In this article, the author investigates the evolution of the politico-philosophical concept of the “people” (populus), from its appearance in Ancient Roman texts to Early Modern political thought. He traces three fundamental steps in the evolution of this concept: (1) Cicero and Augustine, in their writings, describe the people as a political subject. According to Tully, the people are united by the common rational consensus about the practices of conduct, while Augustine replaces it with the concept of a passionate community. (2) The second phase of the people’s conceptual history is bound up with the works of Thomas Aquinas. He describes the people not as a subject but as an object of political action. According to him, the people are the many men united by a common territory, common laws and common mode of life. Aquinas also changes the meaning of the term “res publica” (Commonwealth), as he uses it to define the political form
independent from the people. Later, other authors within the Thomistic tradition up to Francisco de Vitoria refrained from conceptualizing the people, using it as a simple word, not a concept. (3) For authors of social contract theory (Thomas Hobbes, first and foremost), the people were a sovereign person that appeared thanks to the social contract itself. In contrast to the multitude, the people were considered as an active ruler. When the citizens unite with each other to commit some political action, they become the people; when they live as private persons, they remain the multitude.
Keywords: people, multitude, state, Commonwealth, res publica, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Hobbes