CRF Blog

Augustine’s World

by Bill Hayes

In Augustine’s World for Foreign Policy magazine, Robert D. Kaplan discusses “what late Antiquity says about the 21st century and the Syrian crisis.”

Syria is the Levant, the geographical core of Late Antiquity. And its disintegration, like the crumbling of Libya, Yemen, and Iraq, along with the chronic unrest in Tunisia and Egypt, signifies not the birth of freedom but the collapse of central authority. Rome could not save North Africa, and the United States will not save the Near East — for as the opinion polls demonstrate, Americans have had enough of foreign military entanglements. Anarchy, perhaps followed by new forms of hegemony, will be the result.

IF THE LIFE OF ANY INDIVIDUAL ENCAPSULATES Late Antiquity, it is that of St. Augustine, a Berber born in 354 in Thagaste, modern-day Souk Ahras, just over the border from Tunisia inside Algeria. In drifting from pagan philosophy to Manichaeism and finally to Christianity, which he subjected to the logic of Plato and Cicero, St. Augustine straddled the worlds of classical Rome and the Middle Ages. His favorite poem was Virgil’s Aeneid, which celebrates the founding of Rome’s universal civilization. He railed against the radical Donatists (Berber schismatics), whose heresy was undermining the stability of the Maghreb, even as he saw the benefits in traditional bonds like tribalism. And he died at age 76 in 430, in the midst of the assault of Genseric’s Vandals on Africa Proconsularis, Rome’s first African colony. His great work, The City of God, writes scholar Garry Wills, sought to console Christians who were disoriented by the loss of Rome as the organizing principle of the known world. Rome, St. Augustine wrote, could never satisfy human hearts: Only the City of God could do that. Thus, as Rome weakened, religiosity intensified. [more]

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