St. Augustine: When Government and Brigands are Hard to Tell Apart

In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organised brigandage?  For, what are bands of brigands but petty kingdoms?   They also are groups of men, under the rule of a leader, bound together by a common agreement, dividing their booty according to settled principle.  If this band of criminals, by recruiting more criminals, acquires enough power to occupy regions, to capture cities, and to subdue whole populations, then it can with fuller right assume the title of kingdom, which in the public estimation is conferred upon it, not by the remuneration of greed, but by the increase in impunity.

The answer which a captured pirate gave to the celebrated Alexander the Great was perfectly accurate and correct.  When that kind asked the man what me meant by infesting the sea, he boldly replied: ‘What you mean by warring on the whole world, I do my fighting on a tiny ship, and they call me a pirate; you do yours with a large fleet, and they call you Commander.’ (The City of God, IV, 4)

With failed states abroad and bailouts and Ponzi schemes at home, Augustine’s words ring as true as ever.

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