If any theologian in church history could truly be said to contain multitudes, it would be the great bishop of Hippo. But an anarcho-libertarian is probably not among the residents of Augustine’s mind. Or at least, so argues Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig:
Both the state and property therefore have positive moral contributions to make to human society insofar as they support the common good. It’s impossible to squeeze a libertarian conclusion, in which the purpose of the state is simply to support pre-existing rights to private property, out of Augustine’s political theology, so I find it totally bizarre the von Mises folks are poking around with him. They’re quite correct states can’t combat sin, but by that suspicion they also indict private property, which is sort of the core of their ethos, and in doing so raise the question: so what are these things for? Which in the Augustinian frame will not yield an answer they want to hear.
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The college student author of the article to which Bruenig refers says quite clearly “Of course, St. Augustine was no anarchist. Though political states are imperfect and lack true justice, they still, for Augustine, have a divine purpose to fulfill.”
So, no one is saying there’s an anarcho-libertarian in St. Augustine.
Bruenig’s critique is that according to St. Augustine, rights to property come from Emperors, and this is contrary to anarcho-libertarian theory, so you can’t ever use anything St. Augustine says to make a point in favor of anarcho-libertarianism.
I’m afraid that doesn’t hold water. Of course, it’s perfectly legitimate to say “hey, I don’t agree with everything Mr. So-n-so says, but here he says thus-n-such, and I think that’s a good point and supports something I think is true.”
In any case, is Bruenig suggesting that she agrees with Augustine that property rights only come from Emperor’s? If not, does she think she’s therefore prevented from ever appealing to anything Augustine said to support anything she might believe if it wasn’t also held by Augustine?