Who was it? It depends. If we were looking for a technically correct answer, it would be simply impossible to tell and someone who died long years later. But given his character, his stance, his acts and decisions and his legacy, it was Marcus Porcius Cato or if you prefer Cato the Younger. In Rome’s Last Citizen, the author Rob Goodman and Jimmy Sonni explain to the reader the complex life and struggles of this Stoic philosopher and politician. Rome’s Last Citizen is a biography of a person who didn’t just live to follow his principles, but also sacrificed what he was fighting for to keep the integrity and died for his principles.
Some of the greatest American politicians at the end of the 18th, beginning of the 19th century were called the American Cato and educated people liked a lot to quote from one of the last defenders of the - rotting - Roman Republic. Was he such a great person? Is he actually someone worthy to be a role model for politicians?
The book doesn’t try to answer these questions until the last chapter where the authors attempt to give their interpretation. Before, they simply tell a life story. A story of a man who just like every one of us faced with big ups and downs in his life. Well. Maybe bigger ups and downs than you and me. Maybe too many downs.
It’s also not my role to judge over him from the distance of more than 2000 years, but I can have and I can share my opinion.
As a politician probably one of his greatest value was that his vote had no price. This was well-known and obvious even to his enemies. Is it a virtue? We would tend to answer yes, of course, it is.
I could argue that it’s always the case, but this time, I don’t want to.
However, while politics should not be about power for itself, it’s not l’art pour l’art, as a politician you must have, you must grab and keep the power to execute what is needed in order to make your agenda happen. You also have to be able to make alliances and compromises.
I sat down a couple of days ago with the boss of my boss to discuss my career opportunities and to see what are the next steps for me to reach the role I strive for. He told me that I will have to be pragmatic. There are way too many technically brilliant minds in our and other companies who are simply left out of technical discussions and decisions because they have the image of a person who cannot make compromises.
In cross-organizational decisions where nobody has the authority to make decisions on her own, people a tunnel vision will be avoided. While there are some values that you cannot ignore and you should always step up for, you should be a partner in constructive conversations.
For Cato, making compromises was practically impossible. His integrity, in many cases his stubbornness was way more important than actually saving the republic.
When he needed some popularity he didn’t act as it was expected from a politician who wanted to get elected. Put aside bribes, he didn’t even go to rallies to shake hands and pretend to know strangers. When he should have grabbed control of the remainings of the republic, he did not. He instead suggested someone who was the first in the ranks according to the old republican positions, but incapable to lead.
When his country needed him the most, he did not step up, he stepped out of the way of power in order to stay behind his principles.
That is not what I think the best is, but who am I to judge? I’m definitely not a Cato.
This long biography is interesting for those who are interested in Stoicism, or in philosophy in general, for those who are interested in politics and also for those are interested in history. In this case, in the history of a republic that was feared all around its borders but was seriously rotting from the inside out and in its principles died with Cato, Rome’s Last Citizen.