Thursday, December 27, 2007

Augustine on government

Taken from "The City of God" Book IV, Chapter IV:

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, "What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor."

Augustine here talks about a situation which libertarians today recognize, a principle which IS taught in Scripture: that morality is defined neither by numbers (democracy) nor by power (all the various forms of tyranny): it is defined by God. It is just as wrong, just as evil, just as sinful for ONE man to use the threat of force to steal a penny from you as it is a band or community of 100, 1000, 10,000 or 300 million. And the other way around.

What Augustine did NOT elaborate on is that there IS no justice in great nations or kingdoms, or even in lesser ones: there is pretense of justice but only God is just. Men who employ force to impose their will on others are by definition, unjust.

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