Augustine of Hippo on choosing power over righteousness (and a bonus proto-YIMBY quote)

Augustine is quite tangential to my world of theory, but I am having so much fun reading him that I am having trouble sticking with the parts I selected out having to do with politics. And that’s bad because there is a lot of Augustine, and I’m supposed to be doing other things.

Nonetheless, he has offered quite a bit of solace in just about all his writings. His Confessions was a life-changing book for me, not because I really came to have any faith, but because of the way he scrutinized his life’s petty wrongs to find meaning. You think about some of the willfully dumbass shit you’ve done and you cringe when you think about it. Augustine understood that very well and helps to point you towards heaven anyway.

City of God is obviously a much more significant work, and while I’ve dipped into it now and then for Latin practice, I’ve never sat down and read the entire thing. I’m two books in, and it’s so good that is beguiling me.

The other day I happened upon this paragraph (this is part of it; the whole is loooong) here in Book II section 20:

Verum tales cultores et dilectores deorum istorum, quorum etiam imitatores in sceleribus et flagitiis se esse laetantur, nullo modo curant pessimam ac flagitiosissimam non1 esse rem publicam. “Tantum stet, inquiunt, tantum floreat copiis referta, victoriis gloriosa, vel, quod est felicius, pace secura sit. Et quid ad nos? Immo id ad nos magis pertinet, si divitias quisque augeat semper, quae cotidianis effusionibus suppetant, per quas sibi etiam infirmiores subdat quisque potentior. Obsequantur divitibus pauperes causa saturitatis atque ut eorum patrociniis quieta inertia perfruantur, divites pauperibus ad clientelas et ad ministerium sui fastus abutantur. Populi plaudant, non consultoribus utilitatum suarum, sed largitoribus voluptatum. Non dura iubeantur, non prohibeantur inpura. Reges non curent quam bonis, sed quam subditis regnent. Provinciae regibus non tamquam rectoribus morum, sed tamquam rerum dominatoribus et deliciarum suarum provisoribus serviant, eosque non sinceriter honorent, sed2 serviliter timeant. Quid alienae vineae potius quam quid suae vitae quisque noceat, legibus advertatur.

My translation:

But the worshippers and admirers of pagen gods delight in imitating their sins, and are no not concerned that the republic be less depraved and licentious. (SO MUCH SUBJECTIVE FORTHCOMING:) “Let it remain undefeated,” they say, “only let it expand and abound in resources; let it be glorious with its victories, or still better, secure in peace; and what matters to us? This is our concern, that every man is able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily luxury, and so that the powerful may subject the week for their own ends. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy idleness; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependents, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with diversions. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impiety forbidden. Let kings estimate their success not by the righteousness, but by the servility, of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the king, not as a moral leader, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with reverence, but a servile cravenness. Let the laws punish damage that a man does to his neighbor’s property but not the damage he does to his soul.

This is George McCracken’s translation for Loeb:

But the worshippers and the lovers of those gods, whom they are even delighted to copy in their evil deeds, are not concerned to prevent the republic from sinking to the lowest level of wickedness and profligacy. “Only let it stand,” they say, “only let it flourish with abundant resources, glorious in victory or, and that is better, secure in peace. And how does it concern us? No, no! it interests us more that the individual should constantly increase his wealth to support his daily extravagance, and to enable the more powerful individual thereby to make weaker men his subjects. Let the poor court the rich to fill their bellies and to enjoy under their patronage an undisturbed idleness; let the rich misuse the poor as clients and to minister to their pride. Let the people hail with applause, not those who have their interests at heart, but those who are lavish with pleasures. Let no hard task be assigned, let no foulness be forbidden. Let kings care not how good their subjects are but how abject. Let provinces be subservient to kings not as directors of morals but as lords of their lives and providers of their pleasures; and let them not honour them in sincerity but fear them in servility. Let the laws penalize the damage a man does to his neighbour’s vineyard rather than the damage he does to his own soul.

There’s a lot more coming, but you get the idea, and a few sentences following, we get St. A’s proto-YIMBY sentiment:

Exstruantur amplissimae atque ornatissimae; domus, opipara convivia frequententur, ubi cuique libuerit et potuerit, diu noctuque ludatur, bibatur, vomatur, diffluatur.

I can’t really improve on McCracken’s, so here it is.

Let huge and ornate houses be built; let lavish banquets be largely attended where for anyone who has the desire and the power there may be by day and by night indulgence in sport, drinking, vomiting, dissipation.

Stupid powerful people with their big houses and big food and drink and vomit.