Capitalism, Anarchy & War


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Evan says:

    This is quibbling with a broader point, but regarding park privatization in Arizona I highly recommend reading Coyote’s thoughts on the matter. Not only is he a thoughtful, Arizonan libertarian, but park privatization happens to be his day job.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    There are only two kinds of wars: Defensive wars and wars of Plunder.

    No, I want to say that there is a third.

    Wars of spreading ideology. Bringing Christ to the Heathen, if you will.

    Iraq isn’t exactly a war of plunder (what are we plundering?), but it certainly isn’t a defensive war either…

    What it is, is a war to bring Christ to the Heathen.

    Bush even said as much.

    “We hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East, where freedom is rare. Yet it is mistaken and condescending to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government.

    I believe that God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again. As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends.

    So America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror and expect a higher standard from our friend. I will send you a proposal to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy and to focus its new work on the development of free elections and free markets, free press and free labor unions in the Middle East. ”

    That’s from his 2004 State of the Union.

    There’s a third type of war. It’s worse than the other two.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

      @Jaybird, It seems to me that there have been a lot of tit for tat wars in history too. I don’t know- maybe they were wars of plunder, but it seems like there have been a number in which the victors got very little in return, aside from avenging their wronged ancestors.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

        @Rufus F., wars of vengeance? Yeah, I reckon Honor wars probably fall in a different category too…

        The Hatfields/McCoys (have you ever dug into this one? It’s amazing) don’t really fit the whole Defensive/Plunder template… and it’s not about bringing Christ to the Heathen either.

        Yeah, that fits.

        (Heck, the Civil War doesn’t fit the neat paradigm either… though, I reckon, it does fit the definitions of bringing Christ to the Heathen.)Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird says:

          @Jaybird, Wouldn’t your third war type simply be a subset of Wars of Plunder only with the plunder being souls/people?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North says:

            @North, the major difference is that someone fairly greedy could theoretically say “okay, I’ve plundered this country enough” and move on. Maybe he feels sated. Maybe he feels guilty. Maybe he feels like he could make more plunder elsewhere.

            When it comes to souls?

            A good missionary’s work is never, ever, ever done.Report

    • Avatar dexter45 in reply to Jaybird says:

      @Jaybird, What we are plundering in Iraq is the American people. Check out how much money was, and is being made by the corps in Iraq. Who is paying for the consulate, the bases, and who is getting the money to feed the troups?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dexter45 says:

        @dexter45, this strikes me as off.

        As wicked and venial as Bush/Cheney are, I don’t really see a deep “let’s plunder the Americans!” idea behind Iraq. That’s incidental.

        It’s like saying that Osama deliberately set out to make sure that Americans had to take their shoes off at airports.Report

        • Avatar dexter45 in reply to Jaybird says:

          @Jaybird, I think that President Bush is a clueless twit that might have thought he was doing God’s work, but I really believe that Cheney is a loathsome creature that would do anything to make a buck. Also, and unfortunately, I think the American government is a wholey owned subsidiary of the corps. I wish I did not feel this way, but I do. Do a little research on how much Haliburton has made off the wars.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dexter45 says:

            @dexter45, oh, I’m sure they have. No doubt about it.

            I’m sure that Osama is also delighted that the US created the TSA which is committing untold violations of the Constitution hourly.

            But that strikes me as incidental.Report

    • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to Jaybird says:

      @Jaybird, what really disgusted me about that State of the Union address was how Bush (and most of the other presidents of our time) love to give photo ops to those Middle Eastern tyrants. They were set up by the West, and they are sustained by our modern oil barons and the politicians who support them. The reason for Bush’s invasion of Iraq was exactly analogous to a mob boss giving an unruly underling some cement shoes. In that sense, it was taking back territory, and so a war of plunder.

