Here is the final paper that I wrote for my philosophy class. I thought that I may as well post it here so that I could truly wrap up the course in my blog. This will be the second to last thing you will ever have to read about my summer classes, I promise! haha
The Tale of Two Cities: The Influence of Augustine and Machiavelli on Modern Christianity
The idea of a separation between the visible and invisible, material and spiritual, is a concept humanity has developed and revised throughout the centuries. From the religious beliefs recorded in the Old Testament to the ancient philosophers, mankind displays an intense interest in what – if anything – exists in the spiritual and immaterial realm. Augustine, a Christian theologian of the early church and influenced heavily by Platonist thought, provides the Christian perspective on the issue. In Augustine’s The City of God, he differentiates the city of God from the city of man and explicates the differences between the two. Augustine’s description of the material and immaterial realms and their interaction is a unique one – a direct result of his Christian beliefs. Conversely, Niccolo Machiavelli, a Renaissance-era Italian philosopher, views the two realms in a completely different way from the majority of his philosophical predecessors. The contrast between Augustine’s philosophy on the two realms and that of Machiavelli is fascinatingly vast and stems from the presence or absence of a Christian religious foundation.
For Augustine, the separation between the earthly city and the city of God is by definition a religious separation. The truest and most complete form of all the virtues exists only in the city of God; the earthly city is a mere shadow of the city to come. The Supreme God is, in Aristotelian terms, the end toward which Christians journey. “For He is the fountain of our happiness, He the end of all our desires… we tend towards Him by love, that we may rest in Him, and find our blessedness by attaining that end,” writes Augustine about the Triune God (City of God, X.3).
Furthermore, Augustine perceives virtue to be the true, original nature of mankind; corrupt human nature results from the Fall, which came through no fault of God’s. Augustine adamantly protects God’s goodness and divinity with his doctrine of evil. For Augustine, “evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name evil” (City of God, XI.9). Not only is evil a loss, absence, and perversion of the good, it is not a creation of God, but a result of man’s misuse of free will. Augustine describes the devil himself as “good by God’s creation, wicked by his own will” (City of God, XI.17). As a result, men should strive toward virtue in order to glorify God and in order to avoid evil. Virtue is not, however, for Augustine the ultimate path to a higher reality like it is for Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In fact, Augustine writes, “Salvation, such as it shall be in the world to come, shall itself be our final happiness. And this happiness these philosophers refuse to believe in… and attempt to fabricate for themselves a happiness in this life, based upon a virtue which is as deceitful as it is proud” (City of God, XIX.4). Though the virtuous life is a significant aspect of the life of a citizen of the city of God, Augustine recognizes the complete and utter inability for mankind to save itself (even through virtue) and realizes the absolute need for the salvation Christ provides.
In addition, Augustine also emphasizes the importance of the city of God in the lives of Christians. Though Christians essentially have temporary “dual-citizenship” in the earthly city and the city of God, the Christian’s first loyalty should always be to the city of God, in Augustine’s opinion. For the time being, the heavenly city is intertwined with the earthly city where it “calls citizens out of all nations” (City of God, XIX.17). Christians, unlike the pagans, do not look to the earthly city for satisfaction and happiness; instead, they look ahead to the heavenly city for this fulfillment. According to Augustine, “And this is the characteristic of the earthly city, that it worships God or gods who may aid it in reigning victoriously and peacefully on earth not through love of doing good, but through lust of rule. The good use the world that they may enjoy God: the wicked, on the contrary, that they may enjoy the world would fain use of God” (City of God, XV.7). The Christian in the earthly city should not be concerned with power or pleasure in the present world; he or she should only hope for the future full realization of the heavenly city. This humility and hope for the things unseen are marks of the Christian pilgrimage through the city of man to the city of God.
