The Classical Orator as Political Representative: Cicero and the Modern Concept of Representation

Author: Remer, G.
Title: The Classical Orator as Political Representative: Cicero and the Modern Concept of Representation
Review/Collection: "Journal of Politics", 72, no. 4
Year edition: 2010
Pages: 1063-1082
Keywords: Héritage - Fortuna - Legacy, Philosophie - Filosofia - Philosophy, Politique - Politica - Politics
Description: [Abstarct] Contemporary scholars largely agree that political representation is a modern phenomenon. Thus Hannah Pitkin, in her influential The Concept of Representation, states: “The concept of representation, particularly of human beings representing other human beings, is essentially a modern one.” Although Pitkin acknowledges that “representation” as “human beings acting for others” or as a concept relevant to political institutions has its roots in the Middle Ages—the ancient Greeks and Romans, Pitkin claims, had no such conceptions—she maintains that the concept of representation does not develop into what we today understand it to mean, politically, until much later: “Initially, neither the concept nor the institutions to which it was applied were linked with elections or democracy, nor was representation considered a matter of right.” I argue in this essay, however, that Cicero (106-43 BCE), the classical Roman rhetorician and political thinker, envisions his ideal orator-statesman as a representative of the Roman people. And that while Pitkin accurately observes that the ancient Romans did not vest their own word “repraesentare,” from which we derive our modern English “representation” (by way of Old French) with its current meaning, she does not consider the possibility that the ancients may have used other words to connote “political representation.” I contend here that Cicero uses terms, including “procurator,” “auctor,” “tutor,” “dispensator” and “vilicus,” to describe the ideal orator-statesman, particularly in De oratore and in De republica, in ways that suggest representation. (Hereafter, I shall sometimes refer to Cicero’s “ideal orator-statesman” simply as Cicero’s “ideal orator,” or “orator,” accepting Elaine Fantham’s argument that they are identical. ) But my case for Cicero’s orator as political representative is not limited to word usage. Cicero illustrates characteristics of the orator that are analogous to many of the primary characteristics associated with the modern representative. True, Roman orators were not elected and did not pass laws or make policy decisions themselves; the people, in their assemblies, and with the “advice” of the senate did so. Thus, Fergus Millar argues, against those who view Rome as an aristocracy or timocracy, that republican Rome, like ancient Athens, was more than a representative government; it was a democracy. Still, the characteristics of representative government are present, and the ambiguities that are characteristic of modern representation are there too. This can be seen by delineating modern political representation through the writings of theorists of political representation, like Edmund Burke, the authors of the Federalist Papers (James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, who wrote collectively under the pseudonym “Publius”), and John Stuart Mill, especially in his Representative Government.
Author initials: Remer 2010