ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Saint Augustine's Political Philosophy

Updated on September 7, 2020
Bibowen profile image

Bill has advanced degrees in education and political science. He has been a political science teacher for over 27 years.


In an earlier essay, I provided a summary of Augustine of Hippo's philosophy of history. In this essay I will provide a summary of his political philosophy. Three areas that will be covered will be the areas of human nature, the role of government, and the institutions of church and state.

"Saint Augustine in His Study" by Vittore Carpaccio (1502)
"Saint Augustine in His Study" by Vittore Carpaccio (1502) | Source

Human Nature and Government

Because man is fallen from his first estate by sinning against God in the Garden of Eden, government is needed to check the evil acts of the most wicked men. So, government is necessary because man is sinful. For Augustine, evil is not a mystery: it's what we should expect in a world of fallen men. Wicked acts are the default condition on this side of the Garden of Eden.

Augustine’s response was that men are sinners and need a coercive state to constrain them. Given that the state is necessary because of sinfulness, the state has two functions. First, government allows for a temporal good—Its purpose is to preserve a relative peace—for Augustine, peace is a truce between contending powers. Augustine does not believe that the state can create a lasting peace, but only a tenuous one. That peace will eventually break down and will have to be reestablished again. It's reasonable to conclude that Augustine would tell the participants of most peace demonstrations of our time something like "you're wasting your time. Your governments might be able to bring about a temporary peace, but don't be disappointed if it doesn't happen."

Second, the state exists to punish evildoers. “According to St. Augustine, the purpose of the State is the maintenance of a peace on earth that will permit men to live in harmony and attain their rightful goals. This purpose is realized through the use of force and the fear of punishment...only as wicked men fear punishment will peace and security be possible.”[1] Government is a necessary evil (or, at least it seems that Augustine implies this)—“If the State is necessary because of human evil, the State itself is a necessary evil since those who govern are sinful men.”[2].

Church and State

According to Augustine, man is a citizen of two cities: the city of God and the earthly city:

"Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word glories in itself, the latter in the Lord...And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both...But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness..."

Other points that Augustine made were....

  • There is no truly good church and state
  • the state must necessarily be Christian
  • government can do what is morally right and wrong
  • Christians have duties to the state

Finally, Augustine teaches that politics is a limited enterprise. Because the state can only achieve a temporal good (as opposed to an everlasting one) and because it punishes wrongdoing (as opposed to compelling right doing)men have limited knowledge and their wills are corrupted. Therefore, Man's capacity for rational and just government is a naive notion. This is in contrast to both Plato and Aristotle that believed that man could achieve true wisdom and justice via human reason.

There are those that have felt that the power of the state can remake society anew and there are others who have said that the power of the state is very limited in what it can accomplish. Augustine would come from the latter school. Augustine believed that men were not naturally political (remember Aristotle: “Man is a political animal.”). Well, Augustine does not believe that man is a political animal. Men form political unions and goals because they share similar conditions and goals.


[1] Ronald Nash, Freedom, Justice, and the State (Landham, MD: University Press of America, 1980), 87.

[2] Ronald Nash, Freedom, Justice, and the State (Landham, MD: University Press of America, 1980), 88.

© 2018 William R Bowen Jr


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)