teaching of Cicero can be found easily by typing “Cicero” into the search field.

« Origin and Purposes

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