St. Augustine vs. Machiavelli: a Comparison of the Good Society

Topics: God, Political philosophy, Religion Pages: 7 (2815 words) Published: September 6, 2013
Ben Parrish
St. Augustine vs. Machiavelli: A comparison of the Good Society Final Project
09/01/13

Both St. Augustine and Machiavelli believed that in order to understand the true nature of society you must see men for what they truly were. Augustine and Machiavelli are similar in their pessimistic views toward human nature, looking at human self-love and self-interest and believed it to be full of evil, cruelty, betrayal, violence and tied that relationship into the creation of war. For both philosophers a good society is actually something that for almost all men is an unreachable attribute that can only be written about and not actually fully experienced in my view. For Augustine I feel it is a truly heavenly earth where all men are divine and are as close to the city of Heaven as you can be on earth. For Machiavelli it is a state of complete acceptance of each man’s role and how that role fits into society like a puzzle piece. In order to examine each philosopher’s view further, we must break their thoughts into three separate categories which are: human nature, political authority, and religious beliefs. This essay will take an in-depth look at both St. Augustine and Machiavelli, compare and contrast their views, and provide evidence that on some level the two thinkers were very similar in their ideology. Augustine viewed human nature in only one way: good and evil. Augustine lived in an era when the pillar of strength and stability, the Roman Empire, was being shattered, and his own life, too was filled with turmoil and loss. To believe in God, he had to find an answer to why, if God is all-powerful and purely good, he still allowed suffering to exist. Augustine believed that evil existed because all men on earth was granted, at birth, the power of free will. He states that God enables humans to freely choose their actions and deeds, and through our own action and choices evil is established. Even natural evils, such as disease, are indirectly related to human action according to his theory. Augustine proclaimed “we cannot understand the mind of God, and what appears evil to us may not be evil at all. We cannot judge God’s judgment.” (Linda Raeder) At some point in his life, Augustine became a follower of Manichaeism. Manichaeism taught that Satan is solely responsible for all evil in the world, and humankind is free of all responsibility in bringing about evil and misery. Augustine, ultimately believing that human beings are capable of free will and are among the causes of suffering in the world, left the movement for another cause that better suited his beliefs, Neoplatonism. Neoplatonism teaches that the physical world is changeable, perishable, and imperfect, in contrast with world of ideas or forms, which is constant, perfect, and everlasting. Because the physical world is marked by change and corruption, it is impossible to fully know it all. Augustine believed that true knowledge can only be achieved by thinking about the eternal and perfect forms, of which the tangible world is only a copy, just as painting is only an imitation of something real. Under this new thought, Augustine founded the important idea that human beings are not a neutral battleground on which either goodness or evil lays claim, but rather humans are the authors of their own suffering. Augustine believed that humans controlled their own certainty. He argued that if we accept the possibility of our conclusions being probable, we have already implicitly assumed that certainty exists, because things can only be true if truth does in fact exist. If there is no truth, there is no probability. He also stated that happiness is the result of acquired wisdom, which all human beings desire. He believed that wisdom could not be attained unless happiness in itself was an unacceptable conclusion. For Augustine the human mental state was the key to controlling actions and in the end our very human nature that we create. In The Prince Machiavelli...
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