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May 15, 2014

"Sermon to the Princes;" "Special Exposure of False Faith;" and "Highly Provoked Defense," Thomas Müntzer

"Sermon to the Princes;" "Special Exposure of False Faith;" and "Highly Provoked Defense" in Revelation and Revolution: Basic Writings of Thomas Müntzer, trans. and ed. by Michael G. Baylor (1993)

All of these texts are from 1524.

Sermon to the Princes

An exegesis of the second chapter of Daniel. It consists of four sections. The first three focus on the corrupt nature of the world and the Church. After the death of the disciples the Christian church “became and adulteress” (99). Also, “the whole world, from the beginning down to the present time, has been deceived by dreamers and interpreters of dreams” (103). In the fourth section he proclaims, “You should know that an elected person who wants to know which visions or dreams are from God and which are from nature or from the devil must be severed in his mind and heart, and also in his natural understanding, from all temporal reliance on the flesh” (106). “It is true--and I know it to be true--that the spirit of God now reveals to many elected pious people that a momentous, invincible, future reformation is very necessary and must be brought about... This text of Daniel is thus as clear as the bright sun, and the work of ending the fifth empire of the world is now in full swing.” The first empire was Babylon, the second was the Persians, the third was the Greeks, the fourth was the Roman and the fifth “is that which we have before our own eyes.” God is going to smash the old ecclesiastical order. The rulers are in danger of being seduced by it but the “poor laity and the peasants see it [the situation] much more clearly than you do” (109). God “will make your hands skillful in fighting against his enemies” (111). “Nothing on earth has a better form and mask than false goodness.” “He to whom is given all power in heaven and on earth [Christ] wants to lead the government” (114).

Special Exposure of False Faith

Muntzer begins by claiming that Luther is preaching false theology, even though they are both trying to interpret the Bible. He writes, “all knowledge contains within itself its diametrical opposite” (115). He suggests that the correction to this is “the common man, must become learned... so that you will be misled no longer. The same spirit of Christ will help you in this which will mock our learned ones to their destruction” (116).

Next he moves to an exegesis of the first chapter of Luke. He emphasis that people can read the Bible themselves, “With all their words and deeds our scribes make sure that the poor man cannot learn to read, because he is worried about his sustenance. And they shamelessly preach that the poor man should let himself be sheared and clipped by the tyrants” (119). The poor will know true scholars by the way they lead their lives.

In the second section he claims, “every person should observe most carefully, and then he will certainly find that the Christian faith is an impossible thing for a man of the flesh” and that faith is also impossible. “And all of us must have just this experience of impossibility in the beginning of faith. And we must hold to it that we carnal, earthly men shall become gods through the incarnation of Christ as man” (121). “Therefore, rulers are nothing but hangmen and corpse renders. This is their whole craft” (123).

In the third section he asserts, “the heart of a member of the elect is constantly moved to the source of his faith by the power of the Supreme Being” (126). And claims again that the learned have led the peasants astray. In the fourth he says that the people need “to wait for a new John the Baptist, for a preacher rich in grace who has experienced every aspect of the faith through his own lack of faith” (128). After this happens there will be a movement of the spirit that reprimands the people “on account of their disorderly desires” (130). The people need to turn away from their sins and towards God. “Otherwise preaching is a thief’s prattle and a war of words” (133). In the sixth he asserts that the coming of the true church is imminent, “In a short time, each will have to give an account of how he has come to the faith. The separation of the godless from the elect would indeed bring about a true Christian church” (134). In the seventh he emphasizes “Christ was a lowly person, of unimportant parents” (137). In the eighth he claims that the elect make room for God in their hearts.

Highly Provoke Defense

Here Muntzer attacks Luther at great length calling him “Doctor Liar” (143). He argues that he, Muntzer, is not preaching rebellion but, instead, preaching that the law be followed. “Behold, the basic source of usury, theft, and robbery is our lords and princes, who take all creatures for their private property” (144). In other words, Muntzer maintains that the rich are the real thieves while Luther claims that the poor are thieves whenever they don’t respect private property. After smearing Luther at great length he concludes, “The people will be free. And God alone will be lord over them” (154).

