Doctors for the State

This is simply fascinating. Plutarch describes both the Spartan reformer Lycurgus and the Roman revolutionist Julius Caesar with the term “physician.” Compare:

Things being in this posture at his return, [Lycurgus] applied himself, without loss of time, to a thorough reformation, and resolved to change the whole face of the commonwealth; for what could a few particular laws and a partial alteration avail? He must act as wise physicians do, in the case of one who labours under a complication of diseases, by force of medicines reduce and exhaust him, change his whole temperament, and then set him upon a totally new regimen of diet.:”(“Lycurgus,” in Plutarch’s Lives, Vol. 1 [New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006], pg. 62.)”:


Take notice, too, that it was not the same thing for the Sicilians to freed from Dionysius, and for the Romans to be freed from Caesar. The former owned himself a tyrant, and vexed Sicily with a thousand oppressions; whereas Caesar’s supremacy, certainly, in the process for attaining it, had inflicted no trouble on its opponents, but, once established and victorious, it had indeed the name and appearance, but fact that was cruel or tyrannical there was none. On the contrary, in the malady of the times and the need of a monarchical government, he might be thought to have been sent as the gentlest physician, by no other than a divine intervention.:”(“Comparison of Dion and Brutus,” in Plutarch’s Lives, Vol. 2 [New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006], pg. 665)”:

Lycurgus accomplished his sweeping reforms of Sparta without bloodshed, but Caesar fomented his revolution, which totally transformed the Roman constitution, with quite a bit of bloodshed. Yet Plutarch calls both “physicians” and attributes their radical social restructurings to wisdom and gentleness. What’s fascinating about this is that Plutarch stands in the Greek tradition of liberty and rational persuasion in government, but empire, forced upon the Greeks by Alexander the Great and upon the Romans by Caesar, is fundamentally against liberty and rational persuasion in government. It’s also fascinating because on Plutarch’s account, Lycurgus prevented Sparta from becoming either an absolute monarchy or an anarchistic democracy, but Caesar subverted the Roman Republic by turning it into an absolute monarchy founded upon a pandering to the popular will that could only be called anarchistic democracy.


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