Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Michael Lamb: WS: Hope for the Commonwealth: Augustine on Politics, Pluralism, and Civic Peace

Most political theorists consider Augustine a paragon of pessimism. Augustine cannot commend any hope for politics, critics argue, because any hope for worldly goods is a form of “idolatry.” My paper challenges this view by drawing an analogy between Augustine’s order of love and his implicit order of hope. Gleaning insights from neglected texts, I show that Augustine allows hope for temporal goods, including the goods of politics, as long as this hope is properly ordered. To defend this claim, I focus on Augustine’s discussion of “temporal” or “civic peace” in the City of God. Against prevailing interpretations, I argue that Augustine’s understanding of civic peace is not merely the absence of violence or a simplemodus vivendi, but a form of civic friendship that is necessary to establish concord among citizens in the commonwealth. By reframing Augustine’s account of civic peace as a form of right relationship, I challenge common interpretations of political idolatry and highlight a proximate political hope that diverse citizens can share, even as they cast their ultimate hopes on different horizons.

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