Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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59 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Are the terrorists really nihilists?

    It seems to me that they aren’t. They strike me as devout to the point of mania. Maybe I’m not understanding how you’re using the word.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

      Ah, reading again, I see that the *ATTACKS* are nihilistic.

      I get the feeling that the attacks are intended to do a number of things:
      1) kill infidels
      2) achieve glory for the attacker (chicks, yo)
      3) inspire others to pick up the torch (though poppies blow in Flanders field)
      4) maybe get the enemy to over-react and do more damage to themselves with an overreaction than any one guy could hope to achieve with a junkbomb

      While I can see a comparison to make between then and now… I don’t know that the comparison is that useful.

      Well, maybe it is. How were the anarchists defeated?Report

      • Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

        The anarchists destroyed themselves by making people hate and fear them more than they disliked harsh government measures against anarchists – “propaganda by the deed” backfired. Al Qaeda more or less did the same thing with 9/11, which alienated even nationalist terrorist groups that felt they’d gone too far and provoked the US in a way that harmed everyone else.

        The early-1900s anarchists didn’t have far-off foreign bases, air travel, or internet communications, though.Report

    • Chris Dierkes in reply to Jaybird says:

      I mean it in the sense that their (al Qaeda’s) political goals are totally utopian (and unrealistic) and therefore there are no real actions they can take in this world to get closer to their political goals, so they end up just trying to destroy what currently exists.

      This is very different from say a Taliban group that uses terrorist tactics but has a potentially quite achievable set of goals in the neighborhood.

      So not all terrorists are nihilists per se, but I’m speaking of AQ here specifically.

      My point is that I think eventually they will tend towards becoming another in a series of local insurgency groups and/or they just basically become criminal enterprises (a mafia)…or some combination of the two.Report

      • Bob Cheeks in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        If this is true, what role does the religion of Islam play in this? I thought we were dealing with thugees who sought to establish the world-caliphate out of Dar Something or other?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        I mean it in the sense that their (al Qaeda’s) political goals are totally utopian (and unrealistic) and therefore there are no real actions they can take in this world to get closer to their political goals, so they end up just trying to destroy what currently exists.

        My inclination is to see Stalin and Mao covered by this blanket of “nihilism”.

        As a crazy person with nihilist sympathies (let alone the anarchist sympathies), I’ve gotta say that I am not used to those words being used the way you’re using them in your essay.

        It’s like me saying that the Nazis and progressives have overlap because of the emphasis on eugenics. On one level, this is absolutely true. On another, I can’t help but wonder if the comparison doesn’t do more to obscure than illuminate.Report

        • Chris Dierkes in reply to Jaybird says:

          But Mao and Stalin actually held state power…for years. Sure Mao didn’t achieve his Cultural Revolution vision (which ended up being a horrible nightmare), but he at least took power and had his chance to try to implement his (insane) goals.

          al-Qaeda is never going to have a worldwide caliphate that they can try to impose their insane vision upon. That’s why they are (in terms of actual historical practice), more like the anarchists than the Soviet or Chinese communists.Report

          • Communists actually held state power. That’s why they were not anarchists. But holding state power was never among the criteria you used to draw your analogy between al Qaeda and anarchists. Those criteria were: use of terrorism and unachievable goals. Stalin and Mao did use terrorism and they also had unachievable goals. So, according to your criteria, they were anarchists as well.

            You’re correct that al Qaeda will never have its world caliphate, but they said analogous things about the Nazis and Communists. That didn’t make any of them anarchists. It just made them losers.

            Why do you imagine that al Qaeda will never have its worldwide caliphate? It’s the same reason that the Nazis and Communists failed to achieve their goals: the US and its allies fought and destroyed them. How’s that for actual historical practice?Report

  2. Katherine says:

    Agreed. Ever since a class on the Mideast last year (concurrent with a class on 1800s-1914 France) I’ve seen today’s international terrorists as more comparable to violent anarchists a century ago than anything else. It makes them hard to defend against – although if they’re currently limited to a guy setting his underwear on fire they seem to be in definite decline as an international terrorist (as opposed to a dispersed nationalist guerilla) group – but it also makes them much less of a threat to nations and governments than a powerful aggressive nation-state would be.Report

  3. steve says:

    For the terrorist killing is not usually and end, but a means to an end. If they just wanted to kill they could send in some Mumbai type squads across the southern border which is essentially open. The actual number of terrorists is very small and they have limited resources. If they are going to have any efect upon a nation our size, they need some sort of force multiplier. Our own reactions are most effective and cheapest for them.


  4. anon says:

    Baader-Meinhof and the Red Brigades were not anarchist, or ever claim to be, they were Marxist-Leninist, the former Maoist inspired. Left-wing assassins of the late 19th century didn’t come from “middle” or upper class backgrounds and did not engage in suicide bombings, communicate through the internet, or were necessarily young. I dont understand why the connection is even being made, apart from intellectual laziness, and because occasionally some journalist hack in the major media who doesn’t know anything about the subject writes an article making this point. Turn of the last century political violence came from all directions, from the various extant states (but if their violence is legitimate in your eyes we can ignore that) to nascent nationalist movements (IRA, Black Hand, etc), to Republican revolutionaries/pushists, to anarchists. Why are anarchists unique, and how were they against this “modernization” that you speak of and what does any of this have to do with “An-Qaeda”?

