How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians Hardcover – Feb 13 2012
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A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice (8/5/2012)
"Were he alive today, no doubt, Quintus would be making big bucks as a political consultant. . . . Speaking to us from a distance of more than two millenniums, Quintus Cicero's words are incisive and revelatory: They remind us that, when it comes to that strange beast known as politics, human nature hasn't changed very much since then. The past, that's right, isn't even past."--Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times
"How to Win an Election . . . is a timely new edition for the US 2012 campaign. . . . Most reviewers of How to Win an Election have been struck by its modernity."--Mary Beard, New York Review of Books
"Two thousand years ago, Quintus Tullius Cicero gave his elder brother, Marcus, an unusually frank guide to winning votes--and, on the principle that democracy's brutal essentials have changed little over the centuries, Princeton University Press has now brought out How to Win an Election. . . . [The book] shows that a campaigner's concerns have remained just as constant as the debate about whether any democracy is ever democratic enough."--Peter Stothard, Wall Street Journal
"Just in time for the primaries and the big showdown in November comes the wisdom of the ancients, in this case from Quintus Tullius Cicero, younger brother of Marcus, the greatest ancient Roman orator--perhaps the greatest of all time--who, more than two thousand years ago, ran for the highest office in the Roman Republic."--Steve Levingston, WashingtonPost.com's Political Bookworm blog
"The pamphlet of Quintus Cicero is filled with savvy political soundbites, still relevant today. . . . Some things never change."--Maggie Galehouse, HoustonChronicle.com's Bookish blog
"[Quintus Cicero's] How to Win an Election is a quick, punchy, and thoroughly entertaining read, cleanly translated by Philip Freeman, chairman of the classics department at Luther College."--John Kass, Chicago Tribune
"The advice holds up. These candidates must have classics scholars on staff, because a close read of Cicero reveals they're following his counsel."--David Weigel, Slate
"Besides the fact that this small book contains such time-worn advice as 'promise everything to everybody' to the value of being a social chameleon, I learned that sexual scandals were fodder for upending an opponent's political campaign even as far back as 64 B.C. Well, as they say, mutatione rerum magis, tanto magis stetisse ('the more things change, the more they stay the same'), or something like that."--Guardian.co.uk's GrrlScientist blog
"I just hope my opponent in the next campaign doesn't get a copy."--James Carville, Foreign Affairs
"There is solace at hand in this little book, which takes only a few minutes to read. . . . Translated (the Latin text appears on facing pages) and put in context by Philip Freeman, whose biography of Julius Caesar was widely praised, the letter is cynical, worldly wise, and oddly reassuring."--John Wilson, Christianity Today
"One of the more entertaining books of this campaign season comes to us from 2,000 years ago. . . . [C]icero's memo accurately describes today's politics."--Joshua Rothman, Boston Globe's Ideas page blog Brainiac
"The release of [How to Win an Election] was no doubt timed to coincide with this year's U.S. presidential election and as campaigning unfolds it's hard not to see some of Quintus' advice in practice. . . . This text has an almost whimsical quality and bluntly lays out what has been all but established practice in politics for--as the book proves--millennia."--Prague Post
"A quick and fairly broad sketch of Roman politics in Cicero's era."--Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed
"Candidates, voters and dedicated observers of this vaunted political ritual would do well to take a deep breath and pick up a copy of How to Win an Election. . . . At once a validation of how we humans choose our leaders and cunning in the way of Machiavelli's The Prince, Quintus Cicero's words of wisdom, filtered through the fluid new translation by Philip Freeman, are sobering and more than a little deliciously self-serving."--Carol Herman, Washington Times
"In 64 B.C., Cicero wrote his older brother a letter of advice guiding him on how to win his race for consul. Nearly 3,000 years later, it remains stunningly relevant, and it emerges as key evidence that some things never change, like political trickery, tactics of manipulation, the art of making a sale. . . . It is a book that reads as if it were written by David Axelrod or Karl Rove, who incidentally provides a glowing blurb on the back cover of one of the editions."--David Masciotra, Daily Beast
