Populus, Iuris Consensus, and Degenerate Forms of Government

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here; in the last month, I’ve been collecting my thoughts as I’ve tried to narrow down a final paper topic through reading and research. I recently came up with an idea I might use for that paper, so it’s possible I’ll do another blog post about that in a few days, but right now I want to summarize some of what I’ve learned about since my last post. I have become very interested in Cicero’s definitions of certain terms like res publica (the commonwealth), populus (the people of a res publica), and iuris consensus (common agreement of law). As I wrote last time, he defines the res publica as the res populi (the property/affairs of the people), but he says that a populus must be joined by iuris consensus and “utilitatis communione” (common interest/advantage). I started wondering what kind of government Cicero would not consider a res publica, which led me to read a certain passage of Book III in which he explores that question. The interlocutors conclude that the degenerate forms of states, those that exist corrupted from good constitutions such as tyranny from monarchy, are indeed not res publica because the populus does not have an agreement of law or a common interest. However, this certainly raises interesting questions: in a monarchy, where one man reigns, do the people have an agreement of law? Under ochlocracy or mob rule, the degenerate form of democracy, do the people not share a iuris consensus, even if their laws are unjust? These questions may be answered through Cicero’s discussion of natural law earlier in Book III, providing evidence that a government must rule according to universally correct and just legal standards to be a res publica. Some argue that Cicero sees the res publica as a public partnership, one that is broken in a degenerate government, though I think other explanations are possible, such as the necessity of willful subjugation of the populus to the ruling class. However, there certainly are elements of public ownership of political power (as Cicero says the res publica is the res populi, or property of the people), but that may be a topic for a future blog post and potentially a final paper.