M. N. Roy Jawaharlal Nehru

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Influence of the fall of Rome

  • Rome was the symbol of all that was potent and enduring. Its fall caused great disturbance and confusion in the minds of pagans and chris­tians alike. Pagans were the enemies of the church. This attributed the fall of Rome to Christianity. They pointed out that so long as the Romans worshipped the old gods of city-state like Jupiter, Neptune,Iris etc., success followed in their footsteps. Rome grew from a city-state to great world empire. When Romans abandoned the old gods and adopted Christianity, Rome met its ruin. Thus Christianity was a source of universal misery. The Christians refuted this contention like the pagans. They were them­selves terror stricken that their faith and religion could not save Rome from this disaster. Not only the fate of the Empire was the cause of concern to the thinking people but the state of affairs in the church was also no less source of anxiety. Many schisms appeared within it. Its well known solidarity disappeared. Heresy was rampant. New sects sprang up, especially in North Africa.


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    1. The City of God

    2. Faults of Romans

    3. St. Augustine's magnum opus The City of God begins with considera­tions arising out of the sack of Rome. It is designed to show that even worse things happened in pre-Christian times. Among the pagans who attributed the disaster to Christianity many, sought sanctuary in the chur­ches, which the Goths, being Christians, respected. In the sack of Troy, on the other hand, Juno's temple afforded no protection, nor did the gods preserve the city from destruction. The Romans never spared temples in conquered cities; and in this respect, the sack of Rome was milder than most, and the mitigation was a result of Christianity.

    4. According to Augustine, the sack of Rome should not trouble the Christians, for they have a sanctuary in the "pilgrim city of God". In this world, he says, the two cities led the heavenly and the earthly; but hereafter the predestinate and the reprobate will be separated. In this life we cannot know who, oven among our seeming enemies, are to be found ultimately among the elect. Rome fell because it was always wicked, from the rape of the Sabine women onwards Besides, Rome had suffered also before she became Christian : She had suffered from the Gauls and the Civil Wars as much as from the Goths.

    5. Role of Christianity

    6. Christianity had been tolerated officially in the Roman Empire from A.D. 313 and eighty years later it became the state religion of the Empire. But as the fall of Rome occurred soon after it became state religion, many pagans and other critics saw a connection between the rise of Chris­tianity and the fall of Rome. The critics apparently have some ground also for the charge they levelled in the nature of Christianity such as its other worldliness, meekness, pacifism, disregard for public affairs and contempt for revered national deities all of which had been, allegedly, sapping the strength of Rome. The Christian refusal to recognise loyalty to Rome as the first loyalty and insistence on loyalty to the Church as the highest must have appeared as flagrant demonstration of un-Roman disloyalty. In the second half of the third century Rome even tried to extirpate Christianity as it tried to build state within state by boring from within every social class. When Rome was ravaged in 410, a wave of shock and horror swept through th , world. For eight long centuries Rome had remained inviolate as a centre of a vast and mighty empire. Naturally when the Empire was broken up so easily by the invaders, everyone was taken by surprise. Even Christians were perplexed : It was hard to un­derstand how R'^me could be so snamed just after Christianity had become the religion of the slate. St. Augustine, though a new convert, took up the gauntlet on behalf of Christianity. In the process of answering the charge Augustine developed a philosophy of history from the Christian

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    1. point of view and he explained the fall of Rome in the perspective of that viewpoint. Christian Commonwealth

    2. Augustine developed the conceptkr of a Christian Commonwealth as the culmination of man's spiritual development, a conception which became a permanent part of Christian worldview. His attempt to frame his historical outlook involved a re-statement of the ancient idea that man is a citizen of two cities, the city of his birth and the city of God. Man's nature is two fold : he is spirit and body and therefore at once a citizen of this world and of the heavenly city. The fundamental fact of human life is the division of human interests, the worldly interests that centre about the body and the other worldly interests that belong specifically to the soul. This distinction lay at the foundation of all Christian thought on ethics and politics. Augustine made it a key to the under­standing of history. His scheme of human salvation and the realization of the heavenly city depended absolutely upon the reality of the church as a social union of all true believers. The advent of the Church represents a turning-point in history as it marks a new era in the struggle between the powers of good and the powers of evil. The human salvation, henceforth, was bound up with the interests of the church which were paramount over all others. The history of the church was, thus, the march of God in the world to use an expression which later Hegel applied to the state. Philosophy of History