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May 8, 2014

The Journal of John Woolman

John Woolman, The Journal of John Woolman in The Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman, ed. Philips Moulton (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 21-192

In his journal John Woolman accounts for his growing belief that slavery is wrong, his transformation into an abolitionist and his efforts to convince Quakers in both America and England to stop practicing the slave trade. His concern with slavery is that it is a moral sin and he is working to end moral sins, be they slavery or wanton behavior (see, for instance, his discussion of his rebuke of the “sleights-of-hand” performer in 1763 (138)). The journal spans 1720 to 1772 and was revised and rewritten between 1770 and 1772.

The years 1720 to 1742 constitute his childhood and early adulthood and contain Augustine like accounts of how his understanding of human nature is rooted in his own early experiences. For instance, after killing a bird and her babies and then feeling guilty about his action he writes, “he whose tender mercies are over all his works hath placed a principle in the human mind which incites to exercise goodness toward every living creature” (25). As a Quaker he believes “true religion consisted in an inward life” and his journal can be seen as an attempt to practice that religion (28).

His conversion to abolition takes place when he participates in the sale of an African American slave he knows. Shortly afterwards he stops working as a merchant and becomes a tailor observing, “I saw that a humble man with the blessing of the Lord might live on a little, and that where the heart was set on greatness, success in business did not satisfy the craving, but that in common with an increase of wealth the desire of wealth increased” (35).

The majority of the journal consists of Woolman’s account of visiting various Quaker meetings and trying to convince them to stop participating in the slave trade. He recognizes that this is a difficult task, “Deep-rooted customs, though wrong, are not easily altered, but it is the duty of everyone to be firm in that which they certainly know is right for them” (50). At the core of his organizing methodology is the conviction that, “Conduct is more convincing than language” (60).

Of Woolman’s several journeys two in particular worth mention are his visit to the Native Americans in 1763 and his trip to England, where he ultimately died, in 1772. In England he tried to convince the London Quaker meeting that slavery was wrong.

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May 4, 2014

Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, translated Terence Irwin (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1999)

Aristotle’s major ethical work is the primary source for the tradition of virtue ethics. It is notable, amongst other things, for his teleology, definition of virtue, doctrine of human nature and discussion on friendship.

Aristotle believes that, “Every craft and every line of inquiry, and likewise every action and decision, seems to seek some good” (1). The good he thinks that humans seek is what he calls happiness. He identifies three kinds of happiness: pleasure, honor and study. Aristotle is hierarchical in his thinking and he ranks all of his typologies. For him, study is the highest good. Likewise, political science is the highest science because it is about the happiness of many and not just one.

The good that is sought can also be understood as a function. And just as a horse has a function, so too with a human being “activity of the soul in accord with reason or requiring reason” (9). Philosophy can be understood as the craft to best realize this function. Goods can be divided into three types: external, of the soul and of the body.

A person can only be said to be truly happy at the end of life because reversals of fortune can reveal that what was thought to be happiness earlier was illusory. Happiness is defined as “a certain sort of activity of the soul in accord with complete virtue” and virtue is defined as “virtue of the soul, not of the body” (16). Aristotle divides the virtues into virtues of thought and virtues of character. Some of the virtues of thought are wisdom, comprehension, and prudence. Some of the virtues of character are generosity and temperance.

This is an act based ethics, ones becomes virtuous by doing things, by acquiring the habits of virtue, rather than believing things. Virtues, furthermore, are understood as the mean between two extremes. Generosity, for instance, is the mean between being a miser and being a spendthrift.

Justice in this system is what allows us to become virtuous. An unjust social system is one that cultivates unvirtuous behavior. Law is useful and just when it aims to cultivate virtuous behavior. One reason why political science is the highest science is that it tries to pass the correct laws that will cultivate the correct behavior in the citizens of a city.

Aristotle, incidentally, understands human beings as social creatures. We are people who live in communities, cities, and are parts of families. Seeking virtue is never an individual act.

Also, Aristotle believes that there are both voluntary and involuntary actions. Only adults, and possibly men, are capable of voluntary actions.

Throughout the book Aristotle makes reference to incontinent people as opposed to virtuous people. The incontinent are those who are “prone to be overcome by pleasures” which the lowest kind of happiness (109).

