Cicero: The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled…

The following quote is circulating online:

The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.” — Cicero , 55 B.C.

So are other misstatements about it:

This alleged quote from Marcus Tullius Cicero that began circulating on the Internet in October, 2008, is based on a true statement from the great Roman orator, but someone added a lot to it to make it match some of what the United States was facing economically.

The actual quote is:   “The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and assistance to foreign hands should be curtailed, lest Rome fall.”

A quick Google books search reveals that the quote greatly precedes 2008, however — and I place no confidence in that “actual quote” either.

Does anyone know the real quote, if any?



14 thoughts on “Cicero: The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled…

  1. “Almost certainly spurious” according to Suzy Platt, Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1993), p. 154.

  2. I found this via Google Books, also by Suy Platt:

    “Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero, Congressional Record, April 25, 1968, vol. 114, p. 10635. This passage was reprinted in U.S. News & World Report, July 29, 1968, p. 15. Still later, a contributor reported this to The Review of the News, June 30, 1971, p. 19, also attributing it to Cicero. No evidence has been found to confirm that Cicero said these words, and it is almost certainly spurious.” (Platt S, “The Quotation File in the Congressional Research Service”, in: Irving RD, Katz B (eds.), 1988, Reference Services and Public Policy, New York, 83

    It seems like it originated in a session of the House of Representatives on 25 April 1968 during a 1-minute speech by LA Rep Otto Passman. His speech is in the Congressional Record here (right page; last two columns)

  3. From a political point of view it’s quite ironic that Passman attributed the wish for economic reforms to Cicero, because it was in fact his part-time enemy Caesar who propagated these reforms and managed (at least to some extent) to reduce the budget deficit, solve the Roman debt crisis etc. 🙂

  4. Maybe this helps…(snipped from a blog)

    As for “The budget should be balanced, … assistance”, I am sorry, but I haven’t been able to find the original quotation yet, though I have some doubts about this English adaptation which could be a fake quote that was invented by a newspaper in 1986, as we read in Paul F. Boller and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions (1990) p. 14.
    “…an editorial on Jan 15,986, Kansas City Star… when pressed to [give source from Cicero][the editor] was unable to come up with any documentation.”

  5. The false quote was apparently first recorded publicly in 1968 (see above). Ronald Reagan also referred to it in a 1973 speech as CA governor: “In our nation today, government has grown too big, too complex, and possessed of what Cicero called the ‘arrogance of officialdom’. Remote from the wishes of the people, it forgets that ours is a system of government by the consent of the governed—not the other way around.” — found in Ryan EF Jr, 2001, Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator, New York, 93

  6. Does anyone think that Reagan actually knew who Cicero was let alone quote him rightly? My confidence in the intelligence of the politicians, except a few, is dwindling. But this is perhaps beside the point!

  7. Reagan definitely liked the quote. There is one other instances in the later 1970s where he referred to the “arrogance of officialdom” again. But with regard to intelligence or wisdom Reagan quoting Pseudo-Cicero doesn’t really suggest anything either way. It seems more like the quote had become something of a familiar saying in (conservative?) political circles of the late 60s/early 70s, serving its purpose, even if it’s (in all likelihood) pseudohistorical. It’s also not surprising—given its slightly anti-globalist leaning—that it became prominent again in 2008 (global debt crisis).

  8. Ronald Reagan attended high school in the 1920s and graduated from college in 1932, well before the educational reforms that have given us the American educational system of today. He would certainly have known who Cicero was.

  9. From a web search the quote appears to go back a little way before its 1968 use by Otto Passman. It is attributed to the the author Taylor Caldwell, page 483 of the 1965 Doubleday edition of the novel Pillar of Iron – where the central character is Cicero.

    Unfortunately from Australia all I could view on Google books is a snippet view – and none of page 483 – so I can neither confirm nor deny the alleged presence of the quote in that novel.


  10. Great find. I had wondered where Passman had originally read the quote. (However, GoogleBooks doesn’t spit out any results for me at my current location.)

  11. Very good work, Matthew.

    A “quote” attributed to an ancient author which is really from a modern novel in which that author is a character is something I have seen before (for Luther). I’d never heard of the novel, I must admit.

  12. Cicero is also a town in Reagan’s home state, Illinois. 🙂

    Reagan was an early reader. After his family finally found out just how nearsighted Reagan was (ie, practically blind) and got him glasses, he became a voracious reader. When he was ten, he went to the library nearly every day after supper and checked out two books, which he would read and return. (I wish I’d lived close enough to the library to do that.)

    Writing to one of the Dixon, Illinois librarians, he reminisced, “I, of course, read all the books that a boy that age would like — The Rover Boys; Frank Merriwell at Yale; Horatio Alger. I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs and read all the Tarzan books… Burroughs also provided an introduction to science fiction with John Carter of Mars… Then came all of Zane Grey, Mark Twain, and others… The library was really my house of magic.”

    Even in later life, he said that being isolated in a room with nothing to read would be torture.

    Reagan quoted Cicero fairly often on “Had there not been older men to undo the damage done by the young, there would be no state.” It was part of his collection of useful quotations he had copied out of books he’d read. He also talked about Cicero’s love of getting out of the polluted air of the City and into the country. (A California smog thing.)

  13. More details here, where, in the comment, DIVVS adds:

    I found it in chapter 15 of Caldwell’s book, but it’s indirect speech. Rough translation: “[Gaius] Antonius [Hybrida] was in complete agreement with Cicero that the budget had to be balanced, public debt reduced, aid to foreign lands curtailed, and that the people should not depend on government for subsistence.”

    It was turned into direct speech by a politician in the US House of Representatives in 1968. See here (right page, lower right hand side):

    So Congressman Passman added a thing or two himself and must be regarded as the co-creator of the fake Cicero quote.

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