Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries and Thomas More in the sixteenth were familiar with the deceits and illusions that enabled even the most vile rulers to shore up their dignity and that gave repressive regimes an inviolability of sorts. Both men knew the politics of their times, both were involved in politics, and both were at one time politically ambitious. Augustine needed and made good use of government's powers of coercion and damage control in his struggle against the Donatists. The clear advantages of political protection and correction preoccupied More in his battle against Martin Luther. Both later changed their minds and believed, finally, that the political imagination, based as it is on a desire for power, always and inevitably leads to devastation and suffering. Peter Iver Kaufman explains how and why we have failed to appreciate Augustine's and More's profound political pessimism, reintroducing readers to two of the Christian tradition's most enigmatic yet influential figures. Each had been disturbed by the reach of his own political ambitions - as by those of contemporaries. Each knew that government was useful - yet always deceitful.
And each wrote a classic - widely read to this day, Augustine's "City of God" and More's "Utopia", as well as abundant correspondence and polemical tracts to explain why government on earth might be used, though never meaningfully improved.
PETER IVER KAUFMAN is professor of history and religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author of Thinking of the Laity in Late Tudor England (Notre Dame Press, 2004).
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