George Anastaplo

[This talk, with its notes, may be found in George Anastaplo, “Lessons for the Student of Law: The Oklahoma Lectures,” 20 Oklahoma City University Law Review 44-69 (1965). There is added here the table of contents for this 1965 article]

If you are a god, we shall suffer no harm at your hands, for we have done you no harm; but if you are a man, another will be found who is even stronger than you.

–A Spartan to an enemy general64


            The original intentions of the Framers of various American constitutional documents are often advocated as critical to a proper interpretation by us of these documents.  But, we must wonder, how far can one go toward determining the original intentions of those Framers without a reliable grasp also of their original understanding of things generally?

What shaped the Framers and their fellow citizens in the late Eighteenth Century?  What experiences and, perhaps even more important, what education guided their understanding of the world?  We need, it can be argued, to appreciate the teachers of the framers.65


            There seem to have been four major influences upon the education of Americans of the late Eighteenth Century. The most pervasive influence, drawing upon the Bible, found expression through Christianity.66  Almost all Americans of that period were probably associated, if only nominally in some cases, with the diverse churches that had taken root in North America. Many Americans were descendants of men and women who had crossed the Atlantic in order to be able to worship in the manner they preferred.

The Classical influence, drawing upon the most important Greek and Roman texts, was also important, even though it tended to be limited to those privileged to have had more than an elementary education. The ancient philosophical tradition, as modified in critical respects by the doctrines of Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke, was taken for granted.  Even more critical here is what the Greeks and the Romans taught about constitutional issues and political history, with ancient republicanism very much an American concern.67

There was as well the English constitutional and legal heritage to which the Americans considered themselves heirs. This heritage was crystallized, even as it was transformed, in the Declaration of Independence.  The principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence found authoritative application in the Constitution of 1787 and in the Bill of Rights of 1791.68

Finally, there is the rationalist influence upon the education of Americans, perhaps much more since than before 1776. This found expression in the modern scientific project, with Isaac Newton particularly prominent, and in a market economy, with Adam Smith particularly prominent.69

The scientific project had grown out of, and then somewhat superseded, the Classical philosophical tradition.  The technology made possible by the new science very much affected market and economic operations, social and political relations, and eventually the religious and philosophical opinions of people, including the opinions of many who had but the faintest notion of what the scientists were saying.70

These developments had a liberating effect in the Western World.  But they also tended to undermine the opinions that had been so salutary for free men and for republican government.  This was not a new development, however, since the West had long been characterized by the often fruitful tension between reason and revelation.71 What was new, perhaps, was how extensive the social and political ramifications of philosophy had become. Large numbers of bright people were to be recruited for scientific research and, even more, for the technological application of the discoveries of such research.


            Today is Greek Independence Day, which goes back to that fateful March 25th in 1821 when the banner of rebellion was raised, by the Bishop of Patras, against the Ottoman Empire.72 Those revolutionaries also drew upon their ancient heritage, which was both Christian and Classical.  Since they had been under foreign rule for four centuries, they did not have a healthy constitutional heritage to draw upon, except perhaps for what they could fashion from their Classical teachers.  It is that Classical heritage, especially as it might have been seen by the American framers, that we shall examine on this occasion.

The text for our examination is that massive compendium of biographies of eminent Greeks and Romans prepared by Plutarch, a Greek who lived between 50 and 120 A.D.73 The Romans were then the generally acknowledged political masters of the Mediterranean world. This is how one scholar has described the Plutarchian presence among Americans from colonial times to 1890:

The most popular work of ancient literature (always excepting the Bible) in America for about 250 years was Plutarch’s Lives.  Though Plutarch was not a subject in the curriculum of American grammar schools, academies, high schools, or colleges, there was hardly a library–private, public, or college–or bookseller’s catalogue that did not possess a copy….While Homer, the Greek tragedians, Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle, Vergil, Cicero, Horace, Ovid, Seneca were criticized, frowned upon, or denounced in greater or lesser measure, Plutarch always stood unequivocally in high favor in America.  For centuries, a recent biographer of Plutarch reminds us, “Plutarch’s Lives and Morals were among the formative books of western civilization.”  In his universality and expressive scope Plutarch caught the essence of the cosmopolitan culture of the classical world, celebrating many of the highest ideals, achievements, and great men of Greco-Roman civilization.74

            The instruction available from Plutarch was quite varied, ranging across matters that today would be categorized as history, psychology, ethics, political science, constitutional law, theology, and, of course, philosophy.  Plutarch provided lessons about the relation of virtue to happiness and about both the glories and the pitfalls of popular government. Plutarch assumed that the world, by and large, made sense; it was something that could be usefully investigated.75

The Framers of the Constitution of 1787 were taught lessons by Plutarch and others about the relations between the character and the political order of a people.  They were also taught about the bearing of political and religious opinions upon a people’s character and institutions.  The Roman influence in Eighteenth Century American life was obvious in various republican institutions developed in this country and even in the pen names of many of those who wrote on public affairs.  The most famous of these pen names is Publius, the author of the Federalist Papers, which hearkens back to one of Plutarch’s heroes.76


            Another of Plutarch’s heroes was Timoleon, a Corinthian whose greatest exploits were between 346 and 338 B.C.  He inspired various Americans, including a friend of Benjamin Franklin, who discussed Timoleon at length, and Herman Melville, who wrote a long poem about him.77 In 1800 eulogy on George Washington included this observation, “If we were to select the character, among the great men of antiquity exhibiting the nearest resemblance to Washington, it would be Timoleon.”78 We begin our investigation of the Plutarch’s influence upon Eighteenth Century Americans by considering in some detail the life of Timoleon available to those Americans.

