Pirates and Emperors: Bill Clinton Updates Augustine

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St. Augustine famously pointed out in The City of God (book IV , chapter 4) that “governments” and criminal syndicates are in exactly the same racket:

“Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a vast scale? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms?

A gang is a group of men under the command of a leader, bound by a compact of association, in which the plunder is divided according to an agreed convention. If this villainy wins so many recruits from the ranks of the demoralized that it acquires territory, establishes a base, captures cities and subdues peoples, it then openly arrogates to itself the title of `kingdom,’ which is conferred on it in the eyes of the world, not by the renouncing of aggression but by the attainment of impunity.

For it was a witty and a truthful rejoinder which was given by a captured pirate to Alexander the Great. The king asked the fellow, `What is your idea, in infesting the sea?’ And the pirate answered, with uninhibited insolence, `The same as yours, in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate; because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor.”

Displaying uncharacteristic concision — and most likely without conscious intent — Bill Clinton offered a splendid summary of Augustine’s insight, updated for contemporary affairs.

During an interview published in the December 2009 issue of Foreign Policy magazine (which, like Foreign Affairs, is a journal written by and for the Power Elite, in which they extol their own supposed wisdom and goodness), Clinton helpfully defines terrorism as “killing and robbery and coercion by people who do not have state authority and go beyond national borders.”

By reverse-engineering this definition we learn that “killing and robbery and coercion” carried out with “state authority” isn’t terrorism; it’s public policy. We can also infer that the “war on terror” is not meant to bring an end to such violence, but rather intended to bring it within the compass of proper “authority.” That matter, in turn, is defined to suit the interests of whatever robber band happens to be dominant in global affairs.

The consistently insightful Chris Floyd, who brought this quote to my attention, adds another key element to the equation:

“Only those states which by their cheerful acceptance of America’s benevolent guidance and abiding friendship have proven themselves worthy can legitimately exercise their authority to kill, rob and coerce. All others must forbear — or else be branded `rogue states,’ purveyors of `state terror,’ which in turn makes them eligible for `the path of action.’”


1:27 pm on January 22, 2010
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