      If you look back, all the wars supposedly fought for religious ideals were wars of plunder. Religion is just how you get your soldiers excited about going to die for their country.Report

  3. Avatar Larry Signor says:

    A locust fart could knock me over, right now. Now if we could just get you hooked up with some John Prine ( or Steve Earle (…I still remember when you remarked to someone that I might have different political viewpoints than yours. We are closing the gap.Report

  4. Avatar silentbeep says:

    “I’m not an anarchist, but I’m quite sympathetic to anarchism as an ideal. If we could strip away all the stupid government regulations and subsidies and protectionism from the market – those things which allow capitalists and corporations to so utterly dominate commerce and rob people of their capacity to say, run a bakery out of their house instead of forcing them to rent commercial space and invest in expensive equipment, we would have a much freer, much less corporatized world.”

    Yes. Like in Somalia.

    This makes no sense to me. Anarchy as an ideal, isn’t even an ideal. It depends on the belief that people in our “natural state” would be just happy without government. It’s a fixation on a fantasy that never even came close to existing, even in pre-agrarian societies. I’m sure people felt oppressed by their local shaman too back in the day (and currently now! some cultures still run like this). People are going to organize, whether it’s in something as small as a tribal council – this is till government, albeit very small. I just don’t get this.

    I can fantasize about having a unicorn – this doesn’t mean that fantasy is useful to me in anyway. Some ideals are great to hold up as an impetus for motivation. Some ideals are just fantasies – I think anarchy is like this.Report

  5. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    … these are lies…

    Well, yes. But one of the most important ways of exposing a lie is to show how the consequences just don’t follow. What’s IOZ got against modus tollens?

    Seriously I guess I really don’t see his point about analytic frameworks, but the rest holds up just fine by me.Report

  6. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    When you talk about “privatization,” are you also talking about public-private partnerships? These seem like a real win-win in my view. Not to mention, probably the only sensible way local governments will be able to pay for infrastructure projects in the foreseeable future.Report

  7. Avatar M. says:

    You guys are idiots, seriously.Report

  8. Avatar Bob says:

    According to ED’s theory than the US has only had one defensive war in it’s history (WWII).

    Neither the Civil War or the Revolution were defensive wars. The south didn’t invade the north. The war was a defense of the union and to increase freedoms of individuals. But you could argue that there were unjust parts (did states have a right to secede, Lincoln’s removing Habeas corpus, etc).

    Revolution had only 1/3 that wanted independence (1/3 Loyalists, 1/3 indifferent), we decided to declare independence and thereby had to attack. You could call a defense of liberty or freedom or whatever but it wasn’t defense.

    Also as others have noted, what are we plundering in Iraq and Afghanistan? We don’t have exclusive oil rights in Iraq, there isn’t anything of value in Afghanistan, etc.

    Also what plundering was done in Vietnam and Korea exactly? They were geopolitical food fights. Unjust but not plundering.

    There are other reasons for war that some simple kindergarten definition. War and military operations are very complex and involve many layers. Some could be called just, while others are unjust and some may be both.Report

  9. Avatar Kevin Carson says:

    Thanks a lot for the mention. Re what passes for “privatization” in the AEI/Adam Smith Institute agenda, I don’t think it qualifies as privatization at all. The politically connected firms that buy out the government operations or get the contract may be nominally “private,” true enough. But they are part of the coalition of class forces that control the state, and their operations are taxpayer-funded in exactly the same way as a nominally “public” entity. IMO this makes them part of the government, regardless of their nominal status as “businesses,” just as the great landlords were components of the state under the Old Regime.

    I agree that nominal “privatization” is worse than the straightforward performance of functions by avowed state entities. All “privatization” does is add another layer of parasites to the state apparatus, with profits and corporate-scale CEO salaries funded at taxpayer expense.Report

  10. Avatar angullimala says:

    I say we bring back privatized tax collectors. Let private companies pay the gov’t for the right to collect the taxes. It’s a tried and true model. What could go wrong?