    “Ever since a class on the Mideast last year (concurrent with a class on 1800s-1914 France) I’ve seen today’s international terrorists as more comparable to violent anarchists a century ago than anything else.”

    The largest labor union in France, the CGT-numbering in the hundreds of thousands, at the time was anarchist, Middle East Salafists don’t have mass based organizations, they operate as small vanguards employing sensationalist violence to provoke a reaction and weaken and demoralize the enemy.Report

    • Katherine in reply to anon says:

      There’s a distinction between groups like the CGT and the fairly small groups, or individuals, that were committing most of the violent anarchist actions at the time. Bombs in France, the assassination of the Italian President, the assassination of McKinley – that was all done by anarchists, and not mass-organization ones.

      These anarchists are of interest in that their method of bringing about change was the same one as Al Qaeda: “small vanguards employing sensationalist violence to provoke a reaction and weaken and demoralize the enemy.” This is, as you say, very different from the anarcho-syndicalist CGT, which aimed at revolution by the peaceful means of a general strike.Report

  5. Roque Nuevo says:

    You’re completely confused about anarchism. This ideology of the movement in the nineteenth century was derived from its etymology: “without rulers.” They were about local control and “people power.” Wikipedia:

    Anarchism is a political philosophy encompassing theories and attitudes which consider the state to be unnecessary, harmful, or otherwise undesirable, and favor instead a stateless society or anarchy.

    As revolutionaries their goals were almost exactly contrary to Communism, which is why Marx expelled them from the Socialist International. It’s true that they used terrorism to advance their goals, like al Qaeda, but the similarity ends there. Nothing could be further from Al Qaeda than anarchism. Al Qaeda is founded upon the goal of world submission to Islamic law. It’s hard to imagine anything more opposed to a stateless society than a world government by Islamic law.

    Your name-dropping of Horkheimer and Adorno is just pretentious fluff. These authors have no bearing on this question at all. They only serve you as a smoke screen for your lack of real thought about the topic. I just can’t imagine what use it is to promote the “al Qaeda/anarchism” hypothesis but it must be related to being opposed to the dread neocon. I just can’t imagine how or why. I just know that this has no use whatsoever for analysis of the real group called al Qaeda.

    As for Jaybird’s question, “How were the anarchists defeated?” It was by violence, of course. First by Marx, who expelled them from the Socialist International. The Paris Commune (1871) produced mass graves for the anarchists who took control of Paris. Then, in Mexico, the Zapatista movement was suppressed by state violence and betrayal. At the same time in Russia Lenin was rounding them up to be the Gulag’s first denizens. The Communists put the final nail in the anarchist coffin in Spain. But anarchism could never triumph because this would be contrary to the goal of a stateless society. For example, they were in position to take power in Russia in 1920, and would have made it, if not for their inherent opposition to state power. Basically, they refused to follow through in fidelity to their ideas and thus defeated themselves. Otherwise, if it had been a question of votes, they would have won since they were far and away the most popular movement of the nineteenth century. In Russia, they did win the only free elections before 1991, by a margin of something like 75/25, only to have the Bolsheviks disperse the congress afterward. It’s easy to see why the movement was and is so popular: its primitive message is that the government should just get out of the way so we, the people, can be happy.Report

  6. mike farmer says:

    Yes, Islamic rule would be dominated by extremists and it would be extremely despotic. All but the true-believers would be murdered or imprisoned. We all want to see the terrorists as a small faction of crazies, but they represent extreme beliefs which are intolerant. irrational and prone to total subjugation of the individual to the collective. The present actions of the terrorists might appear to be senseless destruction, but their goals are to rule with an iron, Islamic fist. The peaceful believers of Islam, like Christians, have to interpret their religion in ways that soften the literal message, and the violent extremists would most likely kill them first if they gained power.Report

  7. Scott says:


    Sorry, you are deluding yourself if you really think that al-Qaeda are anarchists. The Baader-Meinhof Gang and the Red Brigade were hard-core violent leftists, not anarchists. I guess calling al-Qaeda anarchists is the new way for liberals to rationalize what they are doing.Report

  8. Chris Dierkes says:

    Ur-body, (minus Katherine)

    Yes Baader-Meinhof were left wingers not formally anarchists. Al-Qaeda claims it wants a worldwide Islamic caliphate. Anarchists wanted non-state rule.

    Those are all different. Except I’m not discussing their formal ideologies, but their actual practice. The way it showed up is the way the analogy works–not based on their different goals.

    The connection is that none the political goals of those groups were ever achievable. So they mostly ended up in directionless violence. This on one level made them less of a threat (as they had no real chance of ever taking over politically) and another level, made them more of a threat—because essentially they had nothing to lose….because they had nothing to win.

    Like any analogy, it eventually doesn’t completely work. Those who have pointed out the differences in the formal political ideology between the various groups have shown where the analogy doesn’t work. It’s not an allegory after all.

