In his essay “Saint Augustine”, covering select features of Augustine of Hippo’s political thought, Peter Brown mentions Augustine’s presentation of the “harmonious order established by God”, and how it is “inverted” by sin. [“Saint Augustine” in Trends in Medieval Political Thought, ed. Beryl Smalley (Oxford: Blackwell & Mott, 1965), 9] Given that the harmonies emerge from God, and are dependent on him, Augustine saw “dependence” as “the most basic relationship in the divine order” [Ibid., 9], as the goods constitutive for oneself are received. When this order is “dislocat[ed]” the “most basic symptom” is “domination — the need to secure the dependence of others.” [Ibid., 10] [See The Literal Meaning of Genesis viii, vi, 12; xi, xv, 20]
Thus, first the Devil, then Adam, chose to live on their own resources; they preferred their own fortitudo, their own created strength, to dependence upon the strength of God. [City of God xii.6, 1-14] For this reason, the deranged relationships between fallen angels and men show themselves in a constant effort to assert their incomplete power by subjecting others to their will. [City of God xiv.28] This is the libido dominandi, the lust to dominate, that was once mentioned in passing by Sallust, as an un-Roman vice, typical of aggressive states, such as Assyria, Babylon and Macedon [Sallust, Catilina ii.2; cited in City of God iii.14, 50]; and was fasted upon by Augustine as the universal symptom par excellence of all forms of deranged relationships, among demons as among men. Seen in this bleak light, the obvious fact of domination, as a feature of political society, could make the world of states appear as a vast mental hospital, ranging from the unhealthy self-control of the early Romans to the folie de grandeur of a Babylonian tyrant. This was a bitter pill, which many lay rulers were forced to swallow in later ages. But, as always with Augustine, the outward expression of this ‘lust’ in the form of organized states is merely a symptom. The extent, and even the admitted injustice of the state-building that Augustine observed, and commented on in blistering terms, was of purely secondary importance. A libido, for Augustine, was a desire that had somehow got out of control: the real problem, therefore, was why it had got out of control, what deeper dislocation this lack of moderation reflected. So, to say, as Lord Acton would, that ‘all power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, would have struck Augustine as being rather like saying that a man got measles from having spots. [Brown, “Saint Augustine”, 10]
Augustine’s reflections on the libido dominandi, or lust for power, or better “dominating lust” (both in the sense of the lust to dominate, and the lust that dominates the one lusting), is also treated by Robert A. Markus here and here. It has its own tag here at Into the Clarities.