Machiavelli, however, holds several views about the earthly city, the heavenly city, and virtue that differ from Augustine’s opinions. In fact, Machiavelli’s philosophy deviates rather substantially from the majority of his philosophical predecessors. First of all, Machiavelli sees no real distinction between the earthly realm and the heavenly realm. Truthfully, he seems not to completely believe in a God or an immaterial realm, which greatly shapes his view of the earthly city. In his opinion, only half of men’s lives are accounted for by fortune, while the rest is left up to man himself to determine (The Prince, XXV). Therefore, Machiavelli dedicates the entirety of The Prince to discussing the most advantageous ways and means to gain and keep power in earthly cities and kingdoms. Unlike Augustine, Machiavelli does not caution his readers to consider heavenly rewards or punishments first and foremost.
As a result of the de-emphasis on heavenly reward and right living in his philosophy, Machiavelli presents a rather cynical and maniacal view of the virtues. For Machiavelli, human nature is not naturally virtuous. On the contrary, he holds humanity in particularly low regard. He writes, “And truly it is a very natural and ordinary thing to desire to acquire” (The Prince, III). The Prince, therefore, contains an extraordinary amount of precautions about the rebellious and untrustworthy nature of one’s subjects, advisors, and the leaders of other nations. In addition, Machiavelli provides advice to current and future leaders for how to handle these problems, and cruelty, in Machiavelli’s opinion, is not necessarily to be avoided. Cruelties “well-used” are those used to defend the ruler’s position and power and are as short-lived as possible (The Prince, VIII). According to Machiavelli, cruelties should be performed “all at a stroke… so that, being tasted less, they offend less” (The Prince, VIII). Virtue, therefore, is something to be used to one’s advantage. Machiavelli’s best estimation of virtue is a type of forethought that minimizes harm when the tides of fortune turn against a ruler. He provides an example in which he represents fortune as a flooding river – the virtuous man is the one who built dikes and dams beforehand in order to divert as much negative influence as possible. In this way, virtue can be thought of as the quality allowing a ruler to avoid bad fortune as thoroughly as possible.
Needless to say, Machiavelli does not hold the virtues in high regard because he does not believe that one can gain and maintain power through strict adherence to the virtues. Therefore, it is important for a ruler “to learn to be able not to be good” (The Prince, XV). In other words, the prince should be adept at maintaining the façade of virtuosity without being constrained by the reality of the virtues. “A spirit disposed to change,” as Machiavelli describes in chapter XVIII of The Prince. In Machiavelli’s opinion, virtue is useful insofar as it ingratiates a ruler to his citizens, and the appearance of virtue is useful in order to adapt to the changes of fortune and avoid the worst vices for a ruler. Due to his controversial views of virtue, one will not be surprised that Machiavelli does not hold religion in high regard either. Like virtue and vice, religion is simply another pawn for a ruler to use to his advantage as far as possible. According to Machiavelli, “A prudent lord, therefore, cannot observe faith, nor should he, when such observance turns against him, and the causes that made him promise have been eliminated” (The Prince, XVIII). Machiavelli uses “faith” here to describe faith in men or in God. In other words, Machiavelli is the man Augustine describes when he writes that some men demonstrate disordered love and use God in order to enjoy the earth instead of using the earth to enjoy God.
Augustine in The City of God and Machiavelli in The Prince present two very different philosophies for living life, interacting with others, and the future of the human soul. The philosophies are largely, if not absolutely, incompatible. In recent centuries, Machiavelli’s philosophy has become the predominant one, with many people respecting The Prince and behaving in Machiavellian ways. Though Machiavelli’s theories are not entirely unique to him, he popularized the type of “the end justifies the means” thinking that dominates modern American society and politics. Augustine’s work, on the other hand, has become less popular – even amongst the Christian community. Many modern Christians ignore or are ignorant of Augustine’s social theory for the Christian community and become too politically active or extreme, while others completely despair of the current societal atmosphere altogether. In light of this, how should modern Christians apply Augustine’s philosophy to their lives in a predominantly Machiavellian world?
