As a liberal supporter of invading Iraq who apparently believed the Bush administration’s rhetoric about freedom and democracy, and felt that bombs and military occupations would be the best means of promoting it, Juan Cole sure has a lot of nerve attacking anarchism as philosophy that depends “on a naive reading of social interest.” And while I have my own criticisms of right-wing libertarianism, I can’t help but note the incongruity of attacking folks like Ron Paul on the basis that their beliefs will lead to privatized, corporate warfare when the wars Cole has supported and continues to support depend on legions of private guns-for-hire and defense contractors like Halliburton and KBR.
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.
While Cole’s fixated on a future of corporate war, he seems unaware that a world of Big Bad Corporations waging war on the world exists right now and that, rather than checking this aggression, the state is aiding and abetting it. Liberals can rail against Blackwater/Xe all they want, but in the end its Hillary Clinton’s State Department that’s giving them millions in tax dollars.
Speaking of oblivious, Cole writes:
Right anarchists seem not to be able to perceive that without government, corporations would reduce us all to living in company towns on bad wages and would constantly be purveying to us bad banking, tainted food