Political realism



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From Perspectives on Political Science, 25 (Summer, 1996), 17-23. -- James V. Schall, S. J.
THE "REALISM" OF ST. AUGUSTINE'S "POLITICAL REALISM":

AUGUSTINE AND MACHIAVELLI


"Augustine's picture of fallen man, ridden by avarice, lust for power, and sexual desire, is a somber and pessimistic portrait, which calls to mind the views of human nature expressed by his followers at the time of the Reformation, Luther and Calvin, and by Machiavelli and Hobbes."

-- Herbert Deane, The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine.1


"To the classical account, St. Augustine adds the insight of Christian pessimism. Like the author of the Prince, he tears away the veil of respectability that successful political regimes hang, or try to hang, over their origins. His purpose is not, however, like Machiavelli, to provide a manual of politically useful maxims for a new 'founding father'. He means to show how, with all the sweat, blood, and tears ..., it is, nevertheless, not the will of men, but the will of God that is accomplished in history."

-- Henry Paolucci, The Political Writings of St. Augustine.2



I.

As a teacher in political philosophy over the years, I have become intrigued by the effect of reading with an average class of modern students both St. Augustine and Machiavelli, the archetypes of what is called in political philosophy "political realism". Often these same students are bent on saving the world, largely, as far as I can tell, by going to law school, itself something of a problem in political philosophy. For we can, in this context, recall St. Augustine's own sobering account of his early teaching career. In Rome, his own students failed to pay their bills. In Milan, he realized that preparing students for law and rhetoric would not lead either him or them to the highest things. Thus these youthful enthusiasms will not seem overly surprising or only confined to our own time and place.


Indeed, such suppositions about legal and political solution to moral and social problems form almost a recurrent phenomenon among those many who want to find the City of God in places wherein it is not likely to be discovered. Activism in our time seems so superior to contemplation; politics seems superior to mysticism. Charity has become, in effect, compassion, a very different thing as it is used. The first, charity, means God's love in everything; the second, compassion, implies that no one is judged by any criterion but his own, whatever that be. Compassion has replaced reason and obviated the need for forgiveness.

Within activism, and, probably as a consequence of the reversal of the classical priority of contemplation to action, furthermore, fewer and fewer intrinsic limits to politics and action are acknowledged or observed. The scope of a freedom in modernity is defined, to be brief, not by nature or by nature's God, but by a freedom itself subject to nothing further than the self. In a sense the heady freedom Machiavelli granted to the prince is substantially granted to or subsumed by everyone. "Every man a king" has come to have more sinister overtones in a world bereft handbooks for kings that also teach them to be morally virtuous.
When contemporary students first encounter St. Augustine, moreover, they are usually disturbed. They find themselves unsettled by Augustine's pessimistic view of human nature, even if they suspect that he might be right on the empirical side. They do not like to admit the legitimacy of his experience even when they admit, that is, that he might be a realist, that he just might accurately describe the dire things they see about them every day. In the moral order, we are reluctant to admit how little progress we have made, even more reluctant to relate this lack of improvement to ourselves.
To explain this instinctive dislike of the pessimism of an admittedly fascinating man like Augustine always is to contemporary students, we cannot forget that one component, conscious or unconscious, of any modern student's soul is always the Enlightenment heritage, itself not unrelated to the Pelagianism about which Augustine was so concerned. Thus, a student presumes that no evil is connected with our lot, with our choices. He assumes that improving the human condition is a relatively easy process brought about by changing a few political and economic patterns that are, apparently, unduly opposed by a few bad men. Just how, on the same presumptions, these same few came to be "bad" in the first place is not altogether certain. Rarely is the necessary change in society first to take place in one's own heart.
Such views reveal a certain paradoxical individual powerlessness in these very students so insistent on structural changes or on the non-existence of natural norms. They suspect, though they do not quite know why, that neither St. Augustine's pessimism nor his thought on predestination were somehow powerless. The drama of St. Augustine's Confessions, indeed, graphically affirmed that the real struggles of the world were not political at all or only reductively so. Thus to concentrate on external reform above all else implied a certain inner meaninglessness that is the very opposite of St. Augustine. He rather maintained, not unlike Plato in the Second Book of The Republic, that we need not go too far from ourselves to find the real sources of disorder in the world. Those anxious to reform the world but unwilling to look at themselves revealed in their own souls the beginnings of that pride that St. Augustine found to be the greatest of the vices because it did not consider anything but itself.