    But it does work where it works–better than analogies to communists, fascists, and the like.Report

    • Scott in reply to Chris Dierkes says:


      The point you have so clearly missed and seem to continue to do so, is that that the label (communist, fascist anarchist) is dependent on the ideology the group espouses not the whether their ultimate goal is in fact attainable.Report

    • So you admit that al Qaeda does not share the anarchist ideology. But then you say that it doesn’t matter because of something called their “actual practice,” which I assume refers to terrorism.

      By this criteria, jihadists, Nazis and Communists are all anarchists because they all have used terrorism to achieve their according-to-you unachievable goals.

      This unachievable goalness (would Adorno/Horkhiemer have approved of the term?) also unites anarchists with liberal capitalists, since the goals of that group are also unachievable. In fact the goals of any ideology are unachievable. That’s why they’re called “ideologies.” Ideologies give their adherents the ever-receding goalposts required for political action. Nothing is ever finished. And so on.

      So: al Qaeda is anarchist, but, by your criteria, so are Communists, Nazis, and free-market libertarians. What possible use can such a loose analogy serve? It can serve as a way to divide people between neocon and progressive (another ideology with unachievable goals). If one draws an analogy between al Qaeda and the Nazis, then one is a neocon. If one draws it between al Qaeda and the anarchists, then one is a progressive. It’s just that simple.

      Here are some reasons why an analogy between al Qaeda and the Nazis and the Communists works better than yours: all are totalitarian; all are collectivist; all their unachievable goalness includes world conquest. The same cannot be said of the anarchists, who were non-totalitarian and individualist. They refused to conquer anyone, even when threatened with conquest, as in the Bolshevik revo, because their unachievable goalness included an absolute rejection of conquest. In fact, it included a rejection of the state itself, which is of course the defining criteria of anarchism, not their use of terrorism.

      Therefore, any attempt to drag the anarchists into this is silly at best and at worst its unachievable goalness is to muddy the waters to favor the latest progressive wartime policy of treating the jihadists as if they were nothing but misguided common criminals.

      Look where all your post graduate theology has got you now: you’ve dug yourself a hole that you can’t get out of. I’ve always thought that anyone who can believe that some god was born by miracle two thousand years ago to bring salvation to humanity can believe anything else because nothing is as ridiculous as that. Thank you for providing my hypothesis with confirmation.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

      As an aforementioned crazy person, I stand by my observation/assertion that more is obscured than illuminated by the analogy.Report

      • Roque Nuevo in reply to Jaybird says:

        In other words, a good analogy for this analogy is theology, since both obscure more than they illuminate.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Roque Nuevo says:

          Eh. I see theology as an excellent analogy in its own right.

          What does a religion say the afterlife is like? What are the fundamental assumptions about the world?

          Above and beyond insights like “hungry people say that heaven is like a feast, horny people say that heaven is like a brothel”, there are a lot of insights to be had. Judaism has God come out and say that Creation is Good. Christianity goes a step further and says that existence is so good that it’s something worth doing forever (assuming, of course, good standing with the celestial carpenter). Buddhism says “existence sucks and the point is to stop.”

          You can learn a *LOT* from religion. It’s one of the great lights. Don’t stare into it, of course.Report

          • Roque Nuevo in reply to Jaybird says:

            You can learn a lot of confusing and contradictory stuff from religion. Religion answers the great existential questions with self-contradictory nonsense. If people weren’t indoctrinated into religion when they’re defenseless children, it would have maybe ten adherents worldwide. What does that say about its potential for learning? I don’t swallow any of the “great lights” pablum. You can’t learn anything about the world from religion. You can learn a lot about religion from religion but that’s it. You’re welcome to all of it.Report

  9. Old Rebel says:

    Great post.

    Your comments about the ties between anarchism and radical Islam reminded me of Barbara Tuchman’s “The Proud Tower,” a study of the Western world prior to WWI. In her section on anarchism, she quoted a psychiatrist who concluded that bomb-throwing anarchists were simply attention-starved psychotics who picked a noble-sounding reason to dress up their murderous acts.

    The deluded fool who recently threatened “jihad” against Memphis businesses is a perfect example.Report

  10. North says:

    I think I agree with you Chris, I would like to try and reword it though in hopes of adding clarity.
    Would a more accurate way of describing the similarity between Anarchists and Islamists be in terms of effectualness? The Extreme Islamists, like the Extreme Anarchists of yore, have an ideology that is neither appealing nor problem solving enough to move more than a small proportion of the population. Therefore absent violence they would be as ineffectual and inconsequential as any oddball ideology parked in a corner of the internet. Because they embrace violence, however, they are capable of having an impact of global events out of proportion to the strength of their philosophy. Beneath that initial impact, however, the weakness of their philosophy persists and undermines them. They have no hope of achieving success because what they’re striving for is very obviously unobtainable.
    Communism and to a degree Fascism on the other hand seemed like they had workable answers to the issues of the era. Obviously they have been revealed in the cold light of historic hindsight as failed ideologies but at the time they really did pose a challenge to capitalism and democracy and in the case of Communism there were some bastard children of that ideology that survived on into modern time and informed and grew our understanding of governance.Report

    • Roque Nuevo in reply to North says:

      “The Extreme Islamists, like the Extreme Anarchists of yore, have an ideology that is neither appealing nor problem solving enough to move more than a small proportion of the population.” If the anarchists were so unpopular, how come they won the elections in Russia in 1917? On the contrary, anarchism was the most popular radical ideology back then, far and away. Just consider the IWW in the US.

