St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430) on the Nature of Kingdoms/States

“Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia? quia et latrocinia quid sunt nisi parva regna? Manus et ipsa hominum est, imperio principis regitur, pacto societatis astringitur, placiti lege praeda dividitur. Hoc malum si in tantum perditorum hominum accessibus crescit, ut et loca teneat sedes constituat, civitates occupet populos subiuget, evidentius regni nomen assumit, quod ei iam in manifesto confert non adempta cupiditas, sed addita impunitas. Eleganter enim et veraciter Alexandro illi Magno quidam comprehensus pirata respondit. Nam cum idem rex hominem interrogaret, quid ei videretur, ut mare haberet infestum, ille libera contumacia: Quod tibi, inquit, ut orbem terrarum; sed quia <id> ego exiguo navigio facio, latro vocor; quia tu magna classe, imperator” DE CIVITATE DEI CONTRA PAGANOS, Liber IV.4

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms [or states] but great, organized 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 right he had to keep hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “The same as you have to infest the world. Because I do it with one small ship, I am called a pirate. You do it with a whole fleet and are called an emperor.” ”–St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430), “City of God” IV.4


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