St. Augustine's (apparent) criterion for when rebellion is acceptable

"what does it matter under whose rule a man lives, being so soon to die, provided that the rulers do not force him to impious and wicked acts?" (Quoted in Manent, p. 257)

This would seem to offer us a criterion for when rebelling against a government is acceptable: is the government forcing you into service as a prostitute, asking you to round up a minority group for execution, or forcing you to take part in cattle raids on the neighbors in the next country? Then one may rebel. Is your complaint that the government won't let you chew khat, or won't allow publication of your political tract, or asks everyone to wear blue clothing on Tuesdays? Well then, no one may not rebel.

Note: I am not here interested in debating whether Augustine's criterion is a good one. All I am saying here is, "This seems to be what Augustine thought." I am interested in studying the history of notions of proper authority and just rebellion: maybe once my study is done I will have something to say on the matter myself. So please don't write comments trying to debate this idea, because I won't post them.


  1. You may very well be right, but I would want to see more of the context to conclude that Augustine holds the position you attribute to him. For example, he possibly could believe, "In the interest of promoting the rule of law, we should always follow laws that do not force us to violate our conscience. However, if we are ever asked by the ruler to do just that, then it is our duty to say, 'I refuse' and close our eyes, waiting for the punishment."

    If *that* were his position, it's consistent with the quote you gave of him, but it doesn't mean he ever favors violent rebellion. (Or are you using "rebellion" as distinct from "insurrection"? If you are, then I retract this comment.)

    1. I need to see more too! Not sure.

      But yes, I would see Gandhi as rebelling, even if non-violently.


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