On the other hand, when these same students, worried about Augustine's pessimism, first read the famous passage in Machiavelli's Prince in which the shrewd Florentine diplomat takes his position over against previous political philosophy, they become often unaccountably ebullient. "What is it they think they have read?" elderly professors wonder. After all their presumably careful reading with you, do they see no problem with the provocative author of the Prince? To them, evidently, Machiavelli seems so modern, so contemporary. He appears to provide a way to "liberate" politics and even human nature from religious or moral constraints.
This famous "unarmed prophet", Machiavelli himself, thus proclaims, with ringing words, his final exasperation over all previous political philosophy: "Enough of these ideal kingdoms! Previous philosophers have written about how men ought to act. From now on, we will write on how men do act. For if the prince acts as he should, as the philosophers and prophets have instructed him, surely he will be destroyed among so many bad men." When it comes to politics, then, there is little margin for error about the deeds of man or little use in moral exhortations.
Many students, not all, to be sure, find that they delight in this bluntness, this flamboyance, this daring of Machiavelli. Yet they instinctively, it seems, reject St. Augustine's very similar factual and verifiable remarks on what is to be expected in the human heart and in the human polity. Machiavelli, by contrast, is real, whereas Augustine has about him all this complicated philosophical and theological theory. Machiavelli corresponds to their experience or to their youthful iconoclasm. They admire the delicious irony of his praising bad popes while mocking good rulers who are so morally upright and so politically innocent as to get wiped out.
The classical authors thus limited the state too much. "Who is to say what is right and wrong, anyhow?" -- a very contemporary theme, to be sure. Politics needs a new found "freedom". This freedom may be hard and productive of bitter fruits, at times. Certain "necessary" deeds will need to be performed for the "higher" political good. But at least harsh means get results. The politician needs the freedom to live "beyond good and evil", as Nietzsche was later to put it. The new prince needs to be able to be both a fox and a lion, to be loved or hated, to act according to law or force, whichever is most appropriate for his own ends. He is indeed to prefer good arms to good laws. The word "virtue" has come to mean not what Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, or Aquinas meant, but what Machiavelli advised the successful prince to do. The prince succeeds also by changing the meaning of the language, all the while keeping its formal words.
Freedom, pragmatism, and realism can now, in this approach, go together with a theory that justifies dire, extreme political actions. While St. Augustine had a pessimistic view of human nature, however, it did seem more or less to correspond with facts of observation; thus he was not utterly "unscientific" to detail moral facts. Machiavelli himself for whom human nature was rather evil seems, likewise, almost scientific. This "scientific" aspect of Machiavelli's basic premises would become codified a century and a half later with Hobbes.3 Machiavelli appears to open a way to human improvement that, paradoxically, is not too much hampered by the tenets of the old philosophy and old religion that placed certain specific moral restrictions on what a prince or republic could, or could not, do.


By following Machiavelli's pithy maxims then "new foundings" and unimagined republics were possible, provided we did not attend to the classical questions about good and evil in establishing or preserving them, provided we had the "courage" to act on the new principles. Machiavelli as a teacher sought to convince potential philosophers and through them princes to replace Socrates' admonition to prefer death to doing wrong with the new "liberty" to choose between either good or evil means for the prince's own end, even if that end be called the public good. Augustine did not expect any political order to be free of evil, but he agreed with Socrates that we could not actually do evil or violate the commandments for some princely purpose.
II.

Thus, Machiavelli has a certain malevolent attraction, especially to the better students who have not yet begun to work through the implication of this "new" philosophy. Frequently, the teacher has to stop a student. He has carefully to explain to him something Machiavelli suggested and ask the student if he understands this teaching? Does he agree with it? But Machiavelli continues to appeal to a sense of brutal efficiency, all the while he implies that his method of politics will get things done in any era, in any place. Machiavelli, like classical political philosophy, claims universal address. My third world students, I have observed over the years, are often also charmed by Machiavelli. They assume either that their country has been ruled by Machiavellian ideas, so that now they understand what has been going on, or they hold that Machiavellian ideas will solve their current national problems. Thus he appears to be, as he claims, the harbinger of a new order. All the moralists and idealists, Machiavelli teaches, have had their chances and what have they produced? More of the same.


