When it comes to politics, Augustine of Hippo is renowned as one of history’s great pessimists, with his sights set firmly on the heavenly city rather than the public square. Many have enlisted him to chasten political hopes, highlighting the realities of evil and encouraging citizens instead to cast their hopes on heaven. A Commonwealth of Hope challenges prevailing interpretations of Augustinian pessimism, offering a new vision of his political thought that can also help today’s citizens sustain hope in the face of despair.
Amid rising inequality, injustice, and political division, many citizens wonder what to hope for in politics and whether it is possible to forge common hopes in a deeply polarized society. Michael Lamb takes up this challenge, offering the first in-depth analysis of Augustine’s virtue of hope and its profound implications for political life. He draws on a wide range of Augustine’s writings—including neglected sermons, letters, and treatises—and integrates insights from political theory, religious studies, theology, and philosophy. Lamb shows how diverse citizens, both religious and secular, can unite around common hopes for the commonwealth.
Recovering this understudied virtue and situating Augustine within his political, rhetorical, and religious contexts, A Commonwealth of Hope reveals how Augustine’s virtue of hope can help us resist the politics of presumption and despair and confront the challenges of our time.
Michael Lamb is the F. M. Kirby Foundation Chair of Leadership and Character, associate professor of interdisciplinary humanities, and executive director of the Program for Leadership and Character at Wake Forest University. He is also a research fellow with the Oxford Character Project. Twitter @KMLamb
"[Lamb] introduces his readers to another Augustine. This Augustine was not a pessimist but a champion of hope. He encouraged his hearers to hope for the well-being of the city. And he possessed an expansive vision of Christians and non-Christians working together to improve their lives on earth."—Aaron Alexander Zubia, Wall Street Journal
"Michael Lamb’s A Commonwealth of Hope: Augustine’s Political Thought is an important intervention not only in Augustine studies, but also in our politics of stagnation and hopelessness."—Terence Sweeney, Public Discourse
“Michael Lamb’s magisterial book gives us an Augustine we so badly need: a great prisoner of hope who resists presumption and despair. Drawing on meticulous scholarship and a creative philosophical analysis of the inimitable African church father, Lamb makes a powerful and compelling case that in our bleak times (much like his) Augustine provides wise encouragement for an active citizenship tempered by humility and mature piety.”—Cornel West, Union Theological Seminary
“This is a terrific book. Against the almost universal consensus that Augustine is an otherworldly pessimist about earthly politics, Michael Lamb offers a subtle, deeply engrossing picture of a more hopeful thinker who saw positive good in civic engagement.”—Alan Ryan, author of On Augustine: The Two Cities
“Lamb’s richly contextual study yields a fresh Augustine, no longer the pessimist who advances a starkly realist stance on the corrupt character of human societies but rather a theorist of hope, navigating wisely between the vices of presumption and despair. A Commonwealth of Hope is a transformative contribution to Augustinian political thought.”—Jennifer A. Herdt, author of Putting on Virtue: The Legacy of the Splendid Vices
“The importance of Michael Lamb’s excellent volume cannot be overstated. Beautifully written, it is a model of erudition. Not only does it revolutionize hope theory by providing a comprehensive account of Augustine on hope, it also significantly contributes to the disciplines of philosophy, political theory, and theology. Lamb’s insights are deep and compelling. Quite simply, this book is not to be missed.”—Nancy Snow, University of Kansas
“Few would deny we suffer from a profound deficit of hope today, a deficit we seek to compensate for with bombast and willful optimism. A Commonwealth of Hope not only uncovers the conceptual intricacies and psychological subtleties of Augustine’s thought, but shows how the theologian’s ideas can offer real insight for political life today. Lamb’s book is a gem.”—Charles Mathewes, University of Virginia
“Michael Lamb leads us whistling past Augustine the otherworldly pessimist and into the hopeful geography of Augustine the perfectionist. It is heady and vital territory.”—James Wetzel, author of Augustine: A Guide for the Perplexed
“A major contribution. Displaying a dazzling familiarity with Augustine and his political thought, Lamb provides an impressive defense of hope as a virtue that can be active and supportive in civic life, and makes a sustained argument that engaging Augustine’s political thought can assist readers today.”—Mary M. Keys, author of Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good