Outlaws and Highwaymen

Chapter from St Augustine’s De Civitate Dei
trans. Gillian Spraggs from De Civitate Dei [About the City of God], by St Augustine, IV.4

between 413 and 426

Take away justice, then, and what are governments but great confederacies of robbers? After all, what are confederacies of robbers unless they are small-scale governments? The gang itself consists of men, it is directed by the authority of the chief, it is bound together by a pact of mutual support, and the loot is divided in accordance with an agreed law. If, as a result of the recruitment of desperadoes, this evil grows to such an extent that it takes control of a territory, establishes bases, occupies cities and subjugates peoples, then it assumes the name of a government, the more openly because this is now plainly applicable: not because the robbers have renounced their rapacity, but because they are no longer at risk of punishment. The reply that a captured pirate made to Alexander the Great was apposite and legitimate. For when the ruler asked the man how he could justify making the sea a dangerous place, he answered, with defiant outspokenness, ‘In exactly the way that you justify doing the same to the whole world. But because I do it with a single paltry ship, I am called a robber; while you do it with a large navy, and are called an emperor.’

St. Augustine of Hippo

Translation and page design © Gillian Spraggs 2001, 2007
Text added to site on 30 December 2001 | Page last modified on 28 August 2007

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