As aforementioned, one common error of the Christian life about which Augustine warns his readers is becoming too comfortable in the earthly city and settling down there instead of continuing on the pilgrimage. Clearly, this does not apply only to modern Christians because Augustine wrote The City of God approximately eight hundred years ago. Modern American Christians, however, have a uniquely political factor involved. With the presidential elections looming, Americans begin to vigorously divide along the polarizing line of liberal versus conservative. During these times, voters hear more about “the Christian right wing” than any other time. In fact, different Christian denominations unify more during election season in order to thoroughly denounce the liberal agenda and lament the ungodliness of any candidate and his or her platform as the downfall of America. They seem convinced that America needs a majority of Christian leaders in order for the country to be successful, and these Christians are determined to vote in the most Christian candidates possible into any position.
Augustine, however, would not support this line of thought or type of Christian behavior. When Rome fell, it was a Christian empire, and Augustine wrote The City of God in order to defend Christianity from those who blamed it for the fall of Rome. Augustine did not write The City of God in order to extol the virtues of a Christian nation; he wrote it in order to encourage Christians to continue looking ahead to the city of God and not to give too much thought to the city of man. For Augustine, the earthly city is important only insofar as men and women are called out of it to be citizens of the city of God, which is currently intertwined with the earthly city. In his opinion, Christians can be good citizens of their earthly cities mainly because they remove themselves from the political arena and focus on the superior, eternal city to come. Augustine essentially advocates political indifference, apart from those laws inhibiting proper Christian worship. In other words, modern Christians should practice a higher degree of political apathy instead of expending so much energy attempting to fix the earthly city. Augustine sees no real need for Christians to be overly involved in the earthly city, and Machiavelli does not believe they can be truly successful within the political arena, anyway. Machiavelli is convinced that in order to really succeed in earthly politics, Christians could not adhere to the Christian morals, virtues, and lifestyle. In conclusion, Christians must heed Augustine’s warning not to attempt to use God in order to enjoy the earth and earthly things.
On the other hand, Augustine does not believe Christians should so easily and completely despair of the earthly city. Augustine strongly believes that Christians should obey the commandments Jesus emphasized: love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. For Augustine, this is true piety (City of God, X.3). As a result, Christians are expected to help their fellow man. Augustine writes, “To be innocent, we must not only do harm to no man, but also restrain him from sin or punish his sin, so that either the man himself who is punished may profit by his experience, or others be warned by his example” (City of God, XIX.16). Clearly, Augustine does not advocate the complete indifference and separation from the world that some Christians strive toward. Though Christians are not called to perfect the material world, they are called to care for and witness to people all over the globe. For Augustine, these actions are one part of the Christian pilgrimage through the earthly city towards the heavenly city. Machiavelli, however, has no concept of looking beyond the current world towards anything spiritual or eternal. In The Prince, he shows that his interest is completely devoted to the earthly city, and it is completely against his philosophy to despair of the earthly city and to look ahead to something better. Instead, according to Machiavelli, one who is discontented with the rule of a city should try to take power for himself and change his own fortune and situation.
In order for Christians to achieve the balance between the two cities, knowledge and appreciation of Augustine’s philosophy are required. The City of God remains relevant in the lives of Christians in every era, including modernity. Augustine provides suggestions for the proper way Christians are to interact with the earthly city and the city of God. First and foremost, they are to recognize that they are merely pilgrims in the earthly city on the way to the city of God. Next, Christians must separate themselves from the desire to become comfortable in the earthly city or to attempt to make it a more pleasurable place for them to be. In doing so, the purpose of the earthly city would be lost, for it is meant to be only a shadow of the perfect city to come. However, a Christian must never ignore his or her neighbor and be ever at the ready to love others in a Christ-like manner. By doing so, the Christian is behaving appropriately in the earthly city while looking ahead to the city of God, where all hope is placed.
Augustine. Political Writings, trans. Michael W. Tkacz and Douglas Kries (Indianapolis, IN:Hackett, 1994). ISBN 0-87220-210-0.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield (Chicago: University of ChicagoPress, 1998. ISBN 0226500446.