Two books (VIII and IX) of the ethics are concerned with friendship which “is most necessary for our life” and is what “hold cities together.” It is so important that most “legislators would seem to be more concerned about it than justice” (119). The good that friendship seeks is love and “friendship is said to be reciprocated goodwill.” Friendships has “three species, corresponding to three objects of love” (121). These are: utility, pleasure and character. The most enduring, and rarest, kind of friendship is that of character.

The book closes with a discussion of education and the disconnect between theory and practice. Aristotle attacks “the sophists who advertise that they teach politics but none of them practices it” while praising those who both teach and practice politics.

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May 3, 2014

The Making of the English Working Class, E. P. Thompson

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage Books, 1966 [1963])

Thompson’s book, like the title suggests, chronicles the making of the English working class. In the Preface he lays out his methodology and argument. “Making, because it is a study in active process, which owes as much to agency as to conditioning.” “I do not see class as a ‘structure’, nor even as a ‘category’, but as something which in fact happens (and can be shown to have happened) in human relationships... the notion of class entails the notion of historical relationship. ...And class happens when some men, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs” (9). “Class-consciousness is the way in which these experiences are handled in cultural terms: embodied in traditions, value-systems, ideas, and institutional forms... Consciousness of class arises in the same way in different times and places, but never in just the same way” (10). “Class is defined by men as they live their own history, and, in the end, this is its only definition” (11).

He also describes the aim and structure of the book, “This book can be seen as a biography of the English working class from its adolescence until its early manhood” (11). Part One of the book looks at “the continuing popular traditions in the 18th century which influenced the crucial Jacobin agitation of the 1790s.” Part Two traces the experiences of workers during the Industrial Revolution and attempts to “estimate... the character of the new industrial work discipline, and the bearing upon this of the Methodist Church.” Part Three picks “up the story of plebeian Radicalism... through Luddism to the heroic age at the close of the Napoleonic Wars.” The book concludes by look at the evolution of political theory and class consciousness in the 1820s and 1830s. Thompson admits to have a particular democratic communist agenda in writing his book, “Causes which were lost in England might, in Asia or Africa, yet be won” (13).

The work is broken into three parts. The first part “The Liberty Tree” covers chapters one to five, the second part “The Curse of Adam” covers chapters six to twelve, and the third part “The Working Class Presence” covers chapters thirteen through sixteen.

Part I: The Liberty Tree

In the first chapter, he defines a working-class organization as “There is the working man as Secretary. There is the low weekly subscription. There is the intermingling of economic and political themes... There is the function of the meeting, both as a social occasion and as a centre for political activity. There is the realistic attention to procedural formalities. Above all, there is the determination to propagate opinions and to organise the converted, embodied in the leading rule: ‘That the number of our Members be unlimited’” (21).

In the second chapter, he sees religious dissent as a space for preserving radical ideas by keeping them “in the imagery of sermons and tracts and in democratic forms of organization” (30). Additionally, “The tension between the kingdoms ‘without’ and ‘within’ implied a rejection of the ruling powers except at points where co-existence was inevitable” (31) or throughout “the Industrial Revolution we can see this tension.... in the Dissent of the poor, with chiliasm at one pole, and quietism at the other” (50). He summarizes this argument, “The intellectual history of Dissent is made up of collisions, schisms, mutations; and one feels often that the dormant seeds of political Radicalism lay within it, ready to germinate whenever planted in a beneficent and hopeful social context” (36). On a side note, in this section he also traces the origin of “a ‘calling’” to Puritan culture and argues that it was “particularly well adapted to the experience of prospering and industrious middle class or petty bourgeois groups” (37). He pays particular attention to Methodism throughout the book, arguing that it had both a conservative aspect and “was indirectly responsible for a growth in the self-confidence and capacity for organisation of working people” (42).

In the third chapter Thompson lays out his famous argument about moral economy and describes his method: “If we are concerned with historical change we must attend to the articulate minorities. But these minorities arise from a less articulate majority whose consciousness may be described as being, at this time, ‘sub-political’... The inarticulate, by definition, leave few records of their thoughts. We catch glimpses in moments of crisis... and yet crisis is not a typical condition” (55). Further, “We may isolate two ways in which these ‘sub-political’ traditions affect the early working-class movement: the phenomena of riot and of the mob, and the popular notions of an Englishman’s ‘birthright’” (59). As he summarizes this, “Hence the final years of the 18th century saw a last desperate effort by the people to reimpose the older moral economy as against the economy of the free market” (67) and in “considering only this one form of ‘mob’ action we have come upon unsuspected complexities, for behind every such form of popular direct action some legitimising notion of right is to be found” (68).

