The Governments and States of Locke, Aquinas, and St. Augustine

In John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, he identifies a government that is of the peoples consent with his essential raison d΄être being the preservation and protection of personal property. This type of government is extremely comparable with the type of government that St. Augustine describes in his work City of God, while at the same time contrasts the views of Aquinas in the ways a state should operate. The end goal of how each of these philosophers’ states purposes presents the greatest split between each of their philosophies. To understand how each of these philosophers’ states are similar and different from each other, a deeper analysis is necessary.

The first and possibly most striking similarity between the states that both Locke and St. Augustine propose lies in the fact that both see the state as a necessary evil. Locke describes the perfect life as one in the “state of nature”, where there are limitless boundaries to freedom. Within these limitless boundaries to do whatever you want lays the ability for others to do harm to you and your property, because they have complete freedom as well. In order to overcome this lack of security, Locke describes the state as a necessary evil which one must give up certain freedoms in order to be protected under the rule of law.

This is similar to St. Augustine in the respect that within the world there are evil men who will do harm to others. Augustine argues that laws are necessary to make sure that people can live with the peace of mind that they are protected from the sins of others. One of the contrasting points the states of Aquinas and Locke possess is rooted in how each state should set up and decide their laws. Aquinas argues that we should set up our laws based on high morals, which all men could agree on, and on the high ideals of natural law. Locke disagrees with this in the respect that all men are Tabula Rasa, which begin life as blank slates and develop their views and ideas based on the experiences they are exposed to.

According to Locke the men in the state of Aquinas would all have different experiences and place importance on different morals and ideals. Therefore, Locke argues that in order to have a legitimate set of laws, they must be based on very solid foundations which cannot be subject to argument. Such foundations would be the protection of property, as well as the preservation of an individual’s personal rights and freedoms. The role of the government in the eyes of Locke is very simple. It is to protect the “peace, safety, security, and public good of the people”.

Locke arrives at this conclusion from the reasoning behind leaving the “state of nature” and entering civil society. We leave the “state of nature” (perfect freedom and perfect equality) in order to be free from being infringed upon by others. Although we must give up some of our freedoms for protection, they are small compared to the benefits of protection that we receive from civil society. To simplify things, we can simply refer to the role of government as to protect our private property. This private property includes our lives, personal rights, and physical objects. In order for the government to be doing its job correctly, Locke believes that all three of these must be protected.

Aquinas is contrary to Locke in the respect that he believes the primary role of the government is to make its citizens better people. Aquinas believes that the citizens of a state will become moral if they are repeatedly forced to abide by laws that are based on virtue. According to Aquinas, man is a being that succumbs to sin. In order to make man more moral he needs to be constantly reminded of rules that are virtuous in their own right. The purpose behind these virtuous rules is that if man is forced to encounter them of a regular basis, eventually they will “rub off” of him and he will become virtuous himself.

Aquinas would even say that the virtues that would be made into laws are divine, and to go against them would be to go against God himself. This idea that no one can oppose the government because of its divinity is a point that Locke opposes drastically. Locke views all men in the state as equal on all levels, with no man in a state of inequality. This differs from Aquinas and St. Augustine whom believe that the leader (even a tyrant) was one which god placed above all others. In the government created by Locke, the citizens have every right to revolt against an oppressive tyrant. Locke believes this because the government is a body that is composed of the desires of the majority.

If the government or tyrant is not abiding by the majority’s desires, then the people have a fundamental responsibility to install a new government. Obviously, this Lockean idea of majority rule is completely contrary to the divine rule in the writings of Aquinas and St. Augustine. Overall, the main difference between the states that are presented by the three theorist lies in how they believe the citizens will bind to the political community. Locke believes that the preservation of rights and protection of property binds the citizens together.

On the other hand, Aquinas and St. Augustine believe that the citizens will group around the idea that they are following the wishes and desires of a superior divine power, with ideological unison among the people. These two different views create rather different societies, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Arguments can be made on either side of the coin that one of the states is more durable than the other. When looking at them from an individual standpoint, it can be safe to say that people are more prone to siding with the Lockean state. The root of this resting in all individuals desire to have their ideas and opinions respected among others.

The Lockean state provides a contingency for this with majority rule and freedom being placed above all others. The state outlined by Aquinas and St. Augustine does not; in the respect that the people in their state would be forced to follow the divine laws laid out for them with no contingency for personal beliefs. When looking at practical historical examples of these two states, we can see the Lockean version in the United States. Although still arguably young in respect to the rest of the world, the U.S. is a mixing pot of peoples from a plethora of different backgrounds and ideals. Within this melting pot everyone seems to get along because individual freedoms are not stepped on.

Rather, the state and government is more concerned with protecting each individual’s freedoms. People do not want to be told that there is only one version of right and wrong, which is exactly what the opposing state proposes. Examples of the type of state that Aquinas and St. Augustine present can be seen in some of the failed regimes of the past century. Prime examples of states that attempted to strive for the better good of its people, and failed, can be seen in both Nazi Germany and communist Russia. These states attempted to take each individual and force them into an ideal “mold” of what they wanted their citizens to become.

Even though these societies succeeded for some amount of time, both have since collapsed and states in the Lockean from have arose out of their ashes. As aforementioned, both of the types of states presented have strong and weak points to ponder on. Both have rose to power at one point in time or another, although the Lockean state has remained where others have fallen. Overall, an argument can be made that in our modern world with globalization and a never ending mixing of cultures; the only way for a state to succeed is to put ideological ideals behind and look to protect the greater good by looking out for the “peace, safety, and public good of its people.”