The reason why the world has not improved, it is said, is because we have put too many ethical restrictions on the princes. And since the Discourses of Machiavelli are said to be written in favor of republican government, what modernity has provided is a way out of the Augustinian caveats about the location of the City of God and the weaknesses of human virtue and resolve. Machiavelli apparently wanted also to give the people the same "freedom" he gave to the princes. If we give republics and democracies the same power that Machiavelli gave to the princes, all the objections to the exclusively heavenly location of the perfect city disappear. That is to say, we can begin to think not just of a perfect city in speech, but one also in fact, in deed, though one established and ruled according to the norms of the new philosophy of order, the novus ordo. The "City of God" and the Prince's "new foundation", however, are very different.
Machiavelli, who seems implicitly to have wanted to teach the potential philosophers, turns out not to be as pessimistic as St. Augustine about the conditions of the world. Machiavelli "lowered the sights" only, it is said, in order to get a handle on how most radically to improve things. Machiavelli, contrary to his own explicit words, was the one "unarmed prophet" who succeeded. He did this by teaching the new potential philosophers, who would in turn teach the princes, how they were to judge and act. He taught this new way of seeing with considerable subtly, by the examples he choose to praise and by the corrections he made in philosophy. He was a very dangerous unarmed prophet.


III.

This essay is not an essay on Machiavelli. But the oft repeated remarks by scholars over the centuries that there is something common between Augustine and Machiavelli leads me to ask the question: what is there in Augustine that might give rise to this observation? I have often been struck, furthermore, by the fact that there is nothing in Machiavelli, not one of the most horrible examples or of the most cruel actions that he approves of or advises, that would have surprised either Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas or Shakespeare. We know of Plato's sophisticated tyrants, Callicles and Alcibiades. We know of Iago and Richard III. Aristotle actually has a famous discussion in The Politics about how tyrants can keep power, a discussion that Machiavelli must have known as it gives much the same advice about how to rule that Machiavelli does. Yet, we are somehow loathe to think of Aristotle as a teacher of evil, as a teacher of Machiavelli. Aristotle's "practical science" rightly included a full knowledge of both good and bad, of truth and falsity, not so that evil might be done, but that it might be accurately known, and hence avoided and prevented.


Aristotle's worst tyrant, for example, advises us to lop off the heads of those who stand out in the polis. Aristotle's tyrant allows no private friendships; that is to say, implicitly, if he is to stay in power, he is not to allow the highest things to be lived in his polity. Such a tyrant is to know everything that goes on in the both the domestic and public orders He is by public works to keep everyone exhaustively busy and distrustful of one another. The difference between the classical authors and Machiavelli with his influence in modernity is not that Machiavelli knew something more about the dark side of human nature than Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, or Aquinas did. Machiavelli is only shocking because, unlike the classical authors, in spelling out in graphic, often historical detail about what a "good" prince did to stay in power, Machiavelli approved of these means. It is this latter approval that we do not find in the classical authors' descriptions of tyrants and other forms of disordered rule.
IV.

Another way to approach St. Augustine and the City of God, of which he wrote in a title that goes back both to the Psalms and to The Republic, is again to recall Aristotle's discussion about regimes or constitutions. There is indeed something corporate both in our natural living and in our ultimate destiny. Aristotle maintained that most people, most of the time in history, lived under either an oligarchy or a democracy, both of which were, in Greek terms, disordered or bad regimes. Regimes, moreover, primarily reflected the internal order of soul of their citizens. Aristotle distinguished six simple forms of rule. He also contemplated "mixing" these regimes to counteract each other's defects. Life in Aristotle's best political regime was itself not the highest activity to which each man is open. But it was necessary to it and preparatory for it, something that was to make revelation and Aristotle particularly compatible.