      Just another reason why anarchism is a ridiculous analogy to al Qaeda.Report

  11. Bob Cheeks says:

    Hey, North olde palsy, let me throw this in the puddle: Islam is not a philosophy, it’s a religion and a unique religion in that its scripture allows/permits violence while seeking adherents and it seeks a worldwide Islamic caliphate, one captured by force of arms. Now that point covers the entire spectrum of muslims: radical, moderate, and really, really good muslims. So we might ask, how far from the really good muslims, in terms of faith, are the bomb-throwing radical mujahadeen?
    Methinks, not very far.Report

    • North in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      Indeed Bob and I will conceed readily that I’m probably doing terrible violence to the word philosophy by attributing it to extremist Islam or extremist Anarchism. But I’m not sure what other word to use. That said my main point isn’t altered by the question as to whether extremist Islam is a philosophy. Maybe I’ll call it a religosophy? They do involve some magical thinking that real philosophies would probably laugh out of the barrel.Report

    • North in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      Oh, on second rereading I noticed your points on Islam.

      Now being a mushy agnostic my grasp of scripture is wobbly but as I recall our own humble Christian writings have plenty of blood meat and potatoes for the masses. I’m not qualified to judge of course but I don’t think that based on the literal interpretation of the words in the books that any of the Abrahamic faiths could be considered peacable.Report

      • Bob Cheeks in reply to North says:

        Well, interpretation, interpretation…someone said. My point is that of all the Abrahamic faiths, Islam, is the only one that openly practices violence against those who do not share the faith.
        That should tell us a great deal.
        And, I think you’re very qualified to judge…Let not the PC police stand in thy way!Report

        • North in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

          Well Bob ol’ shoe I have only a passing acquaintance with PC, mainly I try and dally in the company of PC’s restrained older sister courtesy but I’ll confess to straying from her side and dallying with that lusty lad sarcasm or his care free brother flip (though of course she’s too polite to complain).

          That said to be honest I don’t see an intrinsic difference. Some of the sects of Islamists think that lighting their underwear on fire and trying to blow up a bunch of co-passengers on a jet is going to net them two dozen or so gals in paradise. But if he blows his gear out in the process what is he going to do with them? Engage in conversation and then stone them when they turn out exponentially more intelligent than his religion-addled faculties can handle?
          This certainly doesn’t reflect well on the Islamists but we’ve plenty of historic and even current occurrences of douchbaggery done in the name of Jesus or Jehovah. So I don’t know that we can single out the youngest of the Abrahamic triplets for special criticism. Yes Islams followers in the Middle East seem hell bent on disproving the theory of evolution by devolving themselves into australopithecines. Yes the entire region (but for the Turkish and Israeli enclaves) is a poster child of barbarity and howling anti-intellectualism. I just don’t see that it can be laid at the feet of Islam.

          Christianity was pretty much dragged kicking and screaming into an era of modernity, pluralism and reason. Even still you’ll often catch it looking out the rear window of the car wistfully sighing and wondering if maybe it shouldn’t ditch us squares and hop a ride with the likes of Falwel or Phelps for a good ol pre-modern bender.

          The Hebrews of course are pretty rational now, having behaved so madcap back in the day that they pissed off their roman land lords and got evicted from their own geographic apartment and spent the following two thousand years homeless. Even after twenty centuries of natural selection with the wolves picking off all the dim witted (or slow footed) Jews, however, Israel can still find thousands of their own people who’re willing to perch a trailer on a sand drenched hillock in the middle of Palestine waving flags and screeching like howler monkeys while the local Islamic villagers hoot back.

          So I agree, it comes down to interpretation. But there’s nothing in any of those texts that would cause or prevent us humans from interpreting them whichever way we want. We’re inventive that way it seems. So probably the blame falls on the half literate tribals who’re behaving this way rather than the religious logo they’re trying to paste on top of it (to the great annoyance of my humble local purveyor of truly stellar quality hummus who is a gentle human being and also Islamic).Report

          • Bob Cheeks in reply to North says:

            North, beloved lad, that was a singular response and quite appreciated. Truth lies about the wreckage if we savor old T.S. and we can find it, so don’t collapse into the slough of despond. There’s hope!
            Again, loved the comment…it’s why I come here.Report

  12. Kathie Brown says:

    It struck me reading through the comments that most commenters used Chris’s suggested comparison/analogy to pummel ideologies they don’t approve of. Few engaged with Chris’s discussion of resistance to modernity, which is his most cogent (IMO). Perhaps the link should be to the Luddites, although their crimes were mostly economic. But both dreams of a long-gone caliphate and dreams of an independent agrarian ethos share looking back to recapture an ideal, dreamy past. The more modern ideologies such as Communism are concentrated on the future. Italian fascism (but German fascism only in part) also belong to modernizing futurism and technology worship. I agree with Chris that al-Qaeda’s Jihadism shares a “shock and awe” theory of terrorism with the late 19th c. anarchists, but not really an ideology. Perhaps it’s time to reread Conrad.Report

    • Very good! The “resistance to modernity” angle is unexceptionable, of course, and it is shared by the old anarchists, as you say. However, one does not need useless references to Horkheimer/Adorno to make this point at all, since it’s right there on the surface in al Qaeda pronouncements.