Timoleon’s life was marked, even blighted, in his youth with fratricide.79 First, however, there was an exhibition of brotherly love worthy of acclaim. Plutarch introduces the family in this way:

[Timoleon] was born of parents who were illustrious in the city, Timodemus and Demariste, and he was a lover of his country and exceedingly gentle, except as he was a hater of tyrants and of base men.  As a soldier his nature was so well and evenly attempered that great sagacity was manifested in the exploits of his youth, and no less bravery in those of his old age.  Her had a brother Timophanes, older than he, and not at all like him, but headstrong and filled with a ruinous passion for absolute power by worthless friends and foreign military adventurers who were ever about him, and having the reputation of being rather impetuous and fond of danger in military service.  Therefore [Timophanes] won followers among the citizens and as an efficient warrior [he] was given posts of high command.  And Timoleon aided him in obtaining these, trying to conceal his mistakes altogether or to make them seem trifling, and embellishing and enhancing his good natural qualities.80

Timoleon’s much-acclaimed rescue of his brother in battle is then described:

In the battle fought by the Corinthians against the Argives and Cleonaeans, Timoleon was stationed among the men-at-arms, and Timophanes, who commanded the cavalry, was overtaken by extreme peril.  For his horse was wounded and threw him in among the enemy, and of his comrades, some scattered in panic flight, while the few who remained fought against great numbers and were with difficulty holding their ground.  Accordingly, when Timoleon saw what had happened, he came running to the help of Timophanes and held his shield over him as he lay on the ground, and after receiving many javelins and many hand to hand blows upon his person  and his armour, at last succeeded in repulsing the enemy and saving his brother.8

This gave Timoleon’s brother an opportunity that he exploited in this way:

After this, the Corinthians, fearing lest they should suffer a second loss of their city through the treachery of their allies, voted to maintain four hundred mercenaries, and put Timophanes in command of them; but he, without regard for honour and justice, at once took measures to bring the city under his own power, and after putting to death without a trial great numbers of the leading citizens, declared himself tyrant.82

“At this,” we are told:  “Timoleon was greatly distressed, and considering this brother’s baseness to be his own misfortune, he attempted to reason with him and exhort him to renounce that unfortunate and mad ambition of his and seek to make some amends for his transgressions against his fellow citizens.”83 But, we are also told, Timophanes scornfully rejected his brother’s appeals. Thereupon Timoleon took the step that forever distinguished him from his fellow Corinthians:

[W]hen his brother rejected his appeals with scorn, he took his kinsman Aeschylus, who was a brother of the wife of Timophanes, and his friend the seer whose name, according to Theopompus, was Satyrus, but according to Ephorus and Timaeus, Orthagoras, and after waiting a few days went up again to his brother; and the three, surrounding him, besought him even now to listen to reason and change his mind.  But Timophanes first mocked them, and then lost his temper and was violent, whereupon Timoleon withdrew a little space from him and stood weeping with muffled head, while the other two, drawing their swords, speedily dispatched him.84

Another version of this story has Timoleon killing his brother with his own hand in the market place.85 But Plutarch would not have it this way–and for good reason: the way Plutarch told the story was bad enough.86

In any event, Timoleon is celebrated as a republican who put his civic duty above his self-interest as ordinarily conceived:

[Timoleon’s] deed having been noised abroad, the most influential Corinthians applauded Timoleon for his hatred of baseness and greatness of soul, in that, although a kindly man and fond of his family, he had nevertheless set his country before his family, and honour and justice before expediency; for when his brother was fighting valiantly for his country, Timoleon had saved his life, but after he had plotted against [his country] and enslaved her, Timoleon had slain him.87

            There were others, however, who were accustomed to pay court to men in power.  Plutarch says of them that “while they pretended to rejoice at the death of the tyrant [Timophanes], still, by their abuse of Timoleon as the perpetrator of an impious and abominable deed, drove him into despondency.”88 The reader can suspect that Timoleon was naturally disposed, in the circumstances, to take refuge in such a somewhat self-protecting state of mind.  He was not of the mettle of the remarkably single-minded Junius Brutus, described elsewhere in Plutarch, who had had two of his own sons executed when they were discovered plotting the overthrow of the Roman Republic that Brutus had helped establish.89

Whatever Timoleon’s innate disposition, his mother’s response to the assassination of Timophanes evidently pushed him over the edge:

And now [Timoleon] learned that this mother was angry with him and uttered dreadful reproaches and fearful imprecations against him, and [so he] went to plead his cause with her; but she could not endure to see his face, and closed her house against him.  Then indeed he became altogether a prey to grief and disordered in mind, and determined to starve himself to death; but his friends would not suffer this, and brought all manner of entreaty and constraint to bear upon him, so that he made up his mind to live by himself, apart from the world.  So he gave up all public life, and for a long while did not even return to the city, but spent his time wandering in great distress of mind among the most desolate parts of the country.90

An observation here by Plutarch provides immediate commentary upon Timoleon’s state of mind: “So true is it that the purposes of men, unless they acquire firmness and strength from reason and philosophy for the activities of life, are unsettled and easily carried away by casual praise and blame, being forced out of their native reckonings.”91 Perhaps Plutarch was comparing Timoleon to men such as the steadfast Junius Brutus. This is certainly a sentiment that the more thoughtful of the American framers would have endorsed.

            Circumstances then which required that a general be named by Corinth for an expedition to Sicily:

And while [the Corinthians] were seeking for a commander, and the magistrates were writing down the names of those in the city who were eager for the honour and proposing them for election, one of the common people rose to his feet and nominated Timoleon the son of Timodemus, although he no longer took part in public business, and had no expectation or purpose of doing so; but some god, as it would seem, put it into the man’s mind to nominate him, such was the kindliness of Fortune that shone forth at once upon his election, and such the grace that attended his subsequent actions and adorned his virtues.92

I notice, in passing, that Plutarch seems to equate “some god” with “Fortune,” to which we will have to return.  In any event, the time had come for Timoleon to arouse himself from his deep depression.93 Plutarch described the challenge facing Timoleon:

But the grief of Timoleon over what had been done, whether it was due to pity for his dead brother or to reverence for his mother, so shattered and confounded his mental powers that almost twenty years passed without his setting his hand to a single conspicuous or public enterprise.  Accordingly, when he had been nominated general, and the people had readily approved of it and given him their votes Telecleides, who was at that time the foremost man in the city for reputation and influence, rose up and exhorted Timoleon to be a noble and brave man in his enterprises.  “For if,” said he, “you contend successfully, we shall think of you as a tyrannicide; but if poorly, as a fratricide.”94

This can be considered psychotherapy on a grand scale. Whether what Timoleon did to his brother was a laudable tyrannicide or a detestable fratricide would depend, he was told, on the outcome of the campaign. It was evidently assumed that the gods would not permit a mere fratricide to prosper as commanding general.  It must also have been assumed, at least by the most influential Corinthians who were willing to entrust Timoleon with this command, that what he had done had indeed been a blessed tyrannicide.95

It must have become evident to most Corinthians thereafter that Timoleon was truly a great favorite of the gods, for Plutarch made clear that his campaign was marked by one piece of very good fortune after another. Plutarch also made it clear that Timoleon was preeminently qualified to exploit each of the opportunities that came his way. Chance, it has been noticed, favors the prepared mind.96 Timoleon was able both to win on a grand scale in Sicily and to resist the temptations that other successful military men, including his brother, had succumbed to.