Aristotle was most cautions, furthermore, about changing regimes unless we knew what we were doing, to what we were going to change. Change was always in a certain order, not always necessarily from bad to good. Sometimes it was from best to second best, or from the best of the worst to the second worst, to the absolute worst. Thus, it was not sufficient to identify the nature of bad regimes. We had to articulate a workable and moral way to change them to be better. Good intentions or naive meliorism was not enough, but inaction was better than change if our efforts lead to something worse. All actual regimes in some sense stood over against the light of the best regime, even if it were not actual, even if discovered, by a long intellectual dialectic, only to exist in speech. It was precisely this latter light that Machiavelli sought to dim and extinguish so that nothing could judge his new foundation except its own success.
Jacques Maritain, in a famous essay, put the heart of the problem in this way: "Machiavellianism is a philosophy of politics, stating that by rights good politics is supramoral or immoral politics, and by essence must make use of evil."4 Probably no passage reveals more graphically the difference between St. Augustine and Machiavelli about politics. St. Augustine was quite aware that many evil things were done in the name of politics. He was not surprised in the slightest by this incidence of evil. In fact, the early books of The City of God were a careful recounting of these evils as seen in ancient, particularly Roman, history. What St. Augustine did not do was to conclude that these evil things, however they happened, were not evil.
St. Augustine, consequently, was prepared to envision large numbers of our kind lost in damnation rather than to call what was evil good, rather than to lower his sights. His so-called "pessimism" was not the pessimism that would say that, since we are so bad anyhow, we ought to use evil so that we would stand above politics to create our own criterion of good and evil quite at variance with the classical standards. His pessimism was rather a practical sort of judgement that saw with a cold eye what most men actually did. He knew of these things because he could see himself, could see the reality and power of his own will and choices. Even with the revelational possibility of repentance, he did not see many evident signs that this same repentance was a popular or frequent activity among sinful men. Augustine is like Machiavelli because he sees the deep resources of disorder in the human city, even when populated by Christians. He is unlike him because he knows himself, knows that the disorders arise from the human heart, from a heart such as that possessed by the actual Augustine.
V.

The evil that did occur, none the less, needed to be accounted for in terms both of the state and of divine providence. That is to say, the state for Augustine was occasioned by the Fall and its consequences. St. Augustine's theory about evil as non-being, a lack of good in what is substantially good, moreover, still needed to explain how God's providence resolved the paradox of a good God and these very unsplendid vices of human history. The doctrine of hell or final rejection has its roots in Plato and in the scriptural notion of the power of human free will choosing itself. Augustine was aware that a denial of a final place of punishment for the wicked implied that no human life, good or bad, made any ultimate difference.5
It is of considerable interest in this regard that St. Thomas, in his famous question about the existence of God, responds to the primary objection about the reality of evil over against God's goodness by citing precisely St. Augustine who said that God could bring greater good out of any evil that rational beings might effect.6 In other words, evil, because it appears in being which is good, cannot prevent God from bringing forth good consequences from the good that always remains in beings who do evil actions. One of the goods that evil actions incite is precisely the occasion for repentance, which is essentially, on the part of the doer, the willingness to acknowledge the wrongness of what is done, or in Plato's terms, to accept the punishment for it. God could not, like Machiavelli, lower the sights, but He could forgive, provided the standards that distinguish good and evil are kept which is precisely what forgiveness implies. Ultimately what is at issue here is whether it would be better for God not to have created at all rather than to create a free, finite being who could reject what is in fact good. The drama both of Augustine and Machiavelli revolves around fundamentally different answers to this question. If Augustine's position is wrong, then, obviously, Machiavelli is right.
VI.

St. Augustine, in his discussions about the Roman Empire, was confronted with the question from Cicero about whether the Roman Republic or Empire was indeed the best of states. Unlike Plato, Cicero wanted to find an actual best city and thought he had found it in the Republic of Rome.7 Cicero, of course, rightly recognized that this best Roman Republic was disappearing before his very eyes. Indeed, his own murder was at the hands of those who would justify the claim for a new Pax Romana. Cicero would, however, consider this new regime of Augustus to be the worst of tyrannies. In Cicero, on this very point, we find a certain priority of action or practical philosophy, of justice over theoretic philosophy that is not found in the Greeks, especially in Plato and Aristotle.