"The primer, subtitled An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians, written more than 2,000 years ago by Quintus Tullius Cicero for his brother Marcus Cicero, the famed orator, who was a candidate for consul of Rome in 64 B.C., but you would have to be a resident of Mars or maybe Pluto not to see its modern relevance. . . . Quintus Cicero shows himself to be a master political strategist of oppositional research, organization, and turnout. The little book, translated from Latin to vernacular English by Philip Freeman, should remain on the desks of office-seekers for the next four years, its principles underlined."--Suzanne Fields, Washington Times
"Suffice it to say that today's political advisors could learn a lot from reading advice, now almost 2,100 years old, to an aspiring politician."--Bruce Whiteman, Wapsipinicon Alamanac
From the Back Cover
"In his election advice to his brother Marcus, Quintus Cicero shows himself to be a master political strategist with a clear understanding of opposition research, organization, and turnout (though a little weak on message). Fresh, lively, and sharp, this primer provides timeless counsel and a great read for the modern political practitioner."--Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to President George W. Bush
"Given the lowly state of politics these days, this ancient Roman handbook on electioneering shows how little has changed. Freeman has done a masterful job of bringing this delightful text into the modern day--so masterful that one might think it was actually a spoof."--Gary Hart, former U.S. senator
"Loaded with down-and-dirty advice on how to sway voters and win office in ancient Rome, this practical campaign handbook offers shameless hints for political hopefuls of any era: making and breaking promises, networking and calling in favors, spreading rumors, appealing to special interests, speechifying, pressing the flesh, and more. Wickedly funny, astute, and timeless!"--Adrienne Mayor, author of The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy
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First, it provides a fresh translation of the letter written in 64 BC to Marcus Tullius Cicero, then 42 years old, from his younger brother Quintus. This has previously been translated and published - for example, it was included in volume 462 of the Loeb Classical Library (Cicero: Letters to Quintus and Brutus. Letter Fragments. Letter to Octavian. Invectives. Handbook of Electioneering; D. Letters) where the title was stated as "The Handbook of Electioneering".
I don't posses any other translations of this particular work, but I can say that this translation by Freeman is enjoyable to read and puts the work into our current (American) English in a way that works very well (and when I compare it to the Loab translation mentioned previously, using Amazon's "Look Inside" feature, I strongly prefer Freeman's translation to the Loab interpretation). It reads like a contemporary letter from one brother to another, and avoids the kind of awkwardness that frequently results in translated works when the translator sometimes tries to make a more literal substitution of the grammar or usage of 2000 years ago. Freeman provides a glossary at the end of the book which further explains some of the terms that he has translated into a suitable modern equivalent.
Second, this edition includes an interesting introduction by Freeman, placing the letter into its context and outlining the circumstances of the time in which the letter was written. He explains that Cicero was at a significant disadvantage in attempting to run for high political office (Consul of Rome, said to be the highest office in the Roman Republic), because he was not of noble birth and therefore would likely be looked down upon in comparison to his rivals for the post. He was successful in his campaign largely because his opponents were recognized to be unsavory, and so some of the nobility of the time decided to support Cicero. And presumably he was also successful because of the advice given him by Quintus, which is reproduced in this book. The historical context is fascinating, a small snapshot into the goings-on of Rome in 64 BC.
Thirdly, and to the meat of the subject of the book, it provides guidelines for someone running for elective office that are remarkably applicable to our current world, leading to the obvious conclusion that "the more things change, the more they stay the same". Some of the recommendations are more-or-less obvious ("make sure you have the backing of your family and friends"; "surround yourself with the right people"; "build a wide base of support"), and some are likewise very familiar albeit cynical ("promise everything to everybody"; "know the weaknesses of your opponents - and exploit them"; "flatter voters shamelessly"). The book jacket gives top billing to a blurb attributed to Karl Rove, one of our modern day masters of such political machinations, if that happens to float your boat.