Timoleon cleared Sicily of its tyrants and perhaps purged himself of his despondency.  But, it seems, he could not trust himself to return to Corinth and its painful memories, choosing instead to live out the rest of his life as an honored figure in the Sicily that he had helped liberate.98

Plutarch’s last word on Timoleon is found in the epilogue he prepared comparing him with his Roman counterpart:

Timoleon, although he had acted in a noble way with regard to his brother, could not reason down his sorrow, but was prostrated with grief and repentance, and for twenty years could not endure the sight of bema or market-place.  One should scrupulously shun disgraceful deeds; but the anxious fear of every kind of ill report among men argues a nature which is indeed kindly and sensitive, but has not greatness.99

The humanity of Plutarch is evident throughout his voluminous writings–and for this he is treasured.  But what gives his humanity a solid grounding was his tough-mindedness. This tough-mindedness is exhibited in his last word (which I have just quoted) on a Timoleon who had, in a sense, indulged himself beyond reason in private griefs.


            Plutarch’s refreshing combination of tough-mindedness and a sense of humanity must have appealed to the American Framers, for they routinely exhibited the same combination of traits.  This contributed to their receptivity to greatness, a greatness in which w can all be instructed by authors of stature.

The tough-minded are skeptical about sentimentality. Sentimentality can flourish wherever much is made of individuality, especially when that individuality is nourished by religious sentiments. A proper tough-mindedness supports a lively desire to see justice done and respects sound political principles. Guidance on the proper use of religious opinions and practices in the commonwealth is among those principles.100

Whatever Plutarch himself personally believed, he was astute about the importance of organized religion for an enduring political order and hence about how divine things should be discussed at least in public. Plutarch’s own opinions about the workings of the supernatural are left shrouded by him, so much so that John Quincy Adams said of him, “Plutarch reasons well, but leaves too much of the mysterious veil over his subject.”101 If an author does reason well, does he not challenge his readers to figure out his reasons for the “mysterious veil” he deliberately deploys?

Plutarch reports the legendary exploits of the great founders, Lycurgus (in Sparta) and Numa (in Rome).  Both men made ample use of prodigies, oracles, and other divine manifestations in taming the fierce people they ministered to and in establishing enduring commonwealths.  In recounting stories about the supernatural in human affairs, Plutarch is both accepting and reserved. He is more politic than many modern intellectuals in that he believes that the prevailing opinions among a people about the divine and the supernatural should be taken seriously and handled with care.102

Once a civilization is well established in a place, there is apt to be a wide spectrum of opinions about the plausibility of the fabulous stories that have been long received by a people. There may be different proportions of the population at one time or another who are believers and who are skeptics, but it is likely that there will always be some of each.103 Plutarch’s own positions, then, cannot simply be regarded as that of “his time”—for the more thoughtful human being is of no particular time. Perhaps the key question for thoughtful men and women is, “What can and cannot be?”104 The answer to that question, if not the question itself, affects what one makes of much of the evidence that happens to be available from time to time or from place to place about divine workings in human affairs.

Throughtout his work, Plutarch taught his readers what to think about such matters.  He shows his readers that one’s principles must be sound if one is to observe things clearly and thereafter organize one’s observations properly.  His book is, in effect, a lively course in evidence.  Plutarch was cautious in how he assessed the treasured stories about exalted men such as Numa and Lycurgus. He left it to his readers to return to those ancient stories with what they learn from him about how the modern counterparts of Numa and Lyrcurgus (such as the Roman Sertorios and the Spartan Lysander) conducted themselves in manipulating supposed manifestations of the supernatural.105 Also instructive is Plutarch’s suggestion about the relationship between the celebrated piety and the congenital cowardice of the unfortunate Nicias, an Athenian.106  All this bears upon what Plutarch considered the proper place of philosophy in the life of the pubic man.

Perhaps even more important than what Plutarch taught about mysterious divine workings in human affairs may be what he taught about how to talk in public about such matters.  These are lessons that the American Framers (and later Abraham Lincoln) seem to have learned, directly or indirectly, from the Classics, whatever may be said about the iconoclastic movement that became prominent in the late Nineteenth Century and thereafter.  We should take to heart the remarkable revelation that the influential Puritan divine Cotton Mather praised as he did “the incomparable Plutarch.”107 Thus we are told:

And though it was the work of a pagan moralist, for Mather [Plutarch’s] precepts and pragmatic philosophy did not clash with Christian moral doctrine.  Mather freely proclaimed his great debt to Plutarch: ….[He] expressed his admiration for him as a model of integrity thus:  “[I am] entirely of Plutarch’s mind, that it is better it should never be said there was such a man as Plutarch at all, than to have it said, that he was not an honest and worthy man.”108

Not only does this remind us of the influence of Plutarch in the American Colonies, but it should also encourage us to reappraise fundamentalists such as Cotton Mather.109


            We have seen, in the story of Timoleon, salutary teachings for republicans about putting the common good before private interests.  We have also seen how Plutarch both approached and left the fabulous stories upon which the Greek and Roman, if not all, commonwealths depend.  These were teachings about piety and politics, from Plutarch and others like him, that the American Framers took to heart, however determined those Framers were to keep religious intolerance from creating the havoc in North America that it had in Europe.110

