In Book 2 of the City of God appears a truly remarkable passage, in which Augustine criticizes Roman society and law in terms that seem as if they were aimed directly at our own modern liberal society. It is worth quoting in full:
"'So long as it [the republic] survives,' they say, 'so long as it prospers, rich in resources, self-confident in victory, or, better still, secure in peace, what difference does it make to us? What matters is that there is money to be made to support our lavish style of life, and to give the stronger their hold over the weaker; that the poor treat the wealthy with compliance, to ensure their daily bread--the poor depending on the patronage of the wealthy for a quiet life, the wealthy calling on the poor for support to boost their public standing. Popularity should accrue not to those whose policies promote public welfare, but to the big providers of public entertainment.
Law should not be rigorous; low indulgences should not be proscribed. Rulers should not bother themselves with getting virtuous subjects, simply quiescent ones. Territories should view their rulers not in the light of moral educators, merely as economic managers and purveyors of satisfactions. It does not matter if they do not seriously respect them, so long as they treat them with a calculating and subservient fear. No one should be liable to court proceedings if he has not infringed or done harm to the property, real estate, or physical safety of another person without consent;* but everyone should be free to do with himself, his dependents, and consenting associates exactly what he likes. Sexual satisfactions should be freely available on the open market for those who want them, especially those who cannot afford to maintain facilities privately. Domestic architecture should be expensive and ornate, to accomodate large and lavish parties where anyone may game and drink all day and night, if he pleases, till he brings it up or sweats it out. The sound of dancing should be heard in every neighborhood, and theaters should be humming with excitement at their coarse amusements and their various brash entertainments. Should someone disapprove of this perfect contentment, he must expect to meet public hostility; and should someone attempt to reform or abolish it, the spirit of popular freedom must know what to do with him: shut him up, pack him up, beat him up! Religion ought to make a case for itself by guaranteeing and perpetuating these conditions of life for the greatest number of people. Let the gods have all the worship they want, and all the games that they ant, to enjoy them with (and at the expense of) their worshipers, just so long as they ensure this satisfactory state of affairs against threat from enemy, plague, or disaster.'"
*Joan O'Donovan states that this statement is virtually a textbook definition of the modern theory of law.