Jul 14, 2020 in Research

History of Political Thought


The laws of coexistence and community organization are the vital questions posed by numerous philosophers, rulers, and ordinary people. In fact, the issue of political authority is one of the most contradicting items, causing vivid debates during all the history of political thought. The key postulates of the community pattern were originated by Saint Augustine Hippo, the medieval theologian whose doctrine made the profound impression on the philosophical values and ideals in the history of political thought of that period. ‘The City of God’ is the manuscript declaring Augustine’s ideas about the ideal society, its organization, key moral values and virtues, and the ways of their achievement. Augustine suggests his understanding of the state, its purpose, aims of the Christian society, dealing with the issues of human free will and the Bible’s influence on human beings. The author tackles with ideas about human nature, focusing his attention on the tension between human wishes, and abilities. Exploring the history and reasons of Rome’s decline, the philosopher defines the major human virtues, the ways of their achievement, and the advantages they bring to people.

Analyzing Augustine’s postulates about the human society and its political organization, the paper studies ‘The City of God’ as the main source of Augustine’s philosophy. The research intends to reveal whether the state and human free will are mutually exclusive phenomena or there is the certain golden middle contributing to human welfare. The contradictions between sinful human nature and virtues are the issues under consideration as well.

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Purpose of the State

The idea of the state and its purpose is one of the four central items explored in the manuscript under consideration. Augustine focuses on the unique aim of the state as the tool of transforming the human society into the successful unit. Being the form of the organization of the community, the state is imperfect as all people are, leaving much to be improved. However, human beings need the state because of their sinful nature that leads to various violations of the rules of co-existence and wicked conduct. The institute of state imposes the inevitable punishment for committing crimes against nature, custom, and law. Therefore, the state is the necessary item in keeping the order in the community. Being the effective mechanism of controlling wicked individuals, the state contributes to human aims of welfare and goodness.

 Following the traditions of his historical period, Augustine cannot see the civil state as the pattern of the ideal society institution. Highlighting the sacred nature of the state authority, Augustine argues that “since every earthly possession can be rightly retained only on the ground either of Divine Right...you are mistaken in calling those things yours which you do not possess as righteous persons, and which you have forfeited by the laws of earthly sovereigns”. Kings are God’s ministers who establish the divine will and justice in the Earth, and in the Christian state in particular. Having unrestricted authority, the rulers are expected to maintain the order in the obeying them social unit. On the one hand, the religious interpretation of the divine origin of the state complicates the ideas. Nevertheless, the readers could percept the information in that form in the Middle Ages, having their own seeing of the world. Therefore, the Christian explanation of the practical things is the successful technique under the circumstances.

The State and Human Free Will

Exploring the divine nature of sovereigns’ authority, Augustine focuses on the problem of relations between the state and human free will. On the one hand, the philosopher claims that God’s intentions and laws do not contradict human free will. God enjoys the divine ability to see the future events, thoughts, and deeds of human beings. Augustine writes that God’s “knowledge is not like ours, which has three tenses: present, past, and future. God’s knowledge has no change or variation”. Therefore, Creator knows for sure all the thoughts and inner desires of human beings. Morever, Lord rules all human deeds, leaving no place for human true ruling their existence. However, Augustine raises the question that if this capacity takes place whether it declines human free will in conduct and thoughts. According to Augustine, God determines future events, rejecting freedom of action. However, freedom of will exists. The theologian demonstrates that God creates circumstances, but the choice of the proper decision belongs to an individual. In fact, the state resolves the problem of human free will. Having the divine nature, the state employs God’s ideas about goodness. Limiting human beings’ will to act as they want, the state contributes to its citizens welfare. Indifiduals are expected to receive advantages and good things suggested to them. Therefore, God established the necessary balance, giving people the free will of striving for virtuous existence.

Augustine’s Ideas and the Bible

Augustine’s ideas complete and explain the postulates written in the Bible. The thinker highlights that individuals are expected to get the right knowledge about the sacred virtues to behave in the proper way. The Christianity, and the Bible in particular, is the source of these extraordinary ideas. There have always been everlasting conflicts between the actual society model and the divine principles. The Christian doctrine blames the humanity in numerous sins, calling to escape them and follow the religious postulates both in the community organization and in the everyday life. The Bible states the divine nature of sovereigns’ authority, and Augustine confirms this postulate. However, the thinker goes apart from the Bible, describing the imaginary four elements of the authority organization, such as the State, the Church, and the two cities, sacred and civil ones. Being imperfect, the human community strives for God’s will to find its ideals in the divine law. Augustine makes such contrasts to demonstrate the advantages and drawbacks of ideal and real systems of maintaining the peace and order in the community. Having the divine origin, the Church enriches the human morality, showing people the way to the virtuous life. Christians are expected to strive for the eternal goodness that is equal to God that finds the similar explanation in the Bible. 

