Between Presumption and Despair: Augustine’s Hope for the Commonwealth
by Michael Lamb, Wake Forest University
What might citizens hope for in politics? Given current divisions, is it possible to share any of these hopes in common? This article addresses such questions by turning to an unlikely source, Augustine of Hippo, whom many political theorists dismiss as a pessimist. This article resists this pessimism by applying recent research on Augustine’s “order of love” to challenge those who assume Augustine’s “otherworldly” account of love precludes hope for this-worldly politics. In neglected sermons, letters, and treatises, Augustine encourages hope for temporal goods as long as that hope is rightly ordered and avoids the vices of presumption and despair. Moreover, he identifies civic peace as a common object of hope that diverse citizens can share. By recovering hope as a virtue and reframing civic peace as a form of civic friendship, this article reconstructs Augustine’s hope for the commonwealth and highlights its relevance for contemporary politics.