In chapter four Thompson takes up the task of describing how the Englishman’s “birthright” of freedom formed a basis for the moral economy and working class resistance. He writes, “they felt themselves, in some obscure way, to be defending the ‘Constitution’ against alien elements who threatened their ‘birthright.’ ...Patriotism, nationalism, even bigotry and repression, were all clothed in the rhetoric of liberty” (78). Mostly, this manifested as a desire to be left alone and understanding that the “profession of a soldier was held to be dishonourable” (81). However, Thompson also notes, “This defensive ideology nourished... far larger claims to positive rights” (83).

In chapter five Thompson tries to show how the traditions of the 18th century laid the way for the emergence of working class radicalism in the early 19th century. He summarizes the chapter thusly: “In the 1790s something like an ‘English Revolution’ took place, of profound importance in shaping the consciousness of the post-war working class. It is true that the revolutionary impulse was strangled in its infancy; and the first consequence was that of bitterness and despair. The counter-revolutionary panic of the ruling classes expressed itself in every part of social life; in attitudes of trade unionism, to the education of the people, to their sports and manners, to their publications and societies, and their political rights. And the reflex of despair among the common people can be seen, during the war years, in the inverted chiliasm of the Southcottians and the new Methodist revival” (177).

Part II: The Curse of Adam

Chapter six lays out a theoretical framework for the next few chapters that deal specifically with the impact of the Industrial Revolution on particular groups in society. He argues, “steam power and the cotton-mill = new working class” (191) and claims the “working class made itself as much as it was made.” He sees a working class and not classes because “first... the growth of class-consciousness: the consciousness of an identity of interests as between all these diverse groups of working people and as against the interests of other classes. And, second, in the growth of corresponding forms of political and industrial organizations” (194). At the heart of these differences in interests lie an exploitative relationship which “is depersonalised, in the sense that no lingering obligations of mutuality... are admitted” (203). Furthermore, the “process of industrialisation must, in any conceivable social context, entail suffering and the destruction of older and valued ways of life” (204). He writes, “People may consume more goods and become less happy or less free at the same time” (211).

Chapters seven, eight, and nine look at how the process of class formation impacted field labourers, artisans, and weavers. In all three cases he argues that the conflict between the groups and the emerging industrial class can be understood as a “conflict... between two cultural modes or ways of life” (305).

Chapter ten is dedicated to arguing that the above groups did not fare better under the Industrial Revolution, “In the fifty years of the Industrial Revolution the working-class share of the national product had almost certainly fallen relative to the share of the property-owning and professional classes” (318). He pays particular attention to child labor and argues against those who note that it took some time for the movement against it to arise after the advent of the Industrial Revolution by claiming, “We forget how long abuses can continue ‘unknown’ until they are articulated: how people can look at misery and not notice it, until misery itself rebels” (342). Setting up the next chapter he claims, “We shall return to the Methodists, and see why it was their peculiar mission to act as apologists of child labour” (348).

Chapter eleven focuses on the role of Methodism in forming, taming and disciplining  the working class. During this period he sees Methodism as making great gains among the working class and consolidating “a new bureaucracy of ministers” (351). He also claims, the “factory system demands a transformation of human nature” (362). Further, he lays out a variety reasons why Methodism accommodated child labor.

Chapter twelve looks at the impact of the Industrial Revolution on community, “In the industrial areas it can be seen in the extension of discipline of the factory or clock from working to leisure hours, from the working-day to the Sabbath, and in the assault upon... traditional holidays and fairs” (403). He summarizes the chapter “together with that of the loss of any felt cohesion in the community, save that which the working people, in antagonism to their labour and to their masters, built for themselves” (447).

Part Three: The Working-Class Presence

Chapter thirteen looks at how popular radicalism survived into the 19th century, the “laws outlawing corresponding societies and open political meetings had atomised the movement, so that the individualistic and quarrelsome behaviour of its leaders was a function of their situation as ‘voices’ rather than as organisers” (469).

