“Some have said that it is not the business of private men to meddle with government–a bold and dishonest saying, which is fit to come from no mouth but that of a tyrant or a slave. To say that private men have nothing to do with government is to say that private men have nothing to do with their own happiness or misery; that people ought not to concern themselves whether they be naked or clothed, fed or starved, deceived or instructed, protected or destroyed.”
–Cato the Younger
Be it causation or correlation, the roots of Stoic philosophy are inextricably intertwined with politics. The political leaders of Rome; Cato the Younger, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus all found great strength in the active acceptance mandate by stoicism. These illustrious men were later joined by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Adam Smith, three men without whom the United States may not exist. Revolutionary soldiers of the continental army were even said to have watched a play on Cato’s life before the battle of Valley Forge. With roots in stoic philosophy, the United States flourished as a nation of liberty and justice. Now, in an election which appears to be darker than those witnessed in our past, it is important to return to these philosophical roots. Stoicism provides a moral basis on which one should evaluate candidates, and reminds the masses to love fate, regardless of the outcome on election day.
Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoic school, established four virtues for stoics to nurture in themselves and their peers:
It would be fruitless to discuss which candidates posses (or fails to possess) these virtues, but it is important to thoughtfully evaluate the words and actions of any person that attempts to gain power through the votes of the people. Cato advised that one should “Consider in silence whatever anyone says: speech both conceals and reveals the inner soul of man.” One should reflect on the presence of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance of a candidate’s words and action before and during the campaign. If a candidate cannot be trusted to speak and act with honor before they receive power, they most certainly cannot be trusted to do so afterward. As a statesman and political opponent to Julius Caesar, Cato knew this fact better than most.
The Importance of Action
“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”
Stoicism’s imperative for acceptance is not to be mistaken for a mandate to live life as passive participant in the surrounding world. The most prominent ancient stoics were active in politics as senators, consuls, advisors to emperors, and philosopher-kings. In his heart, Cato was a political revolutionary. At the young age of 14, when Romans were being executed by a tyrant, Cato declared to his tutor “Give me a sword that I may free my country from slavery.” As an adult, he traveled before dawn to cast his vote and was attacked by his opponents in an effort to deter him from reaching the ballot box. Rather than let his voice be silenced, he walked to the Senate in order to orate the violent nature of the man he opposed and illustrate the fact with his blood.
Modern stoics must approach political action with the same passion and fervor. To pursue any other course of action would be an action of subordination to fear and to the will of morally corrupt individuals. It is your duty as a virtuous person to bring wisdom, courage, justice and temperance to the election, through action, voice, and votes.
Sooner or later, your candidate will lose. Mentally prepare for that day, and when it comes, take a deep breath, and remember virtue is sufficient for happiness.
“Where life is possible, then is possible to live the right life”
When the next president takes office on January 20th, where will you be? What is the worst thing that could possibly happen? In your worst nightmares, what do you envision will change in your life with your candidate’s opponent in the oval office? Can you control this change? Yes or no, don’t worry about it. True happiness comes from enjoying the present and living a noble life, regardless of what the future may hold. More so than the presidential election, you can actively affect your local elections, where leaders run wild due to lack of scrutiny, and you can affect your community, your home, and yourself through your thoughts and actions.
Whatever world you wake up to on November 9th; regardless of if you find yourself naked or clothed, fed or starved, deceived or instructed, protected or destroyed, may you love your fate. Amor Fati.