      You’re right that few have taken up this point here, including Chris himself:

      Except I’m not discussing their formal ideologies, but their actual practice. The way it showed up is the way the analogy works–not based on their different goals.

      He was not discussing al Qaeda’s “back to the past” ideology, but their “actual practice,” aka terrorism. If he was discussing ideology then he wouldn’t have gotten any objections from me in this regard.

      In fact, I doubt whether your point is even the reason why he invokes the anarchists. That reason is political correctness, not any analysis of ideology, as you can plainly see from his lack of any coherent response to the debate. He wants to draw the analogy to the anarchists, not as a way of analyzing al Qaeda, like you, but to fall in line with our Obamamama’s rhetorical “downgrading” of the al Qaeda threat (as if eight years of asymmetric warfare counted for nothing) and to draw the line against the neocons, who make their own analogies with Nazism and Communism.

      It’s not our genius president’s magic words but actual asymmetric warfare that has downgraded al Qaeda. It’s false that an ideology based on resistance to modernity is destined to fail, either. The anarchists, for example, were defeated by extreme violence by the Communists, mainly, not because of destiny. If there’s a cycle in world history, it’s that modernizing cultures fall to the anti modernizing barbarians.

      The above would make him just another Obamamama spinner if he weren’t a theologian. His theological training makes obfuscating with the goal of sowing confusion second nature.Report

      • Chris Dierkes in reply to Roque Nuevo says:


        It’s not about political correctness….and that is just lazy petty attacks on your part in saying so.

        On the formal level of the ideologies, anarchy is about the abolition of the state and al-Qaeda is about erecting a neo-Caliphate. So yes on that formal level, they are rather complete opposites ideologically.

        In terms of, if you like, the “emotional” tenor of the ideologies, Kathie is correct that they share a romantic, nostalgic anti-modernism. Which is itself a form (imo) of counter-modernism (which is why it was helpful to cite Horkheimer and Adorno). Communism and fascism can also be considered counter-modernism, but were, as Kathie pointed out more futuristic oriented. I referred to this tendency as “utopian”. As an aside–to Jaybird–this is why I think it’s something more than holding the same position on a policy (e.g. eugenics) and therefore some correlation there is helpful, though I wouldn’t push it too far.

        But what I was describing in this piece was that anarchism did not ultimately represent an actual political threat (emphasis on political) to the powers of the day. Communism and fascism did. They took over states, had armies (in fact the Nazis had arguably the biggest scariest army on the planet at the time), nuclear weapons (in the case of Mao and Stalin).

        Anarchists did not and neither does al Qaeda. Both arose due to the problem of integration into modernity.

        Anarchism did represent a serious threat (and reality in cases) of violence. Of terrorism that ultimately has no real political endgame (because they were utopian). Anarchists committed de-stabilizing waves of assassinations, sowed terror, and the like. This is why I also compared AQ to Baader-Meinhof (though again formally their political ideologies are light years apart). BM did the same thing. People forgot how much fear they did cause at one point as did the anarchists at their height of terror.

        But eventually people become inured to the fear and get on with life, as tragic and unjust as continued violence against innocents is. My later follow-up post quoting Marc Lynch made this point.

        The implication I draw from the analogy is that 1. it will continue to be an on-going, violent, though ultimately (politically and socially) “low-level” threat and 2. that is both bad and good.

        It means it is going to be there for sometime to come, but also isn’t an ultimate existential threat for the West. At least as long as the terrorism is currently built only around killing people linked to an unachievable utopian political goal.


    • Jaybird in reply to Kathie Brown says:

      I addressed this when I said that to focus on this particular trait (e.g., ludditism) is similar to saying that Nazis and progressives are both down with eugenics.Report

  13. Roque Nuevo says:

    Well…maybe your ideas just happen to coincide with the conventional politically correct wisdom of the day and you’re not really trying to be politically correct. In fact, nobody would ever assume their own political correctness. It’s a label that is applied to others.

    Saying that your views coincide with politically correct conventional wisdom is not lazy or petty. It allows readers to categorize your views and understand them better. You can’t or won’t agree but that is not relevent.

    You say your point is,

    that anarchism did not ultimately represent an actual political threat (emphasis on political) to the powers of the day. […] Anarchists did not and neither does al Qaeda.

    Here’s where your reasoning fails [Wikipedia]:

    The historical fallacy occurs when “a set of considerations which hold good only because a completed process is read into the content of the process which conditions this completed result.” More simply stated, one commits the historical fallacy when one reads into a process the results that occur because of that process.

