Two Tantalizing Tidbits

Two tantalizing tidbits in today’s mail on the differences (and lack thereof) between governments and criminals I thought were worth passing along.

The first, from H.L. Mencken:

“It seems to be difficult if not impossible for human beings to avoid thinking of government as mystical entity with a nature and a history all its own. It constitutes for them a creature somehow interposed between themselves and the great flow of cosmic events, and they look to it to think for them and to protect them. In democratic countries it is theoretically their agent, but there seems to be a strong tendency to convert the presumably free citizen into its agent, or at all events, its client. This exalted view of its scope, character, powers and autonomy is fundamentally false. A government at bottom is nothing more than a group of men, and as a practical matter most of them are inferior men…. Yet these nonentities, by the intellectual laziness of men in general, have come to a degree of puissance in the world that is unchallenged by that of any other group. Their fiats, however preposterous, are generally obeyed as a matter of duty, they are assumed to have a kind of wisdom that is superior to ordinary wisdom, and the lives of multitudes are willingly sacrificed in their interest.”

The second, from St. Augustine’s City of God

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 thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

The difference between governments and a criminal gang is that the government is SUPPOSED to be the protector of the rights of its citizens while the crooks just take what they want, when they want it. More and more lately I see the differences eroding down to rubber stamp elections won by the person who promises more of things he has no right to have or control in the first place. When {fill in the name of your elected officials} robs Peter to give to Paul, he can always count on Paul’s support.

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