Antony's description of Brutus as "the noblest Roman of them all" tends to raise questions about the relationship between nobility and idealism. Had Brutus been less idealistic, would he still have been so "noble"? After all, Brutus gets it wrong from the very beginning: he decides the group should not kill Antony (which causes trouble); he allows Antony to speak to the crowd (which causes more trouble); and then Brutus decides to march to Phillipi (not to mention refuse to raise money when Cassius wisely tells him this is necessary/ 4.3). And of course his biggest mistake, arrived at from an ideal vision of Rome, is to join the conspiracy. Is all this idealism, which causes so many problems, noble? Does goodness of heart and blindness to politics constitute nobility?
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Idealism can be noble when it is fully conscious of reality and opts to strive for the higher plane, despite chances of failure.
Choosing the dangerous path, one that presents a real possibility of personal harm, Brutus chose to put his ideals on the line. He put his values first and stood by them, knowing all the while that the "reality of the situation" was one that spelled potential backlash and probable danger for himself. That's integrity. That's nobility.
Regardless of the political "reality" of today, idealism and adherence to a value-based, morally-oriented course of action is respectable, perhaps all the moreso in a world where this kind of actual integrity seems like a political vulnerability.
Maybe this is just me being cynical, but do we really believe that idealistic politicians can cut it in today's world? And is there a danger of associating or at least confusing idealism with naivety? I wonder whether Brutus, although designated "the noblest Roman of them all", was just plain naive at various stages of the play, some of which you have mentioned. I don't know whether I would describe many of today's politicians as noble - I don't think that is written on the job description! I don't know if I would entirely agree with mrerick: I don't think Brutus was acting nobly - he might have managed to persuade himself that he was acting nobly, but I think, at least subconsciously, there were far more selfish motives to do with envy, his own thirst for power and his own ambition beneath the surface motives. These are the "real" motives that Cassius uses to persuade Brutus in the first place to become involved.
Just to stir the pot a bit - isn't idealism what we should be attempting to achieve though? It's tough to say that what Brutus was doing was bad because in his mind, he really thought it would lead to a perfect Rome. If we have a goal in mind and believe we know the steps to achieve that perfection, shouldn't we at least take a shot? And if not us, how about our students, own kids, etc? You know how it is; I have kids almost on a daily basis tell me they want to be doctors, or lawyers, or professional football players, and on and on. Many of them lack some pretty key attributes towards obtaining those goals, but I'm certainly not going to stop them from trying. I realize that the killing of JC is a little more severe than my 150 pound running back thinking he can play for the Colts, but I think the premise is the same.
With that said, yes, I think Brutus was acting quite nobly. It would be tough to argue otherwise considering he took his own life when he realized Rome was better without the continued fighting (although there was a hint of selfishness in that action also, I'll agree). One thing I always remind my students when they think they can do what Brutus did, is that Brutus was killing one of his buddies, not some guy he didn't know or some guy he hated...this was a buddy. Brutus had to have a pretty strong belief that what he was doing was right to follow through with his actions!
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions" was the first thing that popped into my head when I was reading your post. I personally don't believe that idealism is noble if it goes hand in hand with blindness to reality. (And yes, I can see parallels between this train of thought and the current administration - I don't think I'll go there, as this is supposed to be about Julius Caesar).
The problem with idealistic people is that they tend to not be very grounded in reality, much like Brutus. Rather than carefully examine what would have been best for Rome, he allowed himself to be swayed into believing that the conspirators were truly looking out for what was best...he allowed himself to be swayed by political posturing and idealistic memories of a Roman Republic that never was as great as they all said it was.
Thanks for a great topic - Very interesting!! :)
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