    You’re reading the failure of anarchism into the content of that process of failure. It was never predestined. It failed because a lot of powerful people and states wanted it to fail and, in the case of the Soviet Union, rounded them up and shot them in the back of the neck. The Paris Commune failed because the French military committed mass murder against them. The Zapatistas in Mexico failed because Carranza sent his generals after them and managed to trick Zapata into an ambush. The Spanish anarchists failed because the Communists assassinated them. Al Qaeda will fail because the US and its allies are attacking it.

    Just saying that al Qaeda resembles the old anarchists in one way or another—and not even in any important way, by your own admission—does not mean that they are destined to fail. This idea can only come about as a result of the historical fallacy.

    1. You never cited Horkheimer/Adorno; you just dropped their names. Why? You could have summarized their views on opposition to modernity and so on. This would have been citing and maybe then it would have made some sense, apart from just confusing people.

    2. All ideologies are utopian—or at least Nazism and Communism were. If not, then they’re hardly ideologies. Why single out the anarchists?

    3. Al Qaeda may be a “low-level threat” today, but it wasn’t eight years ago. The intervening time has been the scenario of relentless attacks against them, which is why they’re a low-level threat today. More historical fallacy on your part.

    4. The above implies that al Qaeda is not destined to remain a low-level threat. It will remain so because or our efforts to attack them, not because of anything inherent in their ideology, as you imply. More historical fallacy.

    5. ¿Captas?Report

    • North in reply to Roque Nuevo says:

      Gotta disagree Roque on item #3 at least. A-Q wasn’t much of a threat even 8 years ago. Yes they succeeded in a spectacular and dreadful act of terror. Jay mentioned in another more recent post how the attitudes and mores of hijacking at the time permitted this to happen. But even in the immediate aftermath of the attack what actual threat did they present? Had every airborne commercial jet in the country come crashing down that day would the country have survived? Indubitably. In fact I’m dubious even that they would have successfully impacted much of our functional government. There really are only so many Senators and Congressmen in one place at a time. Beyond this how many divisions did they possess? Heck, even if every towel wearing tribal in the Middle East had leaped to their feet galvanized by the assault against the great Satan how much trouble could they have actually caused? Quite a bit to the Israelis I imagine, the IDF would have probably had to abandon their rules of engagement and shoot all the berserking durka-durkas. Oil prices would have shot up through the roof of course. That would have been annoying. But overthrowing civilization? Not at all. Not a chance.

      I believe Chris’s point is one of intellectual alternatives. The anarchists didn’t present an alternative to the social functions of the day. Certainly not one that would move very many people. The extremist Islamics today are similarly bereft, hell their own people barely believe in it. They don’t have an alternative world view. They don’t have a program for how the world should be run. All they have is a demand to institute an ancient monarchy system. That’s not very persuasive to anyone. Be it for good or bad at the time it occurred the Communist position was seen as a serious challenge to capitalism. We know now that it doesn’t work but at the time it really seemed to have a shot. And millions of people believed it.Report

      • Chris Dierkes in reply to North says:

        exactly. thanks North.Report

      • Roque Nuevo in reply to North says:

        Thanks for disagreeing. But here’s the deal:

        1. Al Qaeda was not a low-level threat before 9/11. It was a very serious one. But this doesn’t mean that they had the power to exterminate the US, kill all the members of Congress, or bomb every airplane in the nation. It means that they were a strategic threat. This means that they had the ability to either hit high-value targets and/or cause so much death and destruction that it caused a shift in the geopolitical balance of power. 9/11 fits this definition but blowing up one airliner does not. 9/11 was much more than “spectacular and dreadful.” It caused us to shift our strategy and with that it caused a shift in geopolitics.

        Today, al Qaeda cannot achieve a strategic attack against us because our high-value targets are more highly protected and because they have taken a beating in the intervening years.

        If you look at the situation today and say that al Qaeda “wasn’t much of a threat eight years ago,” you’re another victim of the historical fallacy. Just remember back then to refute yourself. Everyone was just waiting for the other shoe to drop (remember the anthrax scare?).

        Another analogy to illustrate my point:

        Imagine that during the early ’30s I had been saying similar things about the Nazis, i.e., that they really don’t pose much of a threat. Also that during the war years I had been writing op-eds critical of the war effort that elaborated on the “no real threat” theme and that therefore I had been demanding to know where the “off ramp” was in the war because it was time to bring the troops home in the face of such a low-level threat that the Nazis posed.

        Then, after the Battle of the Bulge, I wrote that the Nazis were just a bunch of scum-bags with an army made up of kids and old people and who were in full retreat anyway. So then I could go around saying that I had been right all along: the Nazis never posed a serious threat to us.

        This is supposed to sound absurd on the face of it with no more explanation. It’s an extreme example of Chris’s and your historical fallacy. You look at the situation today, which is the result of eight years of warfare, and say that there was no real threat all along.

        2. It simply isn’t true that anarchism failed to move very many people. It moved the majority of people in Russia, for example, and the situation in other countries was similar. In its syndicalist variant, it moved a vast population in the US as well: the IWW.