Chapter fourteen traces this popular radicalism in “the Industrial Revolution, [and how] new institutions, new attitudes, new community-patterns, were emerging which were, consciously and unconsciously, designed to resist the intrusion of the magistrate, the employer, the parson or the spy” (487). Additionally, we “find some the sharpest conflicts involving men with special skills who attempted to attain to, or to hold to, a privileged position” (506). The major form of working-class organization that Thompson focuses on here in Luddism, “We have attempted to draw closer to the Luddite movement from three directions: the shadowy tradition of some political ‘underground’: the opacity of historical sources: and the vigorous traditions of illicit trade unionism” (521). For the Luddites, “What was at issue was the ‘freedom’ of the capitalist to destroy the customs of the trade, whether by new machinery, by the factory-system, or by unrestricted competition, beating-down wages” (549). He sees the Luddites looking forward to “a democratic community, in which industrial growth should be regulated according to ethical priorities” (552). He traces its demise to various factors. In the Midlands: where they were partially successful, the government deployed massive force against them, and it made their practices illegal. The Luddites also had the impact of bringing about greater unity amongst the ruling classes.

Chapter fifteen traces the development of political radicalism, as opposed to the workplace-based radicalism of the previous chapter. Thompson holds that it “was a generalized libertarian rhetoric, a running battle between the people and the unreformed House of Commons within which one issue after another was thrown to the fore” (604). He sees radicalism as having born “a direct relationship to the structure of each community” (611). He also treats the problem of leadership in this (these) movements: “the democratic movement looked to the aristocratic or gentlemanly leader;” “there was... [a] demagogic element;” there was no political organization to provide “self-discipline” (623); there was a tension between a resort to force and electoral reform. The “true heroes” of this movement were its local leadership, not its national leadership (631). Finally, he traces the influence of the Peterloo massacre on both the development of the working class and its enemies.

Chapter sixteen provides the conclusion and traces the emergence of class consciousness which occurred when “working men formed a picture of the organisation of society, out of their own experience and with the help of their hard-won and erratic experience, which was above all a political picture” (712). The development of a free press played an important role in this because “Persecution cannot easily stand up in the face of ridicule” (722). William Cobbett was crucial here. The Owenites mark the emergence of the first working-class movement and marks the end of older forms of revolt because they learned “to see capitalism, not as a collection of discrete events, but as a system” (806). Throughout this period there was also the emergence of middle class consciousness.

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Apr 14, 2014

The City of God, Augustine

Augustine, Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans, trans. Henry Betenson (New York: 1984)

Augustine’s City of God was written in the wake of the 410 CE sack of Rome by the Visigoths. It consists of twenty two books and serves several purposes. Primarily, it seeks to distinguish the City of God from the City of Man and, in doing so, offer a Christian theology of history. Secondarily, it aims to show why Christianity cannot be blamed for the sack of Rome. Along the way, Augustine also tries to prove that pagan religion and philosophy are both inferior to Christianity and, in the case of paganism, demonic.

The rough outline of the book: Books I-X, criticism of pagan religion and philosophy; Books XI-XXII, explanation of Christian theology. The two subjects are intertwined and so the focus on criticizing paganism and advocating Christianity can be found in both sections. In a fashion the first part can be seen as giving a history of the City of Man and the second can be seen as giving a history of the City of God. Throughout God is understood as knowing the course of history, “he gives in accordance with the order of events in history, an order completely hidden from us, but perfectly known to God” (176). In addition, what appears evil to humans in only a result of our limited knowledge for “God turns evil choices to good use” (449).

Book I

Augustine begins by stating his purpose and method, “the task of defending the glorious City of God against those who prefer their own gods to the founder of that city. I treat of it both as it exists in this world of time, a stranger among the ungodly, living by faith, and as it stands in the security of its everlasting seat.” He defines “the city of this world, a city which aims at dominion, which holds nations in enslavement, but is itself dominated by that very lust of domination” (5).

The balance of the book is spent explaining how the sack of Rome was not the fault of Christians and what Christians should do in the face of the sack. He tries to show that the Christians can’t be blamed because the Visigoths respected Christian churches and did not murder those who sought sanctuary within them. Then he turns his attention to the question of rape and concludes that women who were raped during the sack should not kill themselves since, “There will be no pollution, if the lust is another’s; if there is pollution the lust is not another’s” (27). This argument fits in with Augustine’s major claim about sin, it is the misdirection of the human will from God towards the human. This means that if one is ordered to kill by the authority of the state “it was not an act of of crime, but of obedience” (32).

