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A nation can survive its fools and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and he carries his banners openly against the city.

But the traitor moves among those within the gates freely, his sly whispers rustling through all alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.

For the traitor appears no traitor; he speaks in the accents familiar to his victim, and he wears their face and their garments and he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men.

He rots the soul of a nation; he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of a city; he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared. The traitor is the plague. — Marcus Tullius Cicero, from a speech given to the Roman Senate, recorded in approximately 42 B.C. by Sallust.

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3 replies to this post
  1. The question I have is this: Does the above quote imply a civic orthodoxy? If the answer to that question is a ‘yes,’ then the following questions must be asked. If it does, then what standard for orthodoxy is being used? Who created that standard? And who is judging one’s compliance with that standard?

    BTW, we should note the authoritarian society from which this quote was taken.

  2. Mr Day, your points are very pertinent and well stated. We must also note context carefully: Cicero at the time lived under the rule of a crumbling Senatorial oligarchy which was In itself a tyranny, ruling over the empire but not yet under the formal rule of a Roman emperor. Assuming this is from one of the Catilinarian orations and also assuming that Cicero was telling people the truth about Catalina and his nude boys, the next Roman general to threaten the oligarchy with an army was Julius Caesar who succeeded in carrying out his threats. After Caesar’s demise the ruling short-lived second triumvirate had Cicero executed along with many others they perceived as enemies.

  3. Thomas,
    First, thank you for your comments. Second, in essence we are talking about one tyranny replacing another one. That sure makes it difficult to choose a team to root for. Might have an easier time choosing which team to bet on.

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