This article provides a new interpretation of St. Augustine’s concept of res publica, situating his political philosophy in terms of the distinction between res and signum, substance and sign, which runs across his work. The res of res publica is its governing power inasmuch as it is an object that commands the loving attention of the people, to which they conform gradually as a kind of facsimile the more they attend. The populus, as signum of this res, represents this power which might otherwise be invisible. This account of Augustine’s political thought enables my intervention on two disputed points: on the status of Augustine’s concept of ‘state’ as a stepping-stone to the ‘modern’ state (it is not, I argue); and on the autonomy or dependence of politics in relation to religion (there is no ‘true’ godly res publica on this earth and Augustine’s definition allows for a spectrum of possibilities).
Holland, B. (in press). Of substance, signs, and the state: a new reading of St. Augustine's definition of the republic. History of Political Thought,