Greediness Pretends to be Liberality

“There are, though, many especially those greedy for renown and glory, who steal from one group the very money that they lavish upon another.  They think that they will appear beneficent towards their friends if they enrich them by any method whatsoever.  But that is so far from being a duty that in fact nothing could be more opposed to duty.  We should therefore see that the liberality we exercise in assisting our friends does not harm anyone.  Consequently, the transference of money by Lucius Sulla and Gaius Caesar from its lawful owners to others ought not to be seen as liberal: nothing is liberal if it is not also just….for those who want to be kinder than their possessions allow first go wrong by being unjust to those nearest to them; they transfer to strangers resources which would more fairly be provided for, or left to, them.  Usually there lurks within such liberality a greediness to plunder and deprive unjustly, so that resources may be available for lavish gifts.” Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Duties I. 43-44. eds. and trans. M.T. Griffin and E.M. Atkins (Cambridge 1991), p. 19.

In this text Cicero is discussing the virtue of liberality, or generosity.  Although he called liberality a virtue, Cicero set forth significant caveats regarding the apparent practice of liberality.  Here the great orator of late Roman Republic warns against those who appear to be liberal (generous), but only with others’ money and property.  If our liberality causes harm to others, it cannot be truly liberal.  In this case, avarice wears the mask of liberality to carry out its nefarious design.

This entry was posted in avarice, Cicero, government. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.