In this book Augustine also makes an argument about God’s punishment in this life, “the sufferings of Christians have tended to their moral improvement” while “the wicked, under pressure of affliction, execrate God and blaspheme” (14).

Book II

The major focus of this book is to show that the worship of pagan gods has never benefited Rome. There is a particular focus on the pagan theater. He argues, “Rome had sunk into a morass of moral degradation before the coming of Heavenly King” (69). Also, “I shall do my best to demonstrate that that commonwealth [the Roman Republic] never existed, because there was real justice in the community... true justice is found only in that commonwealth whose founder and ruler is Christ” (75).

Book III

This book continues the previous argument, describing the history of the City of Man through the reign of Caesar Augustus.

Book IV

Augustine begins this book by emphasizing, “the false gods whom they used to worship openly and still worship secretly, are really unclean spirits; they are demons” (135). Then he offers an account of the growth of the Roman Empire. He sees the empire as just and asks the question, “Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale?” There is good parable here, which Augustine borrows from Cicero: “it was a witty and a truthful rejoiner which was given by a captured pirate to Alexander the Great. The king asked the fellow, ‘What is your idea, in infesting the sea?’ And the pirate answered, which uninhibited insolence, ‘The same as yours, in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate: because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor’” (139). Also, “The increase of empire was assisted by the wickedness of those against whom just wars were waged” (154).

He also makes the claim that God is not immanent. God is transcendent.

Book V

Here Augustine inquires “why God was willing that the Roman Empire should extend so widely and last so long” (179). Again his purpose is to show that the sack of Rome has nothing to do with the rise of Christianity. There is an important discussion of the nature of free will and God’s knowledge, “Our wills themselves are the order of causes, which is, for God, fixed, and is contained in his foreknowledge, since human acts of will are the causes of human activities” (192). He also begins to make the argument that evil wills result from turning away from God, “they are contrary to the nature which proceeds from him” (193). A good summary of his position: “The fact that God foreknew that a man would sin does not make a man sin; on the contrary, it cannot be doubted that it is the man himself who sins... A man does not sin unless he wills to sin; and if he had willed not sin, then God would have foreseen that refusal” (195).

Book VI

This book presents a critique of pagan religion and philosophy, primarily as presented by the philosopher Marcus Varro. He tries to show here that both are insufficient for creating righteousness in this life.

Book VII

This book follows the argument of the previous. However, the emphasis here is on why pagan religion and philosophy offer inadequate account of how the divine operates in this life.


This book focuses more exclusively on pagan philosophy and makes the claim “the true philosopher is the lover of God” (298). He tries to show the Platonist school got things mostly right, “There are none who come nearer to us than the Platonists” (304).

Book IX

This book continues the previous discussion of Platonism. He also makes the claim that humans need a mediator, i.e. Christ, because “there can be no direct meeting between the immortal purity on high and the mortal and unclean things below” (364). He begins to describe angels and demons, both of which he believes to be real.

Book X

Augustine begins this book by summarizing his agreements and disagreements with the Platonists, “they have been able to realize that the soul of man, though immortal and rational... cannot attain happiness except by participation in the light of God... [yet] they have supposed... that many gods are to be worshipped” (371). He then moves onto a discussion of the nature of true religion and Christ. Christ is “our priest, his only-begotten son” through him people learn to offer God, “on the altar of the heart, the sacrifice of humility and praise” (375). Further, true love of self is understood to be love of God, “For if a man loves himself, his one wish is to achieve blessedness” (376). In addition, acts are understood to be righteous only if they are “directed to that final Good” (i. e. God) (379).

This is followed by a discussion of the nature of God, “he moves events in time, while himself remains unmoved by time” (390).

Book XI

This book concerns the origins of both cities. Augustine claims, “the existence of the world is a matter of observation: the existence of God a matter of belief” (432). He discusses the nature of time, “there can be no doubt that the world was not created in time but with time. An event in time happens after one time and before another, after the past and before the future” (436) and provides an account of the creation, including the creation of the angels and the fall of “some angels who turned away from... illumination” (443). These fallen angels “fell, by their own choice” (445). He claims that evil can be understood as necessary because it enriches “the course of the world history by the kind of antithesis which gives beauty to a poem” (449).

