Charles Davis on Juan Cole

Charles Davis has a good post up defending anarchy from the pen of fierce Libya-War supporter, Juan Cole:

Nominally about the recent GOP presidential debate, Cole’s attack on anarchy — from "anarcho-syndicalists like [Noam] Chomsky" to the aforementioned Paul — is perhaps a sign that liberals like him are fearful the anti-state position is gaining traction, especially given the conspicuous lack of change since liberal savior Barack Obama moved to the White House. Indeed, that would explain why, instead of addressing the world we live in now, where a Nobel laureate is waging war in at least half a dozen countries with the help of an army of private war-profiteering corporations and their mercenaries, Cole focuses our attention on a scary future where, without the state, "warmongering corporations [could] pursue war all on their own."

"The East India Companies of Britain and the Netherlands behaved that way," Cole writes. "[And] India was not conquered by the British government, but by the East India Company. Likewise what is now Indonesia was a project of the Dutch East India Company."

However, while intended as a critique of anarchism, Cole’s examples only bolster the critique of the state. The East India Companies, after all, were chartered by the British government, granted trade monopolies by the British government, and had their claim to properties, most of which were looted from poor foreigners, protected by the British government. And while I won’t claim to speak for Ron Paul, most anarchists — and it shows Cole’s muddled thinking that he lumps "limited government" advocates like Paul in with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon & Co. — don’t just oppose "the state," they oppose the use of violence and coercion. It just so happens that states with their claims to a "legitimate monopoly on the use of violence" tend to be the greatest purveyors of it.

If in some future anarchotopia a private corporation — let’s not get into the fact that corporations are created by the state — should wage war, then they would be acting like states and would be opposed just as vigorously. Indeed, to an anarchist the distinction between corporation and state is the same as a Christian’s distinction between God and Jesus: though taking different forms, they’re one and the same, the difference academic.

Of course, most corporations are not violent, whereas almost every iteration of government includes some sort of force. Then again, human nature being what it is, I have a hard time fully buying into anarchism. I still can’t quite figure out what would be done with violent criminals or the mentally ill who are a danger to themselves or others. Government rises up out of a need to be able to deal with problems such as these. It often just outgrows these initial, far more limited, uses. Absent the state, anarchists might very well oppose violence on the part of non-state entities. But what’s to be done when it’s not institutional violence, but simply a violent person? Some anarcho-capitalists advocate for a system of courts and nothing more. I simply can’t square how this all plays out. Perhaps I need to read more Proudhon.

Erik Kain

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