    3. In Augustine's view, the human race is, indeed, a single family whose final destiny is reached not on earth but in heaven. Human life is a theatre of the cosmic struggle between the goodness of God and the evil of revellious spirits. In the words of Augustine, "All human history is the majestic unfolding of the plan of divine salvation in which the appearance of tb£ church marks the decisive moment."121 Henceforth the unity of the race means the unity of the Christian faith under the leadership of the church. The state must become the merely secular arm of the church. Under the new dispensation the state must be a Christian state serving a community which is one by virtue of a common Christian faith, ministering to a life in which spiritual interests stood above all others and contributing to human salvation by preserving the purity of the faith. A true commonwealth must be Christian. Only such a commonwealth could be truly just and render to everyone his own by teaching belief in the true religion. The Christian character of the state came to be embedded in the universally admitted principle. Its purpose is to realize justice and right. In some fashion or other the state is bound to be also a church. It must be dominated by the contest of two societies, the earthly society based upon the earthly, appetitive and possessive impulses of the lower human nature and the Heavenly Society, the City of God, founded in the hope of heavenly peace and spiritual salvation. The first is the Kingdom of Satan, beginning its history from the disobedience of the Angels and embodying itself specially in the pagan empires of Assyria and Rome. The other is the kingdom of Christ which embodied itself first in the Hebrew nation and later in the church and the Christianized empire. History thus becomes the dramatic story of the struggle between the two antagonistic societies ana of the ultimate mastery which must fall to the City of God. Only in the Heavenly City is peace possible; only the spiritual kingdom is permanent. All merely earthly kingdoms must pass away, for the earthly power is naturally mutable and unstable, being built upon those aspects of human nature which necessarily issue in war and the^gjeed of domination.

    4. The Church

    5. Augustine does not define the church clearly. At one place he calls it "the invisible Church of God's Elect and in another, the Visible Church . made up of true believers and of those whose Christianity is little more than formal membership in the church. Failing to distinguish sharply the Visible from the Invisible Church he claims rights for the one he would not claimed for the other, particularly in relation to the state. It was thus that both papalists and statists used his arguments in their favour.

    6. Just as the earthly city is represented by the state but is not identical with it, so the heavenly city symbolically represents the church but is not identical with the same. The earthly city is not identical with any empirical social or political organization. It is the community ^.f the un­righteous including sinful members of the church and excluding righteous citizens of the state. Whereas the earthly city is the antithesis of any value whatsoever, the state by contrast, has positive value though it is not the absolute value inherent in the heavenly city. By providing social peace, the state has its role to play in this world. It desires earthly peace for the sake of enjoying earthly goods. The peace it provides, however, is not an end in itself but only a means that renders service to God possible.1 "The church," as says Ernest Barker, "is a pilgrim society, living by faith and looking to the Hereafter. It lives on earth by the side of the State; it uses the (errcna pax of the State; it acknowledges the divine institution and the relative righteousness of the state. But it simply moves as a pilgrim past the grandeurs and dignities of this word... but always looking beyond and always with eyes fixed elsewhere. Augustine thus conceives of peace in terms of justice, that is, in terms of the right relation of man and God. It is not merely the absence of social conflict and strife. Without justice, that is, without the relation of man with God there can be no peace : Justice being taken away, he asks, what are kingdoms but great robberies ? Viewed from the standpoint of formal effective authority, robberies are but little kingdoms themselves; th<. dif­ference between a state and a band of rubbers is qualitative, not quant itatwe. William Ebenstein rightly observes : "St. Augustine thus Christianizes

    7. 1- Hrnest Barker, Essays on Government, p. 251

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    1. the classical approach to the theory of the state by imbuing the Platonic concept of justice and the Aristotelian notion of good life with the ideals of Christianity, and his doctrine is firmly anchored in the Greco-Roman and Biblical conceptions of the state in terms of moral purpose rather than formal authority, the monopoly to use force, or sovereignty."122 The Fall : Man Loses Goodwill

    2. Augustine accepts the traditional Christian notion that before the Fall there is innocence and goodness in man, and he is a social being. Society and social life are natural to men who have not tasted the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. At the same time, the state and its laws are not natural to men as these are remedial institutions ordained by God after the Fall in order to deal with the changed condition of sinful man. But to begin with God wanted man to live socially for he created the family. He s?w that it was not good for man to be alone and therefore he created Eve as a wife and companion for him. This bond between husband and wife which later included children as well is "the primary natural bond" of human society. Besid.es God also endowed man with a great natural good, the power of friendship. By nature they are social or sociable beings who are inclined to love their fellowrnen. Augustine recognises the existence of a law of nature a basic moral law that is written in the hearts of all men, namely, "Do not do to others what you would not have others do to you." It is by this law that men decide whether any particular action is righteous or wrong, just or unjust. This law is implanted in the conscience of every rational man no matter how wicked his own conduct may be. Thrs he recognises this law of nature and expects other men to observe it even when he himself violates it. Natural Law

