Excerpt #10 — Augustine on (What We Would Call) The State

We have earlier summarized what is perhaps the best book in English on Augustine’s politics (may this excerpt illuminate what is found there, and vice versa), began a summary of Book 19 of his City of God (part one here; pingbacks at the bottom for all other current and future parts), and offered an excerpt of Peter Brown writing about Augustine’s understanding of the Libido Dominandi; here I offer one excellent quote to summarize Augustine’s political vision. Continue reading

The Monastic and Ecclesio-political Origins of Some Elements of our Modern Polities, Part 2a (Revision 1)

Two important features of all modern polities are (1) an emphasis on proper procedure and (2) a systematic ensurance of popular consent. Contrary to common expectation, these do not come directly from ancient Greece, leapfrogging into the present, nor do they spring ex nihilo from later Enlightenment conceptions of political life. Rather, they first take on their later forms by way of Late Antique and Medieval monastic and ecclesiastical environments. While we should not wish to make history tidier than it is –the lines of influence are messy ones– this particular line is significant enough that, even if it is later joined by other tributaries, it deserves to be singled out.

In this set of posts we shall look at a trajectory from roughly Benedict of Nursia to Marsilius of Padua, looking over our shoulder, later on, at Aristotle and Cicero. At the end, we shall ask some questions about the meaning of the secular, secularism, and secularity, as illuminated by this history.

In the previous entry, we looked at the Rule of Benedict. Here, we look at the lead-up to a crucial stage in the secularization (i.e., an exportation into the saeculum) of features of the Rule in the writings and life of Gregory I, Roman Pope, also known as Gregory the Great, or (less fortunately) as Gregory the Dialogist.  

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The Origins of Political Authority in Augustine of Hippo, City of God 19 (Part 3)

Part 1 here; this post continues part 2. Here, we cover the second half of 19.4. Continue reading

The Origins of Political Authority in Augustine of Hippo, City of God 19 (Part 2)

Continued from part one, which both introduced one or two themes from The City of God  and summarized the synopsis of classical thought with which Augustine opens Book 19.1-3 of the same. Here, we cover the first half of 19.4.

Having listed Varro’s summary of all possible philosophies, Augustine concurs with him that any possible philosophy ultimately reduces to one of  three positions. Happiness, the ultimate good of the human being (which is a body-soul unity), is had (A) for the sake of trained virtue, or (B) trained virtue is had for the sake of certain natural goods (vi&., the health of mind and body), or (C) both virtue and natural goods (i.e., health of mind and body) are desired together. Like Varro, Augustine opts for (C), conceding that the soul and its pleasures are greater than those of the body, but granting that both virtue and natural goods are desirable for their own sake. Varro also opines that the life of virtue should be pursued both for one’s own sake and that of others, that his positions are certain (against the Sceptics of the New Academy), and that the path to the final good entails both the active and the contemplative life. (Varro is indecisive on the matter of whether one should adopt the manners and lifestyle of the surrounding culture, of that of the Cynics.)

Augustine now gives “what response the City of God makes when questioned on each of” the points of Varro’s summary of classical thought. [XIX.4, Dyson, 918]  Continue reading

Peter Brown on Augustine on the Libido Dominandi

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] Continue reading