Pirates and Emperors

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Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World is a book[1] by Noam Chomsky, titled after an observation by St. Augustine in City of God, proposing that what governments coin as "terrorism" in the small simply reflects what governments utilize as "warfare" in the large. Yet, governments coerce their populations to denounce the former while embracing the latter. In the City of God, St. Augustine[2] tells the story

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 you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor".

This story also appears in John Gower's Confessio Amantis[3] III.2363-2438 and in a poem by François Villon.[4]


  1. ^ "Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World". 
  2. ^ St Augustine. "4.— How Like Kingdoms Without Justice are to Robberies.". The City of God (Book IV). 
  3. ^ John Gower (1901). G. C. Macaulay, ed. Confessio Amantis. 
  4. ^ François Villon (1953). "The Testament, XVIII". Poems. Translated by Norman Cameron. Jonathan Cape.