Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Augustine:  Regarding Democracy.

"Augustine: Therefore, if a people is well-ordered and serious-minded, and carefully watches over the common good, and everyone in it values private affairs less than the public interest, is it not right to enact a law that allows this people to choose their own magistrates to look after their interest - that is, the public interest?
Evodius:  It is quite right.
Augustine:  But suppose that the same people becomes gradually depraved.  They come to prefer private interest to the public good.  Votes are bought and sold.  Corrupted by those who covet honors, they hand over power to wicked and profligate men.  In such a case would it not be right for a good and powerful man (if one could be found) to take from this people the power of conferring honors and to limit it to the discretion of a few good people, or even to one?
Evodius:  Yes, it would." - On Free Choice of the Will, Book I.

This bit is especially interesting after having read Plato's Republic recently.  The pattern of Democracy having an honorable start and finishing badly is repeated.  Augustine's purpose is different in that he is making a point that laws which are just at one time could be completely negated to achieve justice at a different time, based on the virtues or vices of the citizenry.  Thus, he distinguishes temporal law from eternal law.

A bit later in the same work we see this:

"Now the only genuine freedom is that possessed by those who are happy and cleave to the eternal law; but I am talking about the sort of freedom that people have in mind when they think they are free because they have no human masters ..."

This is a reoccurring theme for classical philosophy and theology.  The popular view both then and now is that freedom is the freedom to pursue any desire.  Sadly, such freedom always degenerates into the freedom to pursue vice.  But what is vice other than slavery to depravity?  Thus, the puzzle that freedom only comes to those who have self-control and aren't ruled by their vices, yet we always see freedom as not being subject to controls and rules.

1 comment:

Delirious said...

I am reminded of this Book of Mormon scripture:

"And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself."

2 Nephi 2:26, 27