        If you think they never posed intellectual alternatives, then you should go debate with Kropotkin. Of course they posed alternatives to the “social functions of the day” (whatever that means). Otherwise, why would nations worldwide have taken up the battle against them, including our own. Anarchism seems bereft of intellectual and social alternatives today because they lost but this certainly wasn’t true for the many millions who followed it in the nineteenth century. They were sure it would work. Moreover they were sure that it was the only thing that would work, which is why there were so many followers. This is just another example of the historical fallacy.

        So: if you and Chris want to keep your anarchist/al Qaeda analogy, fine. But then lets talk about the real anarchists, not the ones you and he imagine a hundred years after they were defeated. These anarchists certainly did pose strategic threats to nations throughout the world. They certainly did have a (mostly) coherent ideology. Al Qaeda’s ideology cannot be summarized by saying they “demand to institute an ancient monarchy system.” This may be how you see it, but it certainly is not how they see it. “How they see it” is what’s important because that’s what motivates their struggle.Report

        • North in reply to Roque Nuevo says:

          Well I try to avoid arguing too heavily on subject where my experience is limited so I will defer to your own knowledge on the historic anarchists. I remain dubious that they would be considered, as an ideology, comparable to say communism.
          To the more present issue of islamists I remain similarly skeptical. The examples you present, the impacts you cite them of having share in common an important factor; all of them are dependant on how we reacted. We had options in our reactions and we chose for various reactions to respond to their attacks in a specific way. The control has always been in our hands. We chose to respond to their assault the way we did. When faced with more concrete ideologies we don’t have that level of control. When Hitler flew his bombers over London, when he shatters the Marginot line, when the communists gathered up enough nuclear material to incinerate the country a hundred times over our options were not in our control. The islamists are pikers. They are not pikers now because we’ve beaten them down to it. They were always pikers and losers. We’re having such trouble with them precisely because they are so low, so marginal. They have virtually nothing to loose. They’re rats scuttling around in the detritus of failed states. Like the anarchists as a phenomena before them they never did present a global challenge. There was no danger of them taking control of a country. Even poor benighted Afghanistan wasn’t run by the Quedas’; it was run by an outfit that touted its non-corrupt non-warlord status. This isn’t to say they can’t hurt people or cause damage. They can, they have, they may again. So could Timothy Mcveigh. So could the Unabomber. But were either of them in danger of knocking down the established order? No. And neither are the Quedas.

          The only reason they’re important, the only reason they matter, is the importance we ascribe to them. They blew up some planes some towers and some people. An ideology desperate for a replacement for the Soviets latched on to them and inflated them into a monster of shadows and smoke. The only power they have in the big scheme of things is the power we have given them.Report

  14. Chris Dierkes says:


    I’d like to know Chris’s answer as well. (Thank you for yours, of course.) My answer is that the fight against anarchists was very, how do we say, 19th Century in philosophy. The fight against al Qaeda is oh-so-much-more progressive. But I wonder if Chris has a significantly different take. I’d follow up with a question of “is our way better?” if he thinks that there are, in fact, non-trivial differences.

    Anarchism ended (basically) when the European aristocratic system that it was fighting died in WWI. Russia went communism, the Austro-Hungarian Empire died, The US went into an isolationist period, and the German empire was kaput. Plus suppression from other groups.

    There was still counter-modern movements–in fact at the death of anarchism, communism and fascism were really getting going.

    So in general, what I’ve been saying is that the “War on Terror” is really a battle (war?, conflict? process?) within the Islamic world itself as it comes to grip with modernity. Europe’s experience of that process led to two horrific wars, then the Cold War. America’s involved slavery, the extermination of Indians, Jim Crow, the blood-soaked fields of the Civil War (er War Between States), and the Civil Rights movement.

    So we should not be surprised that this process of modernization (well described by Weber) is causing such upheaval in the Islamic world. Including their own version of anarchists. But on the flip side, there isn’t any equivalent to the political power of the Communists or Fascists in this analogy. We might legitimately call Iran a contemporary fascist state–given how they treat their citizenry–but that doesn’t make them Nazi Germany. At least not in the sense that they are inches away from conquering Europe. Nor do they have any alternate form of economics to globalized capitalism.

    It’s not therefore WWIV for the Americans. It’s not existential for us. It’s a war going on within that world that can move over into ours. Or if we invade & occupy and/or make deals with various local governments, use counterterrorism (i.e. drone attacks), and/or special ops within an Islamic-majority country.

    Whereas (contra Pat Buchanan), I do think WWII, though originally a European Civil War (if you like) was an existential threat to America.

    So I think the AQ anarchism will end (or at least continue to erode) when that process runs its course in the Islamic world. We are already seeing the beginning maturation of that process (I believe) in places like Kurdistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia. In other places, modernity is not really becoming embedded but rather just breaking down whatever fragile tethers remained of the traditional world, leading to more (er) anarchy, power vacuums, and failed states. Somalia, Yemen, Pak-Afgh border region, etc.

    What is different, in a globalized world, is that as long as there are any such states, AQ can (like cockroaches) move into the “low-rent” districts of the world. Into the shanty motels. So again they will always have an outlet–or at least for any foreseeable future–but the more they keep having to move to Yemen and Somalia and the like, the less able they will be to launch major attacks.

