August 23

THE true philosopher, unless prevented, will serve the state.

ZENO. in SENECA'S DIALOGUES. Book viii. 3. 2.

THOSE in charge of public business should look at the advantage of the citizens, and follow that in all they do, forgetting themselves. Such a trust should be administered in the interest of those who give it, not that of him to who it is given.

PANAETIUS. in CICERO'S de OFFICIIS. Book i. 17. 12.


  1. Students of philosophy are the servants of their fellow citizens. When possible, they shoul seek public office, not to gain glory for themselves, but to look to the well-being of those they serve. The philosopher understands that all are connected as in one family, and will serve all members of the family with justice, temperance, wisdom, courage and most importantly, compassion. - Inspired by Zeno and Panaetius

  2. There is no such thing as "the State". There are only people performing functions. Take away all the individual people (all the politicians and bureaucrats) and where is the State?

    So much pain and destruction has happened in the name of the State that it's past time we question it. And I certainly would not want to serve it.

    Helping other people directly, yes. Serving a fictional entity called the State, no.

  3. @Ted - When the state is understood as being the citizens that comprise and guide it, I think that we have a safer direction. One of the troubles with quotes is that it does not provide much of the background from which they are drawn. In general, the Stoics were strong cosmopolitans, interested in the welfare of all people regardless of citizenship. That being said, the Stoics also held that it is our duty to serve each other, through the state if it is a righteous organization, or against it if it is vicious. Thanks for your comment.

  4. I tend to agree with Ted on this one. Political structures are not what they used to be in Athens at the time of the first Stoics. No one then stood between a citizen and the State. Citizens could debate affairs in public. Maybe democracy had its weaknesses too, but the main difference between ‘their’ and ‘our’ democracy is that the City counted roughly half a million residents. They were known to have decided all together and by themselves

    1° that foreigners, about 50.000, would not have a vote.
    2° that women, 250.000, would not be allowed to vote.
    3° that laborious jobs would be accomplished by another category of 300.000 non-voters: slaves.

    All parties confounded, and without children, there must have been about 5.000 ‘free’ voters in Zeno’s Athens…

    Today, no one enters easily into the club of men who dispute (not share) the power with another few. Actually, the State acquired so much power that in the name of the reason of its own existence, all barriers that hold back the information about its structure and way of working are reinforced so that no information whatsoever can be revealed. We speak about departments such as diplomacy, defense, finance, employment etc. If, for the benefit of all citizens you would like to longtime in advance divulgate military strategies, or news about the coming devaluation of currency, I’m afraid you will hear your government colleagues remind you that it is your business to give the least information possible so that power can stay in place undisturbed. Already, and in order to secure a seat in government, candidates have to make such extraordinary promises that one would practically have to congratulate them for not keeping their promises.

    These are not some light critics put forth by someone anti-parliament or government. They are the result of what is obvious and easily observable only: the maneuver margin of action is so much limited because of the heritage left by those who were in power before, that new candidates discover sooner than later – if ever they are allowed to enter the oligarchic circle of politicians – that they can only pursue that which their so much criticized predecessors already initiated.

    The Stoic adept of today, not different from the philosopher 2000 years back, I think, is only interested in making good use of reason so that s/he may contribute as best as s/he can, and in a direct manner, in the well-being of all living creatures. S/he will therefore find it necessary to master temper, not to be overcome by grief and not to give way to uncontrolled emotions of any kind. These are the things that s/he will want to learn and teach…