Perhaps even more important for the framers were Plutarch’s lessons about the career of the Roman Republic.  Readers can see in Plutarch how Rome’s successes and the successes of her various generals subverted the Republic.  Particularly influential, perhaps, was how the Roman republic itself repeatedly exploited opportunities to expand its domain.  If high-minded Rome could do this, why not also her most gifted sons?111

That Julius Caesar was personally quite gifted is evident from Plutarch’s account.  He exhibited himself in Gaul as one of the greatest generals of all time.112 It is also evident that Caesar aimed, while still young, to subvert the Roman Republic in order to raise himself to permanent preeminence.  A century of discord preceded his usurpation, as may be seen in Plutarch’s accounts of the lives of Marius, Sulla, and Pompey, among others.113 Cato, Cicero, and Brutus are shown to have fought losing battles in defense of the Republic.114 When Cicero suppressed the Catilinian conspiracy, he had an opportunity to get rid of the rising Caesar. We can wonder, however, whether things had already been permitted to deteriorate so much in Rome that if Caesar had not prevailed, someone else (perhaps someone far worse than the somewhat humane Julius Caesar) would have eventually taken over.116

A steady deterioration was furthered by the effects in Rome of its conquests abroad. These effects included evergrowing wealth, a swollen population (much of it foreign), and the importation of many strange divinities.  The careers of Timoleon and of Corinth, who refused to exploit the successes in Sicily for their own gain, stand as a rebuke to Rome and to Caesar. This rebuke is quietly voiced by a Greek writing in a Roman Empire that was by then well-established and that looked back to Julius Caesar as its founding deity.116  Perhaps Fabius Maximus had been right to oppose Scipio Africanus’ campaign against Carthage in North Africa.  Does a great republic always need a formidable enemy to help her behave herself?117

The Framers of 1787 were very much alert to the attractions and risks of Caesarism.  They also had the career of Oliver Cromwell in Britain and Ireland to remind them of what can happen when a successful general considers himself entitled, if not even obliged, to assume absolute political power.  Plutarch reminded them of Cicero’s recognition that Caesar should have been stopped from the very beginning:

At all events, the man who is thought to have been the first to see beneath the surface of Caesar’s public policy and to fear it, as one might fear the smiling surface of the sea, and who comprehended the powerful character hidden beneath his kindly and cheerful exterior, namely Cicero, said that in most of Caesar’s political plans and projects he saw a tyrannical purpose; “On the other hand,” said [Cicero], “when I look at his hair, which is arranged with so much nicety, and see him scratching his head with one finger, I cannot think that this man would ever conceive of so great a crime as the overthrow of the Roman constitution.”118

Although Alexander Hamilton could later refer to Caesar as the greatest man who ever lived119, the framers of the Constitution of 1787 did make efforts to hedge in potential Caesar─and to do so without making the country impotent in military matters and foreign policy.  That there was something monstrous in what Caesar did is recognized by him in the troubling incestuous dream he had on the eve of his fateful crossing of the Rubicon in the course of his armed assault upon Rome.120

Certainly there was a general breakdown of political morals in Rome in the century preceding Caesar—a breakdown on an even grander scale than we have been exposed to in, say, Italy during the past few years. The Roman people became even more superstitious and, because their passions could no longer be disciplined and redirected by responsible leaders, they became ever more demanding and volatile.  Eventually, the Roman people, nobles and plebeians alike, became altogether self-seeking. Their character was so weakened that they could not resist the army’s control over the selection of many, if not most, of the emperors who followed Caesar’s nephew, Octavius.121

Rome’s conquest of the world, which included the destruction of other republics (mostly in Greece), contributed to its own corruption as a republic.  Although republican forms and institutions proved necessary and useful for centuries thereafter in the administration of the Empire, the soul of the Republic was subverted, the kind of soul exhibited in Corinth by the self-sacrifice of Timoleon.  Machiavelli, although he is identified with his notorious treatise, The Prince, repeatedly exhibited, both in his writings and in his political career, a preference for republics over principalities, with ancient Rome as his principal model.122 The common good is more likely to be observed in republics.123


            We have noticed the prevalence of both the Bible and Plutarch in early American life.  The Bible has continued to be read and to be made much of, depending on what part of our country one is considering. But it has been some time since Plutarch received much attention, except perhaps by scholars.

One reason Plutarch lost ground, it seems, is that modern scholarship raised doubts about his historiography.124 It is unfortunate that scholars did not appreciate how Plutarch used what he himself probably knew were flexible facts.  Even so, there have been Americans who continued to recognize what Plutarch had to teach serious political men and women.  Consider, for example, Harry Truman’s report, after retiring from the Presidency:

My father used to read me out loud from [Plutarch].  And I’ve read Plutarch through many times since.  I have never figured out how he knew so much, I tell you.  They just don’t come any better than old Plutarch.  He knew more about politics than all the other writers I’ve read put together.  When I was in politics, there would be times when I tried to figure somebody out, and I could always turn to Plutarch, and nine times out of ten I’d be able to find a parallel in there.125

Another reason Plutarch has lost ground during the past century is that the United States became so obviously successful that it began to supply to the teachers of American republicanism enough homegrown heroes, beginning with Benjamin Franklin and George Washington and culminating thus far in Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln.126 Still, the lessons of Greece and Rome continued to be taught, with the plays of Shakespeare in the forefront of American education.  In fact, Shakespeare blended in a useful way the Biblical and the Classical.  It can be argued that republican government is not likely to be sustained today, on a large scale, except where English is the language─that is, except where Shakespeare has helped shape the vocabulary and the moral and political sentiments of a people.127

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra illustrate what Rome has meant to English-speaking republicans over the centuries.  Those plays were supplemented by Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus, the former play showing Rome weathering an early (Caesar-like) republican crisis and the latter showing Rome wallowing in the decadence of its empire.128  Shakespeare’s long narrative poem, The Rape of Lucrece, celebrates the family integrity and moral fervor evident at the founding of the Roman Republic.129

One must wonder what to expect when Shakespeare stops being read and played among us.  In fact, one must wonder what happens when serious reading itself stops.  Perhaps the patron saint for all too many Americans in the twenty-first century will be the incomparable Patrick Henry.  His fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, could say of Patrick Henry both that he appeared “to speak as Homer wrote” and that he was “the laziest man in reading [Jefferson] ever knew.”130 Like the American public today, Patrick Henry used up his intellectual capital without making adequate arrangements for its routine replenishment. This is a vital concern not only for the United States but, considering our enormous power, for the rest of the world as well.131


