Augustine on Empire
Augustine wrote The City of God in the early 400s, at the time of the late and undeniable collapse of the Roman Empire, which had been considered a Christian Empire for nearly 200 years. Augustine wrote something that defines empire and clearly labels the hypocrisy that is its undoing. Many of you have probably heard or read this before, but it is worth repeating here:
Without justice, what are kingdoms but great robber bands? What are robber bands but small kingdoms? The band is itself made up of men, is ruled by the command of a leader, and is held together by a social pact. Plunder is divided in accordance with an agreed upon law. If this evil increases by the inclusion of dissolute men to the extent that it takes over territory, establishes headquarters, occupies cities, and subdues peoples, it publicly assumes the title of kingdom!
A fitting and true response was once given to Alexander the Great by an apprehended pirate. When asked by the king what he thought he was doing by infesting the sea, he replied with noble insolence, “What do you think you are doing by infesting the whole world? Because I do it with one puny boat, I am called a pirate; because you do it with a great fleet, you are called an emperor.”
The American empire is collapsing – and as with the natural collapse of other empires, people in and out of the empire’s grasp simply stop believing some decades and generations before the physical end. This is where we are today – and unlike all previous empires in collapse, we live in an age of rapid communication, and instant access to history, research, commentary and imagery available for the asking. Tradition and habit can keep an empire on life support for centuries, at least it worked this way centuries before now. Today, change can come as quickly as ideas can travel, guide and inform individual choices and actions.