Cicero and levels of obligation

I’m dabbling in the Selected Works of Cicero. This Roman was a gifted writer, statesman, lawyer, and orator from the first century BC. In his practical guide to how to live a good life, I like this quote:

But the field in which a man’s obligations are most liable to confusion is friendship. For if, on a friend’s behalf, you omit to do all that you properly could, that is to fail in an obligation; yet if you help him in some improper fashion, then that too is failure. However, this whole problem is governed by a short and simple rule. Apparent advantages for oneself, such as political success, wealth, sensual gratifica-tion, and so on, must never be given preference over friendship. On the other hand no man of integrity will, for the sake of a friend, act against his own country, or his honour, or his oath.

A Practical Code of Behavior: On Duties III, Cicero

In this short passage, he makes clear that the ties of friendship demand a preference for cooperative behavior versus extractive action. If you allow your friend to fail then you have failed. One is not to internalize “political success, wealth, sensual gratification” at the expense of friends. In this space of friendship, the interactions are reciprocal, carried out with loyalties over long periods of time.

However- other relations may supersede the obligation of friendship, and those are loyalties to ‘his own country, or his honour, or his oath.’ This leads us to understand that Cicero speaks of multiple public obligations. The ties to friends may compete with ties to the state or to one’s allegiance to another cause. From an inward-facing perspective, the relations are communal in nature, yet as an outward-looking collective, voila, the groups compete.

The competitive nature of private actors is understood. But when people come together with a common interest, that grouping also competes.

Forum Romanum. Somewhere in there is Cicero’s house.