            I have proposed, at the Loyola School of Law in Chicago, that we require a year-long sequence in the Bible and Shakespeare for first- or second-year students.  I do not believe there will ever be more than a couple of votes among the faculty in support of this proposal.  This is so even though I have argued that the law school which does implement such a program would not only win national recognition but would prepare its students in reading, writing and arguing far better than most law schools.132

What do we have in place of the lives of Plutarch or in place of the plays of Shakespeare?  We have movies, television films, soap operas in abundance, and inexpensive videos of all kinds.  Central to our life as a community seems to be a lot of desperate selling and hence disappointed buying. In our circumstances, all this tends to led to more and more public impiety and a crass view of both private and public life. Our dramatists and other teachers are much more shallow than those of our predecessors two centuries ago.  We are much more receptive to cynicism, titillation, and exposés, which all serve and promote a trivializing sophistication.  This ultimately leads to a lack of seriousness.133

This also means that we are peculiarly susceptible to novelty.  The permanent questions, and how one goes about addressing them, have become foreign to us.  Our students are cheated of a proper education and our citizens are encouraged to become less and less civic-minded.  Both a sense of humanity and a salutary tough-mindedness are lost sight of in such circumstances, especially since a shallow individualism is catered to and genuine superiority is depreciated.  It is good to be reminded, by careers such as that of Timoleon, what can be done to overcome limited resources and adverse circumstances, especially whenever it is tempting to succumb to the temptation to feel so sorry for oneself that one withdraws from all meaningful life in one’s community.


            An underlying question here is, What is it legitimate for the community to be concerned about?  Or, as Leo Strauss put it, “The quarrel between the ancients and the moderns concerns eventually, and perhaps even from the beginning, the status of ‘individuality.'”134 An undue stress upon individuality─or, perhaps, upon the wrong kind of individuality─seems to have led to a loss of self-confidence in the community. It is now considered highly questionable for the community to concern itself with either the character of its citizens or the bearing of that character upon the political and social order.  The very legitimacy of community, except as a means for providing us elementary self-preservation, has been called into question.  For example, it is fashionable to speak not of “freedom of speech and of the press” (which, in the First Amendment, has a primarily political cast to it) but to speak rather of “freedom of expression” (which licenses each of us to let himself go).135

The effects of modern science and of a market economy promote innovation and mobility.  One consequence of our mobility is that  family hearths and ancestral graves do not mean what they once did in most parts of our country.  The established ways are routinely questioned, and well they might be, for they are always changing.136  Hedonism, self-centeredness, and lack of community spirit become the order of the day.  This means, among other things, that we have moved, as Americans, from “No taxation without representation” to “No new taxes,”─or, perhaps even better, “No taxes at all.”137

All this bears upon how the United States should conduct itself as the only superpower in the world today.  One is tempted to suggest that we have needed the Soviet Union as much as the Roman Republic needed a formidable Carthage, but then one remembers the follies (both at home and abroad) to which we succumbed in the Cold War and the great risks to humankind posed by a steady escalations in the production and deployment of nuclear weapons.  For our own good and the good of others, care must be taken that we do not convert our allies into tributary subjects the way Athens did with its allies after the Persian War.138 Care must also be taken that we do not cripple ourselves as Rome did as a consequence of her successes around the world.

Plutarch taught that Lysander did not personally care for wealth.  But he succeeded in making his country, Sparta, wealthy, and this contributed to her corruption.139 In a way, this is the story of the American founders. We can also see in the life of Lysander the risks that sensible reforms can pose for a well-established constitution, even reforms that call for more reliance upon merit than upon heredity in selecting a country’s rulers.140 Is not this, too, the story of American reformers?

Perhaps the most important thing the American Framers learned from Plutarch was what it means to be a Founder.  Plutarch taught that there are opinions as well as institutions which are important to establish, not just for the moment, but in perpetuity.  Another juxtaposition of episodes in the lives of Timoleon and Julius Caesar should remind us of vital differences between two fundamentally different ways of lives.  First, we have this story about Timoleon toward the end of his life, when he was widely recognized as a great benefactor in Syracuse, the place where he lived the rest of  his life after his remarkable military successes in Sicily:

But since, as it would seen, not only all larks must grow a crest, as Simonides says, but also every democracy a false accuser, even Timoleon was attacked by two of the popular leaders at Syracuse, Laphystius and Damaenetus.  Of these, Laphystius once tried to make him give surety that he would appear at a certain trial, and Timoleon would not suffer the citizens to stop the man by their turbulent disapproval; for he himself, he said, had of his own accord endured all his toils and dangers in order that any Syracusan who wished might avail himself of the laws.  And when the other, Demaenetus, brought many denunciations in open assembly against his conduct in the field, to him, indeed, Timoleon made no answer, but said he owed thanks to the gods, for he had prayed [to the gods]  that he might live to see the Syracusans gain the right of free speech.141

Then we have Julius Caesar, another man who can be patient–at least up to a point:

Caesar walked toward the door of the treasury [to get funds for a war], and when the keys were not to be found, he sent for smiths and ordered them to break in the door.  Metellus once more opposed him, and was commended by some for so doing; but Caesar, raising his voice, threatened to kill him if he did not cease his troublesome interference.  “And you surely know, young man,” said he, “that it is more unpleasant for me to say this than to do it.”  Metellus, in consequence of this speech, went off in a fright, and henceforth everything was speedily and easily furnished to Caesar for the war.142

We are reminded not only of the ruthlessness of certain ambitious men but also of their charms, such charms as Cicero noted when he observed Caesar preening himself.  These charms, Plutarch teaches us, naturally add to our pleasure in hearing accounts of eminent lives. Such stories should help us better appreciate how these charms contributed to their success, and perhaps how such men should be appealed to and dealt with. For instance, a Caesar (the younger he is, the better) should be helped to see why one should be most reluctant to do that which it is disagreeable to say, that is, to face up to.  Caesar and his associates–enemies and allies alike–did not truly see what they were doing in first corrupting and then in destroying the great Roman Republic that had not only shaped them but had helped make their lives and that of their ancestors meaningful.143 Plutarch makes clear what a thoughtful Roman should have foreseen: after the destruction of the Republic there would never again be a steady production of great men in Rome, no matter how large, wealthy and powerful Rome might seem to become.


