Capitalism, Anarchy & War Part II

A few things to follow up on my last post with, briefly.

First, I agree with the larger critique of IOZ’s post that in fact the “system” has no intent – no grand conspiracy of the rich and powerful is driving our economy into shambles, while these conspirators escape off into the sunset with all our hard-earned cash. Yes, some people are making out like bandits, and often as not these are the very rich with the explicit aid of the politically powerful – but this is not the point, but rather the result of this sort of relationship. It is not a concerted effort so much as the natural extension of powerful forces working together with whatever intentions, some good some bad.

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Regarding the notion that Somalia is representative of a stateless society, which silentbeep suggested in the comments, I’d like to outsource my response to Simon K, who writes:

There’s a difference between organisation and authority (or hierarchy or coercion, depending on the anarchist). You can have the former without the latter.
Somalia is not an example of a stateless society. Its an example of several competing proto-states in the same geographical territory.

For more on stateless societies, please do go read James C. Scott at Cato Unbound. The convergence of language and politics, of naming conventions, and the simplification of the vernacular at the hands of large bureaucratic organizations is all fascinating.

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There has also been some grumbling about my supposedly overly-simplistic definition of war. I wrote:

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

I stand by this. Jaybird pointed out that there are also wars of evangelism. I would say that these are in fact wars of material plunder masquerading as wars of spiritual plunder, but that even if they were truly wars only over souls, they would still be wars of plunder. The Crusades, for instance, were sold as spiritual wars but were very much about plundering the middle east, and on one occasion, plundering the riches of Eastern Christians in Constantinople.

The more recent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were billed as both spiritual wars and wars of defense, but they were billed inaccurately. These were wars of plunder as well if not for the actual plundering of resources and wealth of those countries, then the direct plundering of American tax dollars to feed the ever-hungry military-industrial complex. Who has profited from these wars? Corporations like Halliburton; countless defense contractors; and so on and so forth. I would also argue that these were strategic moves in a longer war over oil rights. They were also moves against the civil liberties of American citizens. The entire war on terror is a power grab by the state. There is plunder of one form or another everywhere I look when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror writ large. (Or the war on drugs, for that matter…)

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And I would also like to reprint Kevin Carson’s comment on privatization which I whole-heartedly endorse:

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.

Jason followed up with:

Agreed, also in full.  A public-private contract, in which a nominally private entity gets the exclusive privilege of running a certain kind of business, is not a privatization at all.
The classical liberals had a word for this setup, and the word was not privatization, but monopoly.  How our language has been perverted.

Indeed.

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14 thoughts on “Capitalism, Anarchy & War Part II

  1. My mention of Somalia, was an example of a place devoid of regulation by the nation-state – not necessarily a place devoid of some sort of authority. My objection was due to anarchy as being seen as a some sort of useful metric or aspirational idea because it is so incredibly idealistic, as to be meaningless, a fantasy.

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  2. In your last paragraph you dive completely headfirst against the point IOZ made. The point of the war on terror was not a power grab but as defense against a group which had attacked us. The power grab is what happened as a consequence due to the power of bureaucracy and actually honest beliefs of people on how to fight bad guys and plain ol fear. You are assuming the consequence was actually purpose not a side effect.

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  3. Defensive wars or wars of plunder? Come on – do you really subscribe to such a simplistic notion? The Crusades were partly inspired by genuine religious fervor – contemporary accounts unanimously agree on this point. Unless you consider promises of eternal salvation “plunder,” your own example doesn’t hold up.

    Moreover, Afghanistan clearly started as a defensive response to 9/11. We can argue over the merits of our current strategy, but I’m hard pressed to identify the “plunder motive” behind the 2001 invasion. Or are we now seriously debating the analytical merits of “Fahrenheit 9/11?”

    This stuff on wars of plunder smacks of left-wing conspiracism. Wars are started by ideology, religion, nationalism, strategic miscalculations, and a host of other factors. To suggest otherwise is to deny history.

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    • @Will, Nonsense, Will. The Crusades were sold by stoking up religious fervor, but do you really think they were anything more than wars of plunder? Hell, one ended up sacking Constantinople, hardly a bastion of Islam at the time. Furthermore, even if Afghanistan was a defensive war initially, what is it now? How can we possibly believe that the Iraq invasion was anything of the sort?

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      • @E.D. Kain, Dude, name me one mainstream historian who identifies “plunder” as the sole cause of the Crusades. Some Crusaders were avaricious bastards or penurious second and third sons of the nobility out to make a buck, but other prominent Crusaders GAVE UP estates in Europe to equip their retainers and join the pilgrimage. Outfitting a medieval army for a long journey was expensive. Godfrey of Bouillon – the first King of Jerusalem – actually sold off his estates to pay for the trip. Greed undoubtedly played a role in the Crusades, but it doesn’t come close to explaining the whole story.

        As for Afghanistan, do you really think Obama has decided to stay so we can plunder the country? Do you really think principled advocates of our military presence were bought off by the military-industrial complex? Hell, Daniel freaking Larison thinks we should stick it out. It’s not as if there aren’t sound strategic reasons to keep our troops in Afghanistan.

        And can’t we just say that Iraq was a mistake driven by strategic miscalculations and a dumb ideology and leave it at that? Attributing everything to “plunder” makes you sound like a high school Marxist.

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  4. @Will, I’m trying to get my head around Erik’s quantum leap in his position on Afghanistan as well. As far as I can recall, in discussions here just last year he expressed support for the idea that we couldn’t disengage precipitously and that the effort was in some sense legitimate, while also cautioning about what we ought to think we are capable of achieving there. Obviously, the strength of this observation relies entirely on that recollection being accurate, but if it is, I’m not sure we’re left with much alternative but to conclude that E.D. Kain in certain circumstances supports the undertaking of wars of plunder, as long as they meet some test of limited military ends (as opposed to strategic ends, which would of course be plunder), and that he reserves the right to revisit with revisionist flourish his position on the same such wars a year later. I’ll accept for the sake of argument that the war in Afghanistan has morphed from one of defense to one of plunder sometime since 2001, and I’m perfectly willing to engage a debate about whether it was begun (and it did indeed have a discreet beginning — and only one, at least for the U.S.; it was in 2001; and it was not at any time ended and restarted since, though its nature certainly can have changed.) a war of plunder or defense. I will not, however, consider an argument that the same transmogrification of nature/rationale has occurred since this time last year. So I’m left with not much alternative that I can see (again, if my memory serves about the positions he’s taken) but to conclude as I describe above regarding E.D.’s attitude toward wars of plunder undertaken by his country. Perhaps E.D. would like to say where I’m confused.

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  5. Wait:

    “… the ‘system’ has no intent – no grand conspiracy of the rich and powerful…”

    Then:

    “These were wars of plunder… the direct plundering of American tax dollars to feed the ever-hungry military-industrial complex. Who has profited from these wars? Corporations like Halliburton; countless defense contractors; and so on and so forth.”

    Seems to me that “directplundering” requires some kind of intent.

    Which is it?

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