  11. Avatar Andy Smith says:

    The war in Iraq was rationalized by Bush et al. as clearly a war of defense. Many might not buy that it really was, but the non-existent WMD was what we were supposed to be defending ourselves against. But basically stated in so many words that invasion could be considered defense if one had reason to believe the country to be invaded was likely to take offensive action against the U.S.

    Likewise, the war in Afghanistan is being sold as a defensive war. Certainly all the hostilities in the mid-East are sold as defensive wars. As far as I can see, most wars today are rationalized as defensive. Again, not saying that there aren’t other motives, but this is the way the perpetrators are justifying their actions.Report

    • Avatar Bob in reply to Andy Smith says:

      @Andy Smith,
      And let’s say that Iraq actually had WMD’s like many people thought they did. What if we didn’t have evidence that they would use it on the US. Should we invade?

      Or what about Iran, what if we do find concrete WMD evidence and also plans for the to attack Israel. Is that defense? What if we can’t find plans?

      ED’s definition of war is just far to simplistic.Report

      • Avatar Andy Smith in reply to Bob says:


        I tend to agree that defense and plunder is too simplistic, still it does cover a lot of ground. As I noted, the invasion of Iraq was justified as a war of defense–the nation-building rationale was only raised near the end of the invasion, when it had become clear that there were no WMD. But one could also describe it as a war of plunder. We were trying to secure better access to oil in that region.

        In fact, nations, like organisms, must balance two basic drives: growth and self-maintenance. Wars of plunder are motivated by the need to grow; wars of defense are motivated by the need to preserve/consolidate what they already have.Report

  12. Avatar JosephFM says:

    Yeah, remember a few weeks ago when I said that we’ve pretty much come to the same place in our thinking from opposite directions?

    This. This is exactly what I meant. Actually, I’ve pretty much agreed with what you’re saying here for as long as I’ve been politically aware, to one degree or another. What’s changed is that I don’t really understand anymore the people who look at this situation and say that what we need is to use the tools of law and government and democracy to turn back this stuff, or who claim that all that is needed to fix it is to wake the people up to what is happening. The former is just more of the same, and as for that the latter – well it’s clear that people are happy to be crass and ignorant and hateful.Report

  13. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Thanks everyone for the really good discussion. Lots to think about here.Report

  14. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    My two cents, for what they’re worth, is that as far as I can see the original Smith post is mostly right and sensible, and most everything that has flowed from it this way is pretty much dogmatic, ideological abstraction. No offense to anyone intended.Report

  15. Avatar Katherine says:

    If we could strip away all the stupid government regulations and subsidies and protectionism from the market – those things which allow capitalists and corporations to so utterly dominate commerce and rob people of their capacity to say, run a bakery out of their house instead of forcing them to rent commercial space and invest in expensive equipment, we would have a much freer, much less corporatized world.

    I’m skeptical. Regulation is why our cities have breathable air now, because there’s a limit to how many pollutants corporations can pour into them. It’s expensive to limit those pollutants – corporations aren’t going to do it out of the goodness of their hearts. Regulations are why we have drinkable water, for the same reason, and why we have food that (the vast majority of the time) won’t make us sick. They – along with government action in the areas of water treatment, public sanitation, and vaccination – are a major part of the difference between the urban mortality rate in the 1870s and the urban mortality rate in the developed world now. Regulation of wages and working conditions are why a lot fewer people in the developed world die from factory work than did in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, and why most people can make enough money to feed themselves (and, granted, also part of the reason why there’s higher unemployment and factory jobs move overseas to places lacking such regulation). Regulation is why we’re not dying from corporations deciding to dump toxic waste near our houses, like they do in countries whose governments aren’t powerful or assertive enough to stop them.

    Regulation is the difference between the world of the Gilded Age – or the Third World now – and the developed world today – I prefer the latter, and I’m not entirely convinced that corporations as a group are stronger today than they were then.

    When people can point out specific regulations that are more damaging than they are useful, I’m fine with getting rid of them. But wholesale demonization of regulations ignores the fact that they’re responsible for a lot of quality-of-life issues that we take for granted now.Report