This is the 1993 Wayne Quinlan Lecture presented at the Oklahoma City University School of Law, March 25, 1993. The full title of the Quinlan Lecture was “Lessons from Plutarch: What the Framers of the United States Constitution Took for Granted in the Training of the American People.” See Richard Coulson, Wayne Quinlan, 6 OKLA. CITY U. L. REV. 513-15(1981); Von Creel, Wayne Quinlan, 6 OKLA. CITY U. L. REV. 516-17 (1981). The Quinlan Lecturers include Antonio Scalia (1992), Bernard Grossfield (1991), Leo Katz (1990), A.E. Dick Howard (1989), Richard A. Epstein (1988), Stanford Levinson (1987), Morton J. Horwitz (1986), Franklin E. Zimring (1985), E. Allan Farnsworth (1984), and James E. Bond (1983). This meeting was chaired by Dean Robert H. Henry of the School of Law faculty.


65. See ORIGINAL INTENT, supra note 3, at 181.

66. See, e.g., George Anastaplo, On Trial: Explorations, 22 LOY. U. CHI. L.J. 765, at 919-69 (1991) [hereinafter Anastaplo, On Trial]; Anastaplo, THE AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION, supra note 9, at 291-92; infra note 110. Lessons from the Bible will be discussed further in part 7; see also app. A of this Collection.

67. See ANASTAPLO, HUMAN BEING AND CITIZEN, supra note 19, at 8-29, 203-13; George Anastaplo, The Constitution at Two Hundred: Explorations, 22 TEX. TECH L. REV. 967, 978-87 (1991) [hereinafter Anastaplo, The Constitution at Two Hundred]; app. C-1 of this Collection; ORIGINAL INTENT, supra note 3, at 178-80; Laurence Berns, Aristotle and the Moderns on Freedom and Equality, in THE CRISIS OF LIBERAL DEMOCRACY: A STRAUSSIAN PERSPECTIVE 148, 156-62 (Kenneth L. Deutsch & Walter Soffer eds., 1987).

68. On exporting liberal democracy, see ANASTAPLO, THE CONSTITUTION OF 1787, supra note 9, at 1-12. See ANASTAPLO, THE AMERICAN MORALIST, supra note 12, at 555-69; Anastaplo, On Freedom, supra note 12, at 630-44; see also infra text accompanying note 247; supra notes 12 and 21.

69. See Laurence Berns, Aristotle and Adam Smith on Justice: Cooperation Between Ancients and Moderns?, 48 REV. OF METAPHYSICS 71 (1994); see also supra note 58.

70. See JACOB KLEIN, LECTURES AND ESSAYS 1-34 (Robert B. Williamson and Elliot Zuckerman eds., 1985); ANASTAPLO, THE AMERICAN MORALIST, supra note 12, at 83-102;  see also supra note 22; app. C-2 of this Collection.

71. See ANASTAPLO, THE ARTIST AS THINKER, supra note 21, at 264-70; see also supra note 2.

72. On modern Greek affairs, see ANASTAPLO, HUMAN BEING AND CITIZEN, supra note 19m at 3-7/ See ANASTAPLO, THE ARTIST AS THINKER,  supra note 21, at 331-53; Anastaplo, What Is Still Wrong With George Anastaplo?,  supra note 6, at 630, 645; see also ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, 15th ed., s.v. “Greece”; C. Herman Pritchett, Review of The Constitutionalist: Notes on the First Amendment, in 1 LAW AND PHILOSOPHY: THE PRACTICE OF THEORY, supra note 35, at 539; cf. app C-3 of this Collection.

73. The Loeb Classical Library edition of Plutarch is drawn upon in this Collection whenever Plutarch is cited or quoted.

74. MEYER REINHOLD, CLASSICA AMERICANA: THE GREEK AND ROMAN HERITAGE IN THE UNITED STATES 250 (1984) [hereinafter REINHOLD, CLASSICA AMERICANA]. It could perhaps be said that Plutarch, like Socrates, brought philosophy down to earth. See app. B-1 of this Collection; see also supra text accompanying notes 91, 101.

75. I mention in passing that there should be some question about how carefully the Framers read the more profound of the Classical authors, the authors that Plutarch himself considered his own greatest teachers. See, e.g., ANASTAPLO, THE AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION, supra note 9, at 107-24; app. B-2, section VII, of this Collection; see also infra text accompanying note 130 and note 238; app. B-1 of this Collection.

76. On Publius and the Federalist Papers, see ANASTAPLO, THE CONSTITUTIONALIST, supra note 32, at 819. See also ANASTAPLO, THE CONSTITUTION OF 1787, supra note 9, at 225-26; Anastaplo, The Constitution at Two Hundred, supra note 67, at 1042-53; see also infra note 89.

77. See REINHOLD, CLASSICA AMERICANA, supra note 74, at 252 (referring to John Breitnall), 260.

78. Id.  at 257-58 (quoting John Davis).

79. Compare the career, in Plutarch, of another fratricide, Romulus. Compare, also, what Machiavelli has to say (as in chapter 6 of THE PRINCE) about Romulus. See app. B-1, section V, of this Collection. If revolution of civil war is necessarily fratricidal, this makes the identification of Washington with Timoleon particularly apt. See, e.g., ANASTAPLO, THE AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION, supra note 9, at 1.


81. Id. at IV, 1-3. Is not Timoleon Socrates-like in critical respects, including the way he protects here his Alcibiades-like brother? See PLATO, SYMPOSIUM 220 D-E.


83. Id. at IV, 5.

84. Id. at IV, 6-8.

85. PLUTARCH, TIMOLEON 271 n.1 (Leob Classical Library).

86. Should Pylades, not Orestes, have killed Clytaemestra? But it seems that Apollo’s command, as reported in the Oresteia, could not be ignored. See Anastaplo, On Trial, supra note 66, at 804-21.

