Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Saint Augustine Gets A Cartoon Treatment

Some contemporary imitators of School House Rock have made a video homage to Augustine's famous lines about states being bands of robbers writ large. The saint's own words, from Book IV of The City of God:
"Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large 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.

Alas, the cartoon plummets past Augustine's skepticism into full-blown cynicism. It sings: "There are Pirates and emperors but they're really the same thing." The Bishop of Hippo, being a wise man, recognizes the possibility of distinguishing between regimes of more and less injustice. But to reject any concern for justice, is to advocate a self-righteous apathy as indiscriminate and as wearisome as a common cold. One can then end up a priggish purist neutral between the fire brigade and the fire: regular combatants and terrorists are really the same thing, pirates and shopkeepers are really the same thing, emperors and voters are really the same thing. As the Vandals surrounded Hippo in Augustine's last hours, I doubt he thought them the same as Caesar.

Consistent cynicism is, happy to say, far too difficult to attain: the cartoonists' moralistic criticism of government abuse proves, at least, that they aren't despondent about justice in human affairs. Yet this is hardly a vote in their favor, for it means that they can't communicate their own thoughts with precision.

While humorous, the cartoonish anarchism on display in the short film lacks the thoughtfulness of good polemic. Augustine deserves better cartoon treatments, and many more of them.

1 comment:

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