    At least at the current level of human technology.

    My more nightmarish scenario isn’t AQ per se, but major advances in biotechnology, nanotech, or robotics that could be used for terrorism (by God only knows whom). But that for another day.

    The general trend is towards increasing lethality of attacks by smaller numbers. The current manner in which AQ uses its terrorism is killing people. They have no strategic aim. That doesn’t threaten the state in my opinion. If they changed targets and changed strategy then the terrorism could (I presume) be much more de-stabilizing politically. I don’t see any evidence they will, which is good.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

      There are two extremes on the terrorism thing, of course.

      1) The terrorists believe that their attack will inspire revolution and, with the help of Allah, the wicked infidels will fall and then the dregs will be absorbed into the Muslim faith, praise Mohammed (PBUH).

      2) The terrorists don’t believe any of that Allah jive and just want the US to get bogged down in global counter-insurgency, stretch themselves out, spend a lot of money that they don’t have, and basically do what most empires eventually do.

      (Third take, the head terrorists are twos and are cynically manipulating the ones into blowing off their own junk)

      If the terrorists are primarily ones, the main thing that needs to take hold is a change in world view. An “enlightenment”, for lack of a better word, would kick off all sorts of wonderful changes. Perhaps it needs to be something like a, oh, “reformation” within Islam, perhaps it needs to be something more like the Lisbon earthquake.

      In any case, fighting the war the way we are isn’t doing much of anything to appreciably bring this reformation/enlightenment around. There are many things that we could do to dry up the ones… the ones that actually involve fighting require a ferocity that would have us compared to Lisbon and we’re probably not likely to do that… luckily, that’s not the only (nor the best) way to fight against ideology. We’d need to convert, rather than overwhelm.

      The twos are much harder nuts to crack. They are, in fact, nihilists (albeit nihilists with a lot of extra energy). Getting them to think differently isn’t an option. Killing them is pretty much the only option. The things that they do believe aren’t particularly dissuadable.

      If option three is the option that is going on, and I think it might be… well, we’re stuck trying to kill the twos in charge without creating a whole lot of extra ones for the remaining twos to inspire to blow off their own junk. (Which, oddly enough, is what we are almost in spitting distance of doing.)Report

    • 1.

      Anarchism ended (basically) when the European aristocratic system that it was fighting died in WWI. Russia went communism, the Austro-Hungarian Empire died, The US went into an isolationist period, and the German empire was kaput. Plus suppression from other groups.

      How about the kitchen sink? Wasn’t that a factor, too?

      Your homework is to rewrite the above by thinking up some cause/effect dialectic. If you just name-drop a bunch of quasi-historical events, as in the above, I’ll fail you.

      2. Your big mistake is thinking that anarchism ever died. In fact, it never did because I saw Joe Hill last night, live as you and me. But Joe, I said, you’re long dead. I never died said he.

      3. Historical fallacy (plus some extra passive voice):

      the more they keep having to move to Yemen and Somalia and the like, the less able they will be to launch major attacks.

      Although “they” is definitely a human being, in contrast to most of your post, which is mired in the passive voice, you’re leaving out the other half of the equation. By saying that “they” have to move, you imply that something or someone, i.e. some other “they,” is making them “have to.”

      The next part of your homework assignment is to say: Who or what are this second “they?” Why does the first “they” keep having to move?

      The conclusion of your homework assignment will be the implications of the above for the topic of this thread: the urgency, or not, of the threat al Qaeda poses.

      4. In fact, most people are “not surprised” at the Islamic/Arabic reaction to modernity. In my own case I was being not surprised before you were even born. And of course, people have been not surprised for centuries. It’s a good thing that you are now not surprised about this. What does this have to do with the price of beans in China or the price of coffee in Sri Lanka? We’re at war with radical Islam because they attacked us, after emitting their version of a declaration of war, not because of some vague struggle with modernity.

      5. So the threat of al Qaeda isn’t existential (although it has been for those who died)? So what? It still was a strategic threat which we have succeeded in neutralizing, although they can still cause us grievous harm.Report

  15. anarchist says:

    Baader-Meinhof and The Red Brigades were not anarchist. And there’s a difference between blowing up WTC (possibly by islamists) and assassinating a president (by anarchists).

    “Even if those who hold power, and therefore the manipulators of History and Culture try to change its meaning, the word ‘terrorism’ means ‘use of indiscriminate violence with the aim of conquering, consolidating and defending political power’. Anarchists, on the contrary, even when they have decided to use violence, have never used it in an indiscriminate way. Then it is absolutely ridiculous to think that anarchists want to conquer power, given that their aim is to destroy it! After all, the bombs in the squares and on the trains, the massacre of entire populations and the ‘exportation of democracy’ are certainly not anarchist practises.” – Salvatore Signore (Lecce, 2007)Report

    • Jaybird in reply to anarchist says:

      “possibly by islamists”

      This is the thing that bugs me. There is soooo much certainty over something that happened 100 years ago (the anarchist status of Baader-Meinhof and The Red Brigades) and so much (relative) uncertainty of something that happened a decade ago.

      You cut off your own feet in the first paragraph.Report