87. See PLUTARCH, TIMOLEON, at V, 1-2. But see infra note 260.

88. d. at V, 2-3.



91. Id. at VI, 1.

92. Id. I at III, 2-3 see also infra text accompanying notes 105, 141.

93. It does remain a mystery as to who or what prompted a common citizen to nominate Timoleon for this campaign. Does Plutarch suggest any answer? Is the use of Timoleon’s patronymic indicative of what led to this nomination? (Was a patriotic fratricide thus recalled?) See supra text accompanying note 80; see also infra note 97.


95. On pollution, see ANASTAPLO, HUMAN BEING AND CITIZEN, supra note 19, at 97-101. See ANASTAPLO, THE AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION, supra note 9, at 405-06 n. 68; see also infra note 98.

96. I have heard this attributed to Louis Pasteur. Joseph Jourbert said, “Chance usually favors the prudent.” THE HOME BOOK OF QUOTATIONS 228 (Burton Stevenson ed., 10th ed. 1967).

97. The American Founders were very much aware of this as a problem. See supra note 67; see also infra text accompanying note 120. Had Timoleon’s family experiences assured thoughtful Corinthians that he could be trusted with power and, perhaps even more important, with victory?

98. PLUTARCH, TIMOLEON XXXVI, 8-9. Also, did Timoleon suspect that the Corinthians should have done more to curb Timophanes?

99. PLUTARCH, COMPARISON OF TIMOLEON AND AEMILIUS PAULUS, at II, 11-12; see also infra note 260.

100.    See George Anastaplo, Church and State: Explorations, 19 LOY. U. CHI. L.J. 61 (1987)     [hereinafter Anastaplo, Church and State]. On individualism, see infra text accompanying notes 134 and 192; app. B-2, Sections VI, VII, of this Collection; see also app. C-3 of this Collection.

101.    REINHOLD, CLASSICA AMERICANA, supra note 74; at 250; see supra note 74, infra note 240 and text accompanying notes 236, 254.

102.    See ANASTAPLO, THE AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION, supra note 9, at 24, 34, 48, 52, 119 (on noble fictions); see also supra text accompanying note 92. But see ANASTAPLO, THE AMERICAN MORALIST, supra note 12, at 27-32, 616; app. C-1 of this Collection.

103.    See W. H. Walsh, Immanuel Kant, in 4 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 305, 316 (1967) (on the Kantian antinomies); see also app. B-1, section V, of this Collection.

104.    See, e.g., Hellmut Fritzsche, Of Things That Are Not, in 1 LAW AND PHILOSOPHY, supra note 35, at I, 3.

105.    Plutarch has provided biographies of each of these four men. See also supra text accompanying note 92; infra text accompanying note 141.

106.    See PLUTARCH, NICIAS IV, 1.

107.    REINHOLD, CLASSICA AMERICANA, supra note 74, at 251; see infra text accompanying note 252.

108.    REINHOLD, CLASSICA AMERICANA, supra note 74, at 251.

109.    See, e.g., ANASTAPLO, THE AMERICAN MORALIST, supra note 12, at 319-37.

110.    See Anastaplo, Church and State, supra note 100, at 145-63; see also app. B-1, sections I, II, VII, of this Collection; supra note 67.

111.    On Roman expansion, see supra note 67.


113.    Plutarch has provided us biographies of these three men, as well as of Julius Caesar who rose out of the political ruins that they left Rome in.

114.    Plutarch has provided us biographies of these three men and of Marcus Antony who collaborated with Octavius Caesar in suppressing the Republican cause. No separate biography by Plutarch of Octavius Caesar has survived.

115.    Hegel makes this argument in his PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY.

116.    The reader is instructed, as in the account of the career of Pyrrhus, about the limits of ambition: a dialogue about the sequence of victories that one might hope for suggests the ultimate futility of such a career. See PLUTARCH, PYRRHUS XIV. Is Pyrrhus, in his hedonism, really a modern? See infra note 260.

117.    See supra note 67. The experience of the United States with the end of the Cold War can be instructive here. See supra text accompanying note 10; infra text accompanying note 138; see also app. B-3, section V and app. C-3 of this Collection.


119.    REINHOLD, CLASSICA AMERICANA, supranote 74, at 257.

120.    See PLUTARCH, JULIUS CAESAR XXXII, 9. But see id. at VII. 3. See also infra note 128, text accompanying notes 143, 231, 233, and infra part 7, section IV. Hamilton’s sympathies are also reflected in his preference for Rome in place of Sparta. However much of a model the Roman Republic was for most of the American Framers, they appreciated the merits of Sparta even though it was destined to remain small because of its institutions. The Framers’ admiration of the Roman Republic contributed to the respoect they had for such men as Cato, a martyr in the republican cause. See REINHOLD, CLASSICA AMERICANA, supra note 74, at 253-55; see also supra text accompanying note 97.

121.    See supra note 114; infra note 260 (on the forms that the decline of public-spiritedness can take today).


123.    See id. bk. II, ch. II. I do not believe that the common good is ever mentioned in Machiavelli’s THE PRINCE. See also NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI, THE DISCOURSES bk. II, ch. IX; infra notes 140, 175, 260.

124.    See REINHOLD, CLASSICA AMERICANA, supra note 74, at 259-60.

125.    Id. At 264. On flexible facts, see supra note 102; app. A of this Collection.

126.    REINHOLD, CLASSICA AMERICANA, supra note 74, at 258.

127.    See ANASTAPLO, THE ARTIST AS THINKER, supra note 21, at 15-28; ANASTAPLO, THE CONSTITUTION OF 1787, supra note 9, at 1, 13, 74-88. By way of comparison, consider what the great literature of the Indians and of the Chinese prepare each of these vital peoples for. See, e.g.,  Anastaplo, An Introduction to Confucian Thought, supra note 2, at 124-70; An Introduction to Hindu Thought: The Bhagavad Gita, in 1985 GREAT IDEAS TODAY, 258-85; see also infra part 6 of this Collection.