The City of God exists because God “founded it” and its structure can be found in the Trinity, “It exists; it sees; it loves” (458). Human beings mirror this as well, “We resemble the divine Trinity in that we exist; we know that exist, and we are glad of this existence and this knowledge” (459).

Book XII

In this book Augustine further explains the origins and natures of both cities, “We may speak of two cities, or communities, one consisting of the good, angels as well as men, and the other of evil.. We must believe that the difference had its origin in the wills and desires” (471). Evil is understood to be good which has turned away from God, “the turning is itself perverse” (478).

A second part of the book makes argument that human history is only 6,000 years old and that those who believe otherwise are following a false teaching. Furthermore, true history is to be found in the Bible. The when God’s creation of the world is understood to be a mystery, “it is certainly a profound mystery that God existed always and yet willed to create the first man, as a new act of creation, at some particular time, without any alteration in his purpose and design” (490). Various other theories of history are then rejected.


Here Augustine is concerned with the problem of death. He makes a distinction between the death of the body, “the first death,” and the death of the soul, “the second death” (511). Death begins “from the moment that... bodily existence” begins” (519). While asserting that the Fall was real, he also reads the Fall and paradise allegorically, “paradise stands for the Church itself” (535).

Book XIV

This book focuses primarily on the Fall and human nature. He begins by underscoring the differences between the “two cities... one city of men who choose to live by the standard of the flesh, another those who choose to live by the standard of the spirit” (547). The Fall be understood, in part, as a decision to reject the spirit for the flesh. This decision originates, however, not in the flesh itself but in the will, “it was the sinful soul that made the flesh corruptible” (551). Further, the “important factor in those emotions is the character of a man’s will. If the will is wrongly directed, the emotions will be wrong; if the will is right, the emotions will be not only blameless, but praiseworthy” (555). Because of these two factors the human life must be seen as full of sin, “anyone who thinks that his life is without sine does not succeed in avoiding sin, but rather in forfeiting pardon” (564).

Augustine recounts the Fall as told in Genesis. A fallen angel is seen as tempting Adam and Eve to leave the City of God. Disobedience understood as originating Satan then being transfered to Eve and finally, through Eve, to Adam. The Fall is also understood as a movement from being to nonbeing, “although the will derives its existence, as a nature, from its creation by God, its falling away from its true nature is due to its creation out of nothing” (572).

Augustine focuses on the orgasm and the erection as both proof of, and a symptom, of humanity’s fallen nature, “So intense is the pleasure that when it reaches its climax there is an almost total extinction of mental alertness” (577). The erection shows that lustful sinful men cannot control their own bodies. As a result, sex is shameful because it demonstrates a loss of control. When humanity is reconciled with God this will no longer be the case.

Book XV

In this book Augustine traces the history of the City of Man, and the City of God, from the story of Cain and Able through the Flood. He sees the Ark as a symbol of the City of God, “this is a symbol of the City of God on pilgrimage in this world, of the Church which is saved through the wood on which was suspended ‘the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’” (643).

Book XVI

This book continues the histories of the City of Man and the City of God through the start of the time of the prophets.


This book continues the histories of the City of Man and the City of God from the time of the prophets to the birth of Christ. The history of the City of God in the world is to be understood, in part, as the story of “two things promised to Abraham... that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan... [and that he would be] the father... of all nations follow in the footsteps of his faith” (712). A great number of pages are spent trying to prove that the Hebrew Bible contains passages foretelling the coming of Christ.


This book continues along the lines of the previous three. The last chapters begin to explain the nature of Christ and the Church. People born before Christ had the possibility of belonging to the City of God, “I have no doubt that it was the design of God’s providence that... we should know that there could also be those among other nations who lived by God’s standards and were pleasing to God, as belonging to the spiritual Jerusalem” (829). Augustine sees the Christ event as, “After sowing the seed of the holy gospel, as far as it belonged to him to sow it through his bodily presence, he suffered, he died, he rose again, showing by his suffering what we ought to undergo for the cause of truth, by resurrection what we ought to hope for in eternity, to say nothing of the deep mystery by which his blood was shed for the remission of sins” (832).