For St. Augustine, his own analysis or the actual Roman regime in the light of Cicero's own definition of the state caused him to change the famous criterion from Cicero's justice to love as the basic link or bond of actual states. Two loves built two cities. St. Augustine realized that we could in fact love what was not the best and in fact mostly did so. The effect of this change of definition was to recognize that Aristotle's analyses of the bad regimes did in fact correspond to the political reality of history. That is, most actual regimes were in fact disordered and that the best regime was not the highest thing available to man.
The major problem that arises in Augustinian political philosophy in contrast to modern theory then has to do with means, though few would maintain that just any means are legitimate. Even Machiavelli worried about excessively cruel means, as in the famous case of Ramirro d'Orco, who was ordered to do cruel things to establish order in Cesena. But then Ramirro, for his obedience, was in turn executed for doing these very excessive deeds by the same man who ordered him to perform them in the first place. The purpose of this cruel execution -- Ramirro was cut in two and hung on the city gates -- was not to inspire justice or fear of the Lord, but to inspire fear and amazement in the hearts of the people, or better, to teach us how to rule.
It seemed clear to St. Augustine, however, that the classical moral virtues needed to be understood in the light of the Christian doctrines. St. Augustine did not object to the virtues found to exist among the Greeks and Romans. What concerned him was that even at their highest achievements, they did not point directly to man's destiny in the present order of salvation. They did not account for original sin and grace even when they suspected that something radically and abidingly wrong remained present in the human condition. These Christian doctrines meant not that man was in fact destined to something higher than that to which human nature could expect in its own proper order. But they also implied that even in achieving the natural virtues, there was some incompleteness, some natural inability to achieve what philosophy could understand to be proper and due to human nature.
St. Augustine, in other words, had a streak of optimism midst his pessimism that saw, through revelation, not merely the City of God as man's ultimate destiny but a possibility for some limited but real improvement in the world, provided improving the world was not taken to be man's only purpose.8 With the Fall, something radically was wrong even in the natural order which remained in itself good and to be praised. How is this situation to be both acknowledged and explained?
"(Pagan philosophers) were the first to admit that their model of the most desirable society cannot be translated into action. It exists in speech or 'private discussion' only," Ernest Fortin has remarked in this regard.

De facto, one is always faced with some sort of trade-off, that is to say, with a choice among a variety of regimes none of which is superior in every respect to any of the others.... Augustine's critique ... reminds us of the one that would later be developed by Machiavelli and his followers, who likewise took issue with classical thought on the ground of its impracticality. The difference is that Augustine never thought of lowering the standards of human behavior in order to enhance their effectiveness, as did the early modern philosophers when they boldly tried to root all moral principles in some powerful but selfish passion, such as the desire for self-preservation. If anything, his (Augustine's) own standards are even more stringent than the most stringent standards of the classical tradition. As he saw it, pagan philosophy was bound to fail, not because it made unreasonable demands on human nature, but because its proponents did not know or were not willing to apply the proper remedy to its congenital weakness. That remedy consists in following Christ ... for he alone reveals the true goal of human existence and furnishes the means whereby it may be attained.9
These remarks of Ernest Fortin address head on the problem of the similarity and difference between Machiavelli and St. Augustine.
It is of some importance to spell out what is stated here. First, both Augustine and Machiavelli thought classical moral teachings to be "impractical", that is, that they could not achieve the admittedly noble goals that were fashioned in reflection on human nature by the classical philosophers. Both St. Augustine and Machiavelli agree in their descriptions of what men "do" do. Machiavelli took this inability of religion or ethics to bring about the virtue it proposed as a sign of the falsity of the position of the philosophers. The best regime for Machiavelli thus was that regime that could be brought about granted the impossibility to achieve the classical virtues and granted that the definitions of classical virtue no longer held for actual men. This position enabled vice or evil to become a legitimate and theoretically justified instrument of rule.
St. Augustine proceeded in a different fashion. He agreed with the classics, especially with Plato, that the existential status of the best regime is at issue. Plato's constant reminder that the best regime exists only in speech was, however, unacceptable to St. Augustine. This is why, among other reasons, he wrote The City of God. St. Augustine does not disagree with Plato about the need to think about and formulate the outlines of this City according to principles of reason. Here St. Augustine is in disagreement with Machiavelli but in agreement with Plato. Augustine did not think philosophy either useless or false. St. Augustine's solution is that the "City of God" does in fact exist and is the destiny of mankind. It is an "actual" city though one unlike any existing political city.
But this City of God, the locus of what men really want and are really offered ("You have made us for Thyself, O Lord"), does not come about through man's own efforts alone. In fact, it is inconceivably better than the purely contemplative solutions hinted at by the philosophers. The City of God does not by itself denigrate the dignity of politics, but it does imply that politics is limited and circumscribed. This is why any theory of a limited state is very compatible with Augustine; indeed, such a thesis has at least one of its origins in Augustine. Augustine would also restrict or put in its proper place the activity of politics itself, even in a limited state. He thought that however important politics might be, there were more important things to do.