128.    See ANASTAPLO, THE ARTIST AS THINKER, supra note 21, at 23-24, 29-61. Julius Caesar, unlike Coriolanus, had no Volumnia to restrain him. See supra text accompanying note 120; see also infra note 143.

129.    See ANASTAPLO, THE ARTIST AS THINKER, supra note 21, at 46-61.

130.    See THE COMPLETE JEFFERSON, supra note 8, at 1121, 1124; see also ANASTAPLO, THE AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION, supra note 9, at 107-24; supra note 75. The  most beneficial education extends to the training of the passions along with the mind. For what a perhaps congenital frenzy may do to even the most cultured, see infra part 5;  see also supra notes 23, 26.

131.    Consider the implications of the following recent revelation:

Congressional leaders privately urged President John. F. Kennedy to invade Cuba at the outset of the Cuban missile crisis, newly released White House tapes show. “We’ve got to take a chance somewhere, sometime, if we’re going to retain our position as a great world power,” Sen. Richard Russell, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, advised Kennedy as the world came to the brink of nuclear war in 1962.

JFK Tapes Released, CHI. SUN-TIMES, Dec. 22, 1994, at 6. But see ANASTAPLO,        HUMAN BEING AND CITIZEN, supra note 19, at 57-58. See also ANASTAPLO, THE AMERICAN MORALIST, supra note 12, at 193, 233-34, 241, 551; Anastaplo, Professor Jaffa and That Old-Time Religion, in ORIGINAL INTENT, supra note 3, at 363-68; app. B-3, section V, of this Collection; infra note 159, John Omicinski, ‘Mighty’ Red Army Unmasked: Chechen Rebels Show Up Bedraggled, Untrained Russian Soldiers, USA TODAY, Feb. 6, 1955, at 11A. Compare Joshua Muravchik, How the Cold War Really Ended, COMMENTARY, Nov. 1994, at 40.  But see app. B-3, section V, of this Collection (on a 1977 James Burnham article).

132.    See infra part 6.

133.    The London reviews of Peter Sellars’ 1994 self-indulgent production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice were much more serious and hence severe (justly so) than their Chicago counterparts had been. I wrote the following letter which was published in the Chicago Tribune:

Your reviewer, when he assessed the current Goodman Theatre production of The Merchant of Venice, neglected to mention one important detail about this desperately (if not perversely) innovative production: It is a remarkably boring show, for which those of us who want to encourage genuine Shakespeare can be thankful.

George Anastaplo, Reviewing a Review, CHI. TRIBUNE, Oct 22, 1994, section 1, at 26. On the undue amount of selling among us, see app. B-3, section VII, of this Collection.

134.    LEO STRAUSS, NATURAL RIGHT AND HISTORY 233 (1953); supra note 100; see also Richard Bernstein, A Very Unlikely Villain (or Hero), N.Y. Times, Jan. 29, 1995, at E4; Leo Strauss’s Elitism Sought Excellence for All, N.Y. Times, Dec. 4, 1994 at E18; Brent Staples, Undemocratic Vistas: The Sinister Vogue of Leo Strauss, N.Y. Times, Nov. 28, 1994, at A14. But see Laurence Berns, Correcting the Record, P.S. (American Political Science Association), Dec. 1995. See also GEORGE ANASTAPLO, THE ARTIST AS THINKER, supra note 21, at 249-72; supra note 2; infra note 140; app. B-3, section 4, of this Collection.

135.    See ANASTAPLO, THE AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION, supra note 9, at 53-56, 63, 68-69, 128-29, 225, 238; see also supra note 58; infra note 260; app. C-4 of this Collection.

136.    The American experience is that of Rip Van Winkle, a story which depends upon a way of life that exhibits constant change.

137.    See ANASTAPLO, THE AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION, supra note 9, at 3, 9, 12, 25, 29, 180, 247, 259-60, 262-63, 265, 269-73, 278, 281, 287, 300; see also infra note 260.

138.    See PLUTARCH, CIMON XI, 437-39.

139.    See PLUTARCH, LYSANDER II, 237-39.

140.    See id. at XXIV-XXV. Edmund Burke would endorse this warning. Machiavelli, it can be said, was a republican who championed reforms that relied more upon merit than upon heredity or any other criteria in selecting the rulers of a country. The case for Machiavelli as republican reformer was made in this way almost a hundred years ago by an American in Harper’s Monthly:

Mr. Dyer is rather of the opinion, first luminously suggested by Macaulay, that Machiavelli was in earnest, but must not be judged as a political moralist of our time and race would be judged. He thinks that Machiavelli was in earnest, as none but an idealist can be, and he is the first to imagine him an idealist immersed in realities, who involuntarily transmutes the events under his eye into something like the visionary issues of reverie. The Machiavelli whom he depicts does not cease to be politically a republican and socially a just man because he holds up an atrocious despot like Caesar Borgia as a mirror for rulers. What Machiavelli beheld round him in Italy was a civic disorder in which there was oppression without statecraft, and revolt without patriotism. When a miscreant like Borgia appeared upon the scene and reduced both tyrants and rebels to an apparent quiescence, he might very well seem to such a dreamer the savior of society whom a certain sort of dreamers are always looking for. Machiavelli was no less honest when he honored the diabolical force of Caesar Borgia than Carlyle was when at different times he extolled the strong man who destroys liberty in creating order. But Carlyle has only just ceased to be mistaken for a reformer, while it is still Machiavelli’s hard fate to be so trammeled in his material that his name stands for whatever is most malevolent and perfidious in human nature.

William Dean Howells, reprinted in MARK TWAIN, COLLECTED TALES, SKETCHES, SPEECHES, & ESSAYS, 1891-1910, at 723-24 (1992). How would Abraham Lincoln have regarded these matters? See generally LEO STRAUSS, THOUGHTS ON MACHIAVELLI (1958); supra notes 58, 123, 134; infra note 175.



143.    What, for example, was Antony’s duty to Rome when he was tempted by the incomparable Cleopatra? Students today tend to regard this kind of question as somehow illegitimate, perhaps even as a disparagement of the sacred right to privacy. See supra text accompanying note 120; see also supra note 128; infra note 260; app. C-2 of this Collection.

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