Book XIX

In this book Augustine defines “Final Good is that for which other things are to be desired, while it is itself to be desired for its own sake. The Final Evil is that for which other things are to be shunned, while it is itself to be shunned on its own account” (843). This is the book that most clearly articulates Augustine’s ethics. The primary emphasis here is on the kinds of virtues and vices and what the good Christian life consists of, “eternal life is the Supreme Good, and eternal death, the Supreme Evil” (852). Happiness can never be found in this life. It will only come in the next “we are saved in hope, it is in hope that we have been made happy; and we do not yet possess a present salvation, but await salvation in the future, so we do not enjoy a present happiness, but look forward to happiness in the future” (857). Augustine returns to arguing against Marcus Varro. The themes of peace and justice, both of which have to do with alignment with God, are visited. Just war theory is partially articulated. And slavery to lust is described as a greater evil than slavery to a human being. Augustine summarizes his ethics thus, “In this life, therefore, justice in each individual exists when God rules and man obeys, when the mind rules the body, and reason governs the vices even when they rebel, either by subduing them or by resisting them, while from God himself favour is sought for good deeds and pardon for offences, and thanks are duly offered to him for benefits received” (893).

Book XX

The subject of this book “is a belief held by the whole Church of the true God, in private confession and also in public profession, that Christ is to come from heaven to judge both the living and the dead, and this is what we call the Last Day, the divine of divine judgement” (895). Much of the focus is on the scriptural evidence for the judgement and nature of “the resurrection of the dead” (900). The judgment is include a purifying fire.

Book XXI

This book focuses on “the kind of punishment which is in store for the Devil, and for all those of his party” (964). The “bodies of the damned [are] to suffer torment in the everlasting fire” (976). About the metaphysical conflict between the two cities he writes, “Better war with the hope of everlasting peace than slavery without any thought of liberation” (993). A small section is devoted to arguing against Origen and universal salvation.


The final book describes what will happen when the City of God comes, “in this City all citizens will be immortal, for human beings also will obtain that which the angels have never lost” (1022). Human will will be restored to its proper orientation and people will no longer sin, “this last freedom will... bring the impossibility of sinning... [it will be] that condition of liberty in which it is incapable of sin” (1089). He concludes by claiming that humans live in the sixth epoch and that the last judgement will bring about the seventh.

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Feb 11, 2014

On Revolution, Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Penguin Books, 2006 [1963])

Arendt’s comparative study of the American and French revolutions examines one of the two major political issues in the world (the other being war). She finds that war and revolution have an interrelationship and that at, in some sense, both require the glorification or justification of violence. She believes that revolutions are fundamentally about liberation and that the revolution process is two-fold. It begins with the effort to gain freedom and ends, if it ends successfully, with the foundation of new institutions designed to preserve that freedom. She believes that revolution is a modern concept that can be traced primarily to French revolution and “the idea [that] freedom and the experience of a new beginning should coincide” (19). French revolution was a failure because it got sidetracked in efforts to deal with the abject poverty in France and stopped focusing on freedom. The American revolution was successful because the colonies were wealthy in comparison to Europe. The kind of poverty that existed in France simply did not exist in the colonies. 

The last chapter of the book focusing on recovering the revolutionary tradition. Arendt traces both creation of political parties and councils to revolutionary periods and claims “political freedom, generally speaking, means the right ‘to be a participator in government’, or it means nothing” (210). The councils are the authentic spaces for political freedom that can be traced to revolutionary periods. They are crushed by the logic of the nation state while the parties are able to succeed. Ideally, the parties can be a space for knowing and the councils a space for doing. As she writes, “Wherever knowing and doing have parted company, the space of freedom is lost” (256).

A few synthetic notes: Like Theda Skocpol, Arendt believes that revolutionaries are bad at both organizing and predicting revolutions. Unlike Skocpol, she is not interested in what causes revolutions but rather in the course they follow after their advent. Human agency appears mostly in the events that stem from a revolution and the long term success of a revolution is dependent on the culture and institutions that proceed it. The American revolution was successful because it depended on the long standing institutions of local governance. The French revolution was unsuccessful because it swept away entirely the old order and sought to replace it. As she writes, “...the more absolute the ruler, the more absolute the revolution will be which replaces him.” (147)

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