Libido dominandi: Augustine's genealogy of a fallen world

Brian Thomas Harding, Fordham University


In this dissertation I argue that Augustine's claim that ancient virtue is not really virtuous is not as unreasonable as it is often taken to be. That claim, I suggest is best understood as a conclusion to a rather long and subtle argument, an argument that proceeds on the basis of a critique of ancient (predominantly Roman) culture and philosophy that is best understood in terms of ‘genealogy.’ Genealogy suspiciously reappraises the ideals of a given discourse (in this case, antique virtue) with an eye towards discovering hidden or repressed contradictions at work. This hermeneutic is most often associated with the work of Nietzsche and subsequent philosophers, so in the first I present a reading of Nietzsche. However, in the second chapter I argue that there are antecedent genealogical hermenauts focusing on two authors very influential for Nietzsche's development: Thucydides and Sallust. This brings us to the body of the dissertation insofar as Sallust not only influenced Nietzsche, but profoundly influenced Augustine as well: indeed, the ‘Augustinian’ concept of the lust for domination has its roots in Sallust (who in turn is inspired by a similar Thucydidian concept). In subsequent chapters I present Augustine's genealogy of various aspects or manifestations of antique virtue (traditional civic virtue, the virtues of the philosopher, and so on). I argue that in each case Augustine's analysis unearths a repressed lust for domination at work in the discourse, undermining it from within. These internal contradictions enable Augustine to claim that pagan virtue is not really virtue. That is to say, Augustine demonstrates that on their own terms ancient virtue does not live up to its own standards.

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Recommended Citation

Harding, Brian Thomas, "Libido dominandi: Augustine's genealogy of a fallen world" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3159388.