Fourthly, dare I suggest that readers of this book could actually be influenced to look further into the works of Cicero, who (according to the folks at Loeb) is one of the ancient Romans that is most well known to us today? And this might not be such a bad thing, if you do chose to investigate for yourself some of Cicero's other writings. The Loeb folks publish no less than 30 volumes of writings by Cicero by my count (see for example Cicero: De re Publica (On the Republic) , De Legibus (On the Laws)), and there are many other editions of his works published - by Oxford (i.e. The Republic and The Laws among others) and in other good editions. One of my other recent purchases (A Loeb Classical Library Reader) includes an excerpt from Cicero's writing "On Duties", the first sentence of which I will reproduce here:
"Well then, for a man to take something from his neighbour and to profit from his neighbour's loss is more contrary to Nature than is death or poverty or pain or anything else that can affect either our person or our property"
Surely such advice is just as valid today as it ever was!
In other words, this guy - Marcus Tullius Cicero - he might actually have things to say that we can learn from, even 2000 years later! Imagine that! (There are good reasons why the "classics" are called that, and why they remain in print and available still today. Shakespeare, anyone?).
Finally, for the thoughtful reader, this book may provoke some reflection on how our society (or dare I use the term "civilization"?), for all of the advancements that we have made in the past 2000 years, is still one where human relationships and interactions are fundamental. That is surely worth some contemplation.
So this guy, Philip Freeman, he has done a clever thing here, by taking an ancient Roman letter and presenting it in a way that will attract our attention and appeal to us in 2012. And in so doing maybe he is planting the seeds of an interest in classical writings that could flower in a few unsuspecting readers and have who-knows-what consequences? Bravo!
This is a modestly sized book, both physically (the size and jacket design are obviously chosen to look similar to the Loeb editions, although slightly larger), and in length (about 125 pages including introductory notes). I personally very much like the size of the book. It is very comfortable to hold and read and the printing is of high quality (with acid-free paper for longevity), published by the Princeton Press. It is an easy read, and very worthwhile in my opinion for all of the reasons given above.
The advice given includes promise everything to everybody, widen one's support base (eg. do favors for various groups), remind voters about your opponent's scandals (displaces attention from their positive aspects), constantly surround yourself with rabid supporters, and call in your chits from all those you've helped in the past. In addition, flatter the audience (includes recalling names and faces), give people hope, constantly campaign (don't take any days off and leave town). As for possibly over-promising and under-delivering, the advice was that fewer people would be upset by failure to deliver than offended by not making any promise to help in the first place.
Additional background: Voting was by secret ballot and in person, only. (No absentee ballots.) Before running for Consul, a candidate first had to be elected as a quaestor (supervised financial affairs), then as praetor (magistrate).
Seems there just isn't much in today's public affairs that wasn't done 2,000+ years ago!
People go about their daily lives because they live one day at a time; they love politics for the same reason they love lotteries, both give them eternal hope of someday winning a truly tremendous jackpot. As Alexander Pope so neatly wrote, "Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but always to be blest."
"There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election," Cicero's younger brother advised Marcus, "favours, hope, and personal attachment."
Hope is the essence of every great society. People work hard to benefit their interests and create a better future for themselves and their children. Politicians who best promise hope for that better tomorrow will draw unlimited loyalty, support and effort from their followers even when they warn of the rigours they must sacrifice today to succeed tomorrow.
It is why Quintus Tullius Cicero emphasizes to Marcus that he must give voters hope of a better Rome. Even the most cynical need to believe in someone or something; it's after the election that politicians can cleverly explain why "the big rock candy mountain" is really nothing but a pile of gravel -- which voters themselves must shovel.
The minor weakness of this book is the lack of comment on how to "lose" an election; as happened to Sen. John McCain in 2008, when he carried the millstones of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin around his neck. It is worth noting Barack Obama did not "win" the 2008 election as much as Bush "lost" it for McCain -- who is a decent, honourable and capable public servant (usually).
But this book is not a post mortem analysis; it's a "How to" for successful campaigns, not a 'How did we ..." dirge for obituaries. It applies to every winning campaign. Before an election, everything is bright and hopeful and possible; likewise, before the lottery numbers are drawn, the dreams of riches are boundless and the promises of generosity include everyone.
It's why campaigns and lotteries are always such exhilarating exercises in optimism and trust. Quintus sums it up with eloquence, wisdom and a common sense that has not changed in thousands of years.
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