VII.

However, very few men, in St. Augustine's view, actually choose the "City of God" even when freely offered to them in their liberty. Human life in the world, even with grace, remains pretty much as Machiavelli described it. In other words, no is to be surprised that we could find popes who were great sinners but who turned out to be, for that very reason, models of political shrewdness, yes, of political Machiavellianism. Machiavelli, on grounds of realism, did not oppose just Plato and Aristotle, but also Augustine and Aquinas. The force of his opposition was that both rational and revelational means or virtues did not, for the most part, "work". Machiavelli's method, evidently, worked but at the cost of the rational and revelational virtues.


The resulting city ruled over by the prince was precisely what might be expected of those who refused to be bound by any of the higher virtues. Machiavelli, along with Nietzsche, came about not merely because classical virtues were too difficult but also because Christian grace, in the light of these virtues, was not obviously effective. Chesterton was right in observing that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, but tried and found difficult. An Augustinian accepts this difficulty without denying the Christianity. A Machiavellian denies the Christianity in order to find an easier way.
What results from St. Augustine's view of grace and fallen nature in the political realm is what has come to be called "Augustinian realism." The state is indeed a divine institution but it is not the location of perfection or grace. It is a remedy, an institution that must deal with disordered souls as they manifest their desires and degeneracies in public. It is a necessary evil. It ought not to exist but does exist because of the appearance of what ought not to be but is. The "City of God" is not a political institution but it is the locus of happiness and destiny for those human beings who are conceived, born, and live in existing cities.
This "separation" between the two cities was seen by the earlier writers of the history of political theory such as George Sabine to be the contribution of St. Augustine to political philosophy. The City of God was written, Sabine observed,

to defend Christianity against the pagan charge that it was responsible for the decline of Roman power.... (Augustine restated) from the Christian point of view ... the ancient idea that man is a citizen of two cities, the city of his birth and the City of God.... Man's nature is twofold: he is spirit and body and therefore at once a citizen of this world and of the Heavenly city. The fundamental fact of human life is the division of human interests, the worldly interests that centre about the body and the other-worldly interests that belong specifically to the soul. ... This distinction lay at the foundation of all Christian thought on ethics and politics.10




And yet, if we are to take this view about Augustine that his major import was to distinguish the two cities, we will find it difficult easily to account for his argument against the Roman philosophers with regard to the Fall of Rome.
For it was St. Augustine's view that the Christians, because they were Christians, in fact made better soldiers and better citizens. St. Augustine's argument with the classics and, if we can anticipate, with Machiavelli later on, was that the polity, the state, could be improved, though it was not and never could be precisely the "City of God". The correct description or definition of the highest things, in other words, was precisely what prevented any civil society from claiming to be something it was not and could not be. In this sense, Sabine was right to see the fundamental importance of the two cities. But the fact that actual states were not the "The City of God" did not mean that nothing of those higher things was operative in them, nor did it mean that what was disordered in personal or civil life became legitimate because it was prevalent. Augustinian realism included the realism of those who in fact lived good lives under grace, even midst the many who lived bad lives rejecting the same grace. If, as Augustine said, that God could recognize these actual evils and still be so omnipotent that good could come out of the good that stays in any being lacking order, then there is restored to the social order, even to the state, that counteracts the failures of the classical virtues to be easily practiced and of the more complete pessimism that must come if a Machiavellian ruler gains power on his own principles.
VIII.

