What was Augustine’s view on tyranny?
Subject: Philosophy

Topic: What was Augustine’s view on tyranny?

Firstly it must be noted that St. Augustine’s thoughts cannot easily be compiled into a compact and comprehensive political commentary. That said, he does offer lengthy commentaries on the social, and sometimes, show investment in what is clearly the political sphere. St. Augustine, like Thomas Aquinas after him, holds divine sanction as the most sacrosanct thing. Some have interpreted Augustine to mean something as extreme as that the State is an institution that harbors sin. One can only suppose that this interpretation comes from the way Augustine’s views described his priorities: the earthly world was simply an intermediate into heaven, thereby making the investment into earthly life something that was to be paid off by the life in heaven.

On this note, it can be noted that the divine sanction view of the state also meant that for Augustine, any social formations and compacts made between men were secondary to that upheld by morals and devotion to God. He also condemns Imperialism, positing that the control of the weak by the strong is against Christian principles, and therefore not sanctioned by God. He stood against large empires as such, although conceding that the Roman empire’s grandiosity was probably deserved (as her enemies were full of sin). Lastly, Augustine also cautions against keeping an ideal of the state, something which would be the perfect ruling body on earth. The state’s power which was to be held in check by the church subjugated any single ruler’s power. It was the office, and not the ruler that held authority. In this sense, any man is free to obey or disobey a tyrannical ruler’s will, since he is not morally obliged to hold them.