The Bible declares new ideas about the society pattern and roles of citizens in the state. Unlike habitual division of individuals into various social levels, the Sacred Book suggests only two categories of members of the community, such as believers and non-believers. Nationalities, gender, age, wealth and social status do not matter, placing virtues in the top position. The Gospel highly values the best human moral traits, such as kindness, agape, and humility. The wealth is depicted as the source of sins because ”blessed are the poor”. Having to work from the early morning till the late night, poor people escape numerous temptations originated by laziness.

Augustine’s Idea about Human Nature

Human nature is the most disputable issue in the paper. Augustine highlights that humans are weak and sinful. Underlying various temptations, people often violate customs and laws. There are many sins, such as greediness, pride, laziness, and many others. However, Augustine considers pride be one of the worst human traits. The theologian writes that “pride is the beginning of sin. And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation?”. The philosopher draws attention to this issue because he wants to highlight the humility as the key feature, contributing to order maintaining and law obedience. Rejecting pride, Augustine blames the starvation for the fame and wealth as well, claiming that “No man can be a good bishop if he loves his title but not his task”. Demonstrating the weak and sinful nature of people, Augustine suggests the opposing ideas, arguing that “every good man resists others in those points in which he resists himself”.  Augustine demonstrates the importance of human free will and good intentions in all their deeds and thoughts.

Tensions between our Abilities and Wishes

Human beings have a significant number of desires that often lead people to temptations. Striving for these wishes, people enjoy the restricted range of abilities because of their human nature. The problem of the right choice appears in the situation when people are to select the right thing among the significant number of their desires. Therefore, severe tensions between human abilities and wishes exist. Augustine writes that Creator sends many opportunities and gives numerous abilities to human beings. The thinker mentions that”God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them”. However, people are too busy with searching their profit and striving for wishes that do not make the right choice. Therefore, tensions between human abilities and wishes are inevitable.

Augustine’s Ideas about Virtues

There are everlasting contradictions between the state and human free will, as well as sinful human nature is far from desired virtues. The medieval thinker Saint Augustine Hippo explores these dualistic issues from the Christian perspective.

The divine will provides God’s justice that is one of the basic virtues. According to Augustine, justice is the most precious virtue among prudence, temperance, and fortitude. Augustine exclaims that “what are kingdoms without justice? They are just gangs of bandits”. Justice is the basic virtue, managing the order and peace in the human society.  In the context of justice, Augustine’s ideas about the devil are extremely interesting. In fact, the philosopher does not regard the fallen angel as the everlasting evil because Creator does not origin bad things. The punishment of Satan is in the extremely bitter feeling of loss. This is the loss of the kind and divine things he enjoyed earlier. This thing seems to be fair. Being the Supreme Good, this virtue attracts people who strive for achievement of justice during all their existence. Therefore, justice is to be the background of the state. Despite this idea, Augustine argues that God’s love is the basics and the source of all virtues. Virtues and human behavior are not the same thing. The philosopher states that “nothing to virtue, except God’s Supreme Love”. Love is eternal, overall, and sacred, being the only way to the perfect existence.


The wise organization of the human community and the role of the state in it are the major issues of the political thought. Explaining these items, Saint Augustine’s ideas about the state, its organization, the human nature, and the key virtues greatly contributed to the development of the political philosophy in the Middle Ages. Following the traditions of that epoch, the philosopher builds all his statements on the religious background. Augustine’s ideas about state and its role in the organization of the human community are rather contradictory. On the one hand, the philosopher claims that the state is extremely beneficial institution for human beings because it prevents violence that is the typical feature of sinful human nature. The purpose of the state is maintaining order in the human society, punishing wicked individuals. On the other hand, states are imperfect like all the humans. According to Augustine, people are obliged to follow Christian values to live virtuously. Following the Christianity ideals, Augustine repeats the Bible’s ideas about the sacred nature of sovereigns’ authority. The problem of God’s intervention and human free will is depicted as well. Despite the extraordinary Creator’s ability to foresee the events, people have the opportunity to choose between the evil and the goodness. Tensions between human desires and abilities exist, leading to numerous violations of the sacred law. According to the thinker, human nature is sinful, but people are to strive for the perfection that can be achieved through God’s love.

To sum up, Saint Augustine Hippo achieved the success in explaining the unique role of the state in the human community welfare. Human nature is imperfect, requiring certain restrictions of wicked free will. The state performs this vital function, contributing to the eternal goodness. Undoubtedly, these ideas were significant in the medieval epoch, playing the significant role in the further development of the political thought.


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