Art Essays

How to Win an Election

Published March 15, 2019



How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians

By Quintus Tullius Cicero

Princeton U.P.

Hardback, 2012, 99 pp.


With state elections looming in New South Wales, and Federal elections only two months away, this little book is the ideal gift for the aspiring politician who hasn’t quite mastered the arts of deceit, propaganda and false friendship that come so naturally to many of our illustrious representatives. Quintus Tullius Cicero wrote this slender tract for his more famous brother, Marcus, who was running for the consulship of Rome in the summer of 64 BCE. It’s a neat summation of all the necessary political skills – a precursor for Machiavelli’s more famous essay, The Prince of 1532.

Philip Freeman’s translation is wonderfully straightforward and readable. To satisfy folks such as my learned friend, Christopher Allen, the original Latin is printed on each facing page.

The book is as fresh today as it was in 64 BCE, suggesting that very little has changed in the nature of politics. It’s only the means of propagating your message that have become super-charged and scary. There is one other point of difference: Cicero was acclaimed for his eloquent oratory, while Donald Trump has found an audience by talking like a spoilt 8 year-old. We know the growth of literacy was one of the main tools for the progress of civilisation – will illiteracy spell the downfall of democracy?