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UWF Marks Constitution Day With A Roman Flair

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UWF's Constitution Day has been celebrated since 2006 with the exception of last year.

The University of West Florida is hosting its annual Constitution Day speaker Monday with an in-depth look at the internal politics…of ancient Rome.

“I’ve been teaching Cicero for about 35 years now,” said Richard Dougherty, a professor of politics at the University of Dallas. He will be this year’s featured speaker at the annual Constitution Day observance at UWF. And yes, the topic of his presentation will be the Roman philosopher Cicero.

Dr. Dougherty says the writings of Cicero had a huge impact on the study of philosophy and politics.

“He is the first major Roman, Latin thinker to engage in philosophic discussions. And so much of the philosophic language we have in English actually comes from Cicero’s translation of Greek terms. So he was very influential. He was one of the major authors read by every educated in the west for the last 1,5000 years at least.”

And he adds that Cicero was more than a writer. “He’s not simply someone who sits in a corner or in a study and writes. He was very much engaged, (he was) a leader in fact of the very late Roman Republic.”

Each year UWF celebrates Constitution Day with a guest speaker to talk about some aspect of politics or civic life. This year’s event will be Monday evening at the UWF Music Hall. Dr. Dougherty will be zeroing in on one of Cicero’s most important works.

“I’m mainly going to talk on Monday about his one work called ‘The Republic’, which was modeled after Plato’s ‘Republic’. I’ll talk about other works of his, but no one in the audience will have to have read them, I think, I hope, to follow the line of argument that I’m making. I’m not going to be talking about particular words that he uses here and there and how we should understand them. I’m looking at the bigger picture.”

And since this is a day that celebrates our Constitution, the talk will draw some lines from the Roman republic to our own.

“If we are thinking about our own circumstances and constitutional order, etcetera, what might we learn from, not just Cicero but the others who were around him at the time. Because we are talking about the very, very end of the Roman Republic, and Cicero is in the position, I would say, of thinking that the republic can be saved. It can be restored in some way. Maybe not exactly what it was like 10 years before that or 100 years before that, but something like that. And so his focus is clearly on trying to find a plan and a set of principles that can unite us rather than divide us.

"Given the divisions that we have in contemporary politics in America, I think that's an enticing (idea). For many people, maybe not for everyone, (there are) those that are interested in perpetuating those divisions. But for many people, it’s an attempt to find something where we can have a community. (Where) we can have a political order with some kind of stability and peace. And that’s really, I think, what Cicero is striving for.”

Professor Richard Dougherty will be speaking on campus Monday evening at 6 p.m. All UWF Faculty, staff, students, and alumni are invited. This is the first Constitution Day presentation since 2019. Last year’s event was canceled due to COVID.