AUGUSTINE AND POLITICS
The City of God
by Augustine deeply influenced the development of Western political thought.
This is because he provided important insights that were taken up by scholars and practitioners of politics and government.
These thoughts by later scholars that were based on Augustinian foundations generally developed along lines that Augustine presumably would not have wished.
This was because for Augustine it was impossible to separate politics appropriately from theology.
This was particularly true in the case of his theology of history and his teachings on the original Fall, as well as on predestination.
The understanding of Augustine on politics - as well as the role of history
, ethics, justice, the anthropology
of the human race, and his world view - were unavoidably tied to his perceived hierarchy of creation.
In this hierarchy, the purposes of God for the world and for the human species had precedence over the desired politics of any organisation or any human being.
Hence to assess the political theory of Augustine first requires that attention be given to his theology.
To attempt to distil his thoughts on politics as if independent from his theology is to attempt to take from Augustine rather than to receive what benefit he offers in this regard.
People look for the insights of Augustine on politics mainly in his De Civitate Dei ("On the City of God").
In doing this, they often read the City of God in a far different way than Augustine intended when he wrote it progressively over the fourteen years between the years 413 and 427.
In the City of God, Augustine distinguished religion and morality from politics and tried to establish the proper relations among them.
He never focused primarily on politics in the medieval mode of Nicolo Machiavelli.
In other words, Augustine never treated politics as a distinct and secular art or science concerned with the manipulation of civil government.
In the context of his world view
that was very much centred on God, Augustine wrote, "The state is a disposition rooted in sin."
Yet in pragmatic terms he was nevertheless willing to collaborate with the government around Carthage to defeat his main foe of the time, the Donatists
It has been asserted that Augustine believed that, while government should be used, it should not be enjoyed nor improved.
(Continued on the next page.)