The Roman empire reached its zenith 2000 years ago; their world would seem totally alien to any member of today’s society. One would expect that some dusty tome dealing with the strategies of attaining the office of Consul, a long defunct position, to be irrelevant to the modern world; yet despite the fact that nearly every facet of society has changed since this time when the world was divided into patrician and plebian, one integral part of the human experience has remained immutable: the psyche. Yes, the human mind has remained unchanged after all this time. Indeed, just as our ancestors once did, we refined modern folk still suffer from the same mental vulnerabilities. For example, the all-too-human proclivity to act from an emotional response rather than a rational one is still an issue with which nations wrestle. Those who have studied these weaknesses and have learned to exploit them, otherwise known as the politicians, exist throughout the ages. The politician is a rare class of person. He possesses this foreign mindset where sheer pragmatism is his sole end. Cicero’s How to Win an Election is devoid of obfuscating rhetoric, because it is simply a letter between two likeminded brothers. Cicero has no need to hide that he advocates for cold and inhuman pragmatism when running a campaign, because he is merely “preaching to choir.” Moreover, this text is timeless not only because of the unique perspective it gives, but also the scathing criticism of democracy implied.
How to Win an Election, in its simplest form, can be reduced to a treatise on the interplay of two concepts, human nature and self-interest. According to Cicero, one can manipulate human nature to achieve a goal, such as being elected Consul. Cicero writes that it is crucial to gather the support of the populace, so essential that one may lie or cheat or do whatever they wish when necessary. Is this not a reprehensible way to view the world? The philosophy espoused in the text lacks any kind of moral principle except for unadulterated power-lust. How to Win an Election implies that the politicians who win elections do not buy into the lofty rhetoric they peddle out to their constituents. A horrifying realization for any citizen who lives in a democratic-republic, where he must choose from among these amoral figures to represent him in government.
Moreover, the disillusionment with elected officials that How to Win an Election instills in its readers points to a larger cynicism with democracy itself. If since its inception democracy has encouraged that two-faced liars be given the power, then does democracy even work? Time and time again, principled men and women have been turned away by the democratic process in favor of manipulative sociopaths devoid of any sense of humanity. At least with an aristocratic-oligarchy, an experienced and wise group of people can make informed decisions about how to lead the country. Tragically, with today’s state of affairs the way that they are, “wise leader” sounds like a paradox rather than an ideal for which to strive.
How to Win an Election is relevant to the modern world but not for its political acumen. Even though Cicero did not intend it, this text is a cry for action addressed to the American people. The broken political system, which put an empty-headed egoist and a deceitful criminal a finger’s breadth away from the most powerful office on the earth, is the single biggest threat posed to America’s well-being today. America’s election process must drastically change, so that it can become resistant to the sly tricks of lowly hucksters.