What is being accomplished in history, to conclude, recalling Paolucci's words, is not will of man but of God. The meaning of "political realism" in St. Augustine addresses first the will of man. It does so through the experience, through the account of St. Augustine about what he knew in himself. It is in this sense, as Etienne Gilson pointed out in a famous essay, a realist metaphysics based on the reality of one man, Augustine.11 Augustinian realism thus recognizes that at the root of what we see of disorder in the world is a personal will that is the good that God allows to exist even if it chooses against Him and His norms embedded in the being of man the rational being. God even with the most tender grace has no choice but to leave man in the radical freedom that allows him to choose between two things to love, himself or God and the good world that confronts man.


Machiavellian realism reveals an unwillingness in the name of will. It accepts the consequences of its choices but refuses to name these consequences by their classic names. The city that the prince founds bears all the characteristics that Aristotle had already found in the tyrant's city. Augustine would have no trouble in recognizing the Machiavellian city, for he too wrote of it. But Augustine knew that grace was present even in the most disordered life, because he knew his own life. His realism included grace and grace included a challenge to the classical virtues precisely in their own failures. Thus Augustine, unlike Plato, was not content merely with a city in speech, was not content to be merely a philosopher, though he was a philosopher.


Indeed, Augustine found the Platonists to be the best of the philosophers. But as he told us in the City of God, from them, from the philosophers' lofty analyses of justice and the good, he did not hear of the Word made flesh. The realism of Augustine found in each actual city citizens who mostly rejected grace, but some few who would accept it. Thus, it was not merely the City of God that interested him, but all actual cities. Augustine became a bishop, not a lawyer or a philosopher. In this choice, though he was in fact both lawyer and philosopher, there is much reflection for those who would see him as merely a pessimist or as merely a religious precursor for Machiavelli. Two loves did build two cities. They still do, of such is Augustinian realism.

1 Herbert Deane, The Political Writings of St. Augustine (New York: Columbia University Press, 1956), p. 56.

2 Henry Paolucci, Introduction to The Political Writings of St. Augustine (Chicago: Regnery, 1962), p. xv.

3 See Leo Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952); Thoughts on Machiavelli (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1958).

4 Jacques Maritain, "The End of Machiavellianism," Social and Political Philosophy of Jacques Maritain, Edited by Joseph Evans and Leo Ward (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1976), p. 323.

5 See James V. Schall, "Regarding the Inattentiveness to Hell in Political Philosophy," Divus Thomas, (Piacenza), (#3-4, 1989), 273-79.

6 "Dicendum quod, sicut dicit Augustinus in Enchridio (C. II): 'Deus, cum sit summe bonus, nullo modo sineret aliquid mali esse in operibus suis, nisi esset adeo omnipotens et bonus, ut bene faceret etiam de malo.' Hoc ergo ad infinitam Dei bonitatem pertinet, ut esse permittat mala et ex eis eliciat bona." I-II, 2, 3, ad 1.

7 See James V. Schall, "Post-Aristotelian Philosophy and Political Theory," Cithara, 3 (November, 1963), 56-79; "Post-Aristotelian Thought and Modernity," Austig und Niedergang der Romischen Welt," II: Principat, Band 36.7 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1994), 4902-36.

8 See Charles N. R. McCoy, "St. Augustine," History of Political Philosophy, Edited by Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey (Chicago: Rand-McNally, 1963), pp. 151-59.

9 Ernest L. Fortin, "Augustine and the Hermeneutics of Love: Some Preliminary Considerations," Augustine Today, Edited by Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 41-42.

10 George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1937), p. 189.

11 Etienne Gilson, "The Future of Augustinian Metaphysics," A Gilson Reader, Edited by A. Pegis (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday Anchor, 1957), pp. 82-104.





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