In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery? – Saint Augustine
What does that mean?
In a much longer passage, this quote has an example of a pirate who has been captured and brought before Alexander The Great.
The pirate said in his defense that the only difference between himself and Alexander was the number of ships. One ship is a pirate, a fleet is the law of the sea, and the power of the empire.
While there are other details to consider, that is the principle of this story. If you are just, whether a ship or a fleet, that is good.
The opposite is also true. Without justice, whether a ship, a fleet, or a government, it is little more than robbery. A just government, it is presumed, will treat the people equitably.
Why is justice important?
In this case, we’re talking about fair and equitable treatment by a governing body. It could be a ruler, a town council, a union or other social group. Even a Home Owners Association, for those familiar with the term, could be covered by this quote. Without justice, all that is left is blind ambition and power.
Groups which use their ‘subjects’ as sheep, to fleece when it is deemed necessary, isn’t much good. Whether it is a ruler declaring arbitrary taxes or regulations, or a social group demanding extra dues payments, it is neither fair nor equitable. And that is not how it should be.
When raw power is exercised, the people are usually hurt. Whether it is financially or in some other manner, when justice is absent, injustice is present. That’s pretty much the definition, isn’t it? And absent justice, in thought and in deed, what is to prevent any organization from abusing their members?
Justice keeps the thieves at bay. It keeps all the wrong-doers at bay, should it be enforced evenly. If thievery is allowed, then the thieves will prosper at the expense of others, and you have organized robbery. The same applies to other forms of crime. And that is what happens when justice is absent.
Where can I apply this in my life?
The governments of countries is a little outside of the influence of most of us, unless we work as large groups. That has it’s own issues, and is better left for a different quote. The absence of justice could also be called corruption, and that exists nearly everywhere humanity sets foot.
It is up to us to attempt to oppose it, as best we can. Justice is an ideal, but we must also understand reality. If we march for justice, and the government doesn’t care about us, we may be lucky to only be shot at by water cannon. In some countries it would be far worse, if the people tried to rise up against a corrupt dictator.
But no dictator stands alone. Their corruption reaches all the way down to cities and towns. By breaking their grip on the populace, by bringing the bright light of justice to bear, their base of power can be weakened. Eventually, with enough undercutting, the whole structure collapses.
We saw that in several countries, where the movement went by the phrase Arab Spring. Most of them were successful, but a handful were not. Those were the most repressive regimes, and the ones least bothered by killing their own people. That is the risk of direct action. Start small, and change the culture is safer.
So what can you do on a smaller scale? Where is there corruption in your life? Is there an organization to which you belong which treats the members without any regard for justice? Is there favoritism, inequalities, or other ways which justice is thwarted? Do some get it and others not?
What can you do to try to fight this? Can you find others who are as fed up about it as you? Can you band together to fight for equality and justice? Can you change the culture through shaming those who are unjust? Or will you need to work through the system to gain access to power and force them out, one by one, until justice prevails?
It is easy to simply say that it is only a little corrupt. Or that it does not impact my life, so why worry? Injustice, unchecked, will not shrink. It will grow. If you do nothing, by the time it does impact your life, it will likely be too big to be able to do much to stop it. That’s not a good place to be, is it?
We all have decisions to make. We all have thresholds of justice which, once crossed, require us to act. Be careful how you do it, but do not neglect your duty to do; lest in your slumber, it grows and takes you.
From: Twitter, @philoquotes
confirmed at : https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_City_of_God/Book_IV/Chapter_4 this quote is likely a variant translation of the first line.
Photo by Xuan Che