    3. But the natural law precedes the Fall of man. It is not contradicted by tht 'aws of God or by the Ten Commandment. They only make it more explicit and give it the greater force of God's direct commandment to men. The natural law, being discoverable by all men by the use of reason, is a universal law. By it the Gentiles, to whom the law of Moses was not given, are judged and found to be transgressors. Augustine speaks of this law of nature as "the eternal law of God written in the hearts of the Godly. From this eternal law was copied the law given to the Jews through Moses. The law of nature is God's eternal law because the source of its rules that rational men discover in their consciences is God's Truth. Theory of State

    4. But the laws of nature are in their full operation only before the Fall. After the Fall their force becomes weak and voice feeble. Once Fall occurs, man is overcome by greed and appetite. Competition for wealth ensues between man and man, and one man tries to dominate another. Concord and harmony is lost; and conflict and chaos follow. Thus, "there is nothing so social by nature, and so unsocial by corruption as the human race." It is among the small number of men who have been redeemed by God's grace that one finds the true unity and concord natural to man. They are made one by Him in Himself and become members of the one body of which Christ is the Head. Only such men are marked by true love and service to others even when others are torn by strife and competition. The fallen men, by themselves, are incapable of unity and concord, for sin and unrighteousness have effaced from their hearts the natural law implanted by God. Only some faint traces of that law remain. Ignorance and misguided will render it difficult for man to know what he ought to do and to do what he feels he should. But even in his corrupt state man retains some ability to ascertain what is just and what is unjust. He is still able to see the force of the fundamental precept of the natural law when he is observing and judging the actions of others. He ignores the voice of natural law, though feeble, in his own case. When he is about to act, he listens to the clamorous demands of cupidity, pride, lust and hatred and ignores the small voice of conscience and, God's eternal law. He treats other men in ways he dislikes for himself, that is, with treachery, deceit and coercion. It follows that after the Fall, it is not possible to live peacefully with one another by the law of nature. The egoism of the sinful men shatters the fraternity and concord natural to man. God's grace, liberates only a handful of men among the sinners. Since most men are full of sin and remain unredeemed until the end of the world, new means must provided to introduce a measure of order, stability and peace in the midst of strife and conflict that mark the earthly life. God thus creates state and its laws in order to keep a check on human greed and violence and to prevent society from collapsing into complete chaos and anarchy.

    5. According to Augustine, the state and laws are, divinely ordained as both punishments and remedies for the sinful condition of man. The peace and order that they render possible are not natural or spontaneous but maintained by coercion and repression. Such institutions are possible for the sinful because even they have some faint impression of justice and righteousness.

    6. The coercion of state and its laws is the only way to keep sinful men under restraint. Fear of punishment is the only safeguard of general peace and security. It is the fear of law that protects men from encroach­ments with their bodily goods, household, citizenship and possessions. The law determines what the citizen may lawfully possess, and by its sanctions it secures to each citizen the enjoyment of his proper possessions. It moderates the intensity of the inevitable conflict among earthly men for goods and glory and prevents the cla«h of egoistic interests from totally disrupting the peace and harmony of society.

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    1. Role of the Legal System

    2. The law operates through the instrument of fear. Men want to protect what they desire, and what they desire is what they fear to lose. If they do not obey the law, it deprives them of the very things which are dear to them. It is, thus, their desire for the things, their greed that makes them respect and obey the laws. The law operates over them through the things they possess. It may take away the things it protects. It follows that the law can have no effect over those who are free from greed and desire. It may have no effect over the saintly. Since the men of the earthly city regard their possessions as the highest good, they are afraid of being deprived of any of all of the same. Each man curbs his desire to possess more and more at the cost of his fellows because he fears that if he does not the law will deprive him of whatever he possesses.

    3. The legal system neither seeks to change nor has the power to change the basic desires and attitudes of the men whose conduct it seeks to regulate. Herbert A. Dean has rightly remarked: "In fact, the system works precisely because these lovers of earthly goods are not transformed into lovers of real or eternal goods; unless they continued to place their affections in the things of this word, the law and its punishments would inspire no fear in them and so would have no effect on their behaviour. The law can effectively punish only those men who love the possessions that can be taken from them against their will."1

    4. Paradoxes of Political Life

    5. Augustine thus shows keen awareness of the paradoxes and ironies that mark every aspect cf the human condition, and specially of political life. He finds the life after Fall as a predicament just as Hobbes much later found it. Like Hobbes after him, Augustine finds the solution in the very source where from the problems arise. "The very sin of loving earthly goods supplies to some extent, it sown corrective and remedy. Men arc so constituted that it is possible to impose order even upon the wilful actions of evil men who seek to disrupt or destroy the natural order. Laws and their punishments represent striking examples of the process whereby order is recreated and restored out of disorder. It is also remarkable that the state's legal and punitive system docs not require good and just men as its legislators, judges, jailors of executioners. This is fortunate since only a handful of its officers can be expected to be truly good. If true Christians happen to occupy the posit;ons of state, they will punish evi! doers not with vengeance but with the love and goodwill which a father has towards his little son. Since the correction of evildoers is a duty, the imposition of legal penalties upon those who have violated the law does not contravene the Gospel precepts which forbid us lo recompense evil and which command us to turn the other

    6. i. Herbert A Dean in Kramnick (Ed.). Essays in ihc History of Politico/ Thought.

    7. p. 90

    8. A

    1. cheek. But the Christian officers and judges must remember that they are themselves sinners who need God's mercy. They must therefore show mercy to those whom they have authority to kill or punish. They must remember that power and exalted office as well as great wealth bring with them special dangers to the eternal well-being and the earthly hap­piness of their possessors.

    2. Civil Obedience

    3. It follows that civil obedience is a religious duty which implies obedience even to evil rulers as well as to good, up to the point at least where it becomes one's higher duty to obey God rather than man. For evil rulers are God's penalty for the sins of their subjects. It is God's ordinance that must be endured and even reverenced because their authority comes from Him. The true remedy of an oppressed people is to turn away from their own sins. The "powers that be" adopted from St. Paul by all writers of the period seems also to imply the view long accepted in Rome that civil government was a human convention; ordained indeed by God but originating in human action for men's needs though not necessarily in any definite or formal compact. "These powers that be include," as Mcllwain says, "all lawful magistrates from the lowest to the highest, a fact seen and used by the opponents of monarchical power in the sixteenth century. It was felt in the middle ages almost through out that the allegiance that the subjects should render was due by God's ordinance rather to the monarch's sacred office than to his person."1

    4. It is only at the end of time that the need for government and obedience to the same w'11 be ended, and the Church will be delivered from the confusion of this world and upgraded to the heavenly kingdom of perfect bliss, perfect freedom and perfect love. In the mean time, all men must give obedience to God's ministers, the kings and rulers of this earth, no matter if they happen to be wicked or impious. It is God who determines the destinies of states and rulers by His control over human actions, even over the actions of wicked men. It, follows that if a rebellion is successful and the ruler is killed or routed, the usurper becomes the rightful ruler. The latter is as much to be obeyed and honoured as his predecessor was. Whereas rebellion is not right by itself, even sinful action would not have been successful had God not chosen to use him and his wickedness as a way of punishing the previous ruler or of chastening the people. He thereby demonstrates to the mighty and powerful that their power derives from Him and that they will have to pay the price for not remembering the source of their power.

    5. Obedience : A Rule

    6. Being a vicar of God the king must be treated by the people as sovereign in his status. Augustine regards the king as free to enact any

    7. 1. C.H. Mellwain, op. cil, p. 158

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    1. laws that he believes to be necessary for the preservation of the peace and good order of the society over which he is ruling. In making the law the king is not limited by the precedents of his own prior enactments or those of hi^ predecessors. "It is lawful for a king," he says, "to command that which neither he himself nor anyone before him had commanded". Obedience to rulers being is in the public interest. All the laws promulgated by the ruler must be obeyed by all citizens with the sole exception of laws or commands that run contrary to God's ordinances. But the Christian too may be punished when he refuses to obey a law or order of this kind. Even a man who is justified in disobedience as such cannot claim a right not to be punished for his disobedience. Christians owe the same obedience and honour to non-Christians kings as they must render to Christian rulers. For the sake of God's eternal kingdom which alone does not totter like all temporal dignities but stands firm on eternal foun­dations, the opposition of all earthly kingdoms should be patiently borne.123

    2. Political Theory

    3. Augustine develops his political theory in the framework of a philosophy of history. He sets up a fashion to be followed centuries later by Hegel, Marx, Spengler, Toynbee and Sri Aurobindo. His political theory assumes that "there was a beginning and that there will be an end to the sequence of temporal events, and that the totality of these events has meaning." These are ends immanent in history, purposes which are fulfilled through the historical process. The Greek thinkers also considered the world teleological but they did not cast their thought against the canvas of any historical progression. They assumed that the world was eternal, that its life consisted of recurrent cycles of birth, growth death and renewal, and that there was no meaning to be discovered in these endless cycles. Augustine was the first thinker to cast his thought in a framework of history, though that framework is implicit in the Christian worldview. God's purpose in creating the world was simply to express His own goodness.

    4. Good Will—A Novelty

    5. God made man upright and consequently with a good will. The good will is the work of God with which He created man. Thus whereas the classical thought had found human excellence in the exercise of reason, Augustine lays emphasis on will as the basis of goodness. This makes all the difference in his political theory and makes it markedly different from the classical. He admits that God created man with reason also, and gave him intelligence so that he might excel all the creatures of the earth, air and sea which are not so gifted.124 But more than rationality it is right intention, or goodwill which is emphasised by Augustine as


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    1. the chief mark of human goodness. But goodness remained with man only upto the event of the Fall. It is due to the loss of the goodness as a result of the Fall that the institutions of law and governance become necessary for men. Disobedience makes man bad by turning his will away from God. It entails badness in the classical sense as well, for it makes man a slave of appetites. The will of man falls a prey to pride and vice for "it is made out of nothing." Good is being, evil is non-being, nothing. "By craving to be more, man becomes less; and by aspiring to be self-sufficient, he falls away from Him who truly suffices him.125 While Christianity makes man aware of the tragedy that befalls him in the Fall, it also gives him hope for the eventual salvation or redemption of his sou'. It describes Christ as a myrtyr but also gives the vision of his resurrection. The Fall and the Redemption give rise to two groupings of men—the Elect and the Damned belonging to the Civitas Dei and the Civitas Terrena Each is the community by virtue of the values which its members share, the things that its members love in common : "Two cities have been formed by two loves; the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord."126

    2. Nature of Politics

    3. Augustine gives an idea of the best regime that can be realised only in the heavens by those who are redeemed by God. For the world of realities Augustine speaks in a voice of pessimism generated by the core of his Christian beliefs. Politics is visualised by him to be an art of the fallen men, of men full of vice and ambition, fear and greed. From this conception of politics to its definition as a refuge of the scoundrels appears to be a short step. By implication, such a view of politics encourages the play of the lower nature of man and postulates the defeat of the higher.

    4. No Ideal State

    5. Augustine's conception of the radical freedom of man, derived from the Biblical view, made it impossible to accept the idea of fixed forms of human behaviour and of social organization, analogous to those of nature, even as he opposed the classical theory of historical cycles.127

    6. The Augustean man is not malleable like the classical man. He cannot be moulded by the Reasonable Legislator to the extent that the classical man could. Man breaks out of every humanly devised rational order

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    1. into chaos and disorder. Human nature has a mystical and anarchic element in it so that it is difficult to fit it in any rationally conceived pattern of living. Formulation of an ideal pattern or model-building seems to be unwarranted on the assumptions of Augustine. The idea of any best practicable state or order appears irrelevant to his theory. He reduces the ideal temporal regime to a limited utilitarian order. It is not for the sake of good life but for life only. It does not involve the whole man in all his concerns but only the material aspects of life. The relationship of the city's members is more like that of the partners to a business contract than the spiritualized friendship of the classical ideal and beyond the limited objects of the contract, there is an unbridgeable gulf between the heavenly and earthly members of the society.128 The just men who are in it are not of it— they are only pilgrims in the temporal city— inhabitants in an alien world descended from a higher. The holy pilgrims cannot build a temporal city exclusively their own, dominated as they are by the love of God. They cannot escape association with the ungodly who will always be present to pull down the moral tone of a city. The temporal city is closer to the earthly than the Heavenly City. "There may be occasionally just rulers in an empirical city but more often than not it is the wicked who predominate and set the moral tone of society. Politics in Augustenean theory, thus, ceases to have a function for the realization of transcendent values and becomes a process for achieving purely material ends. As for the saintly or the just man, he makes the earthly goods and the earthly peace bear upon the peace of the heaven.129 He considers these things no more than necessary evils.

    2. Political Quietism

    3. Augustine adopts an attitude of political quietism towards the evils of the temporal order. Knowing the nature of man, and the nature of evil inherent in the temporal order, he does not and cannot expect it to take on the features of the Divine Order. Naturally, he finds no particular obligation for the christians to drive the wicked out of power once they are placed in it. He holds that God Himself has set wicked kings on their thrones as a punishment for sin. It will not be logical for Augustine to raise any demand for good government crusades, or to make a call for heroic acts of resistance to oppressive rule. He finds no scope in his theory for any doctrine of political reform whatsoever,... the dominion of bad men is hurtful chiefly to themselves who rule... while those who are put under them in service are not hurt except by their own inequity. For to the just all the evils imposed on them by unjust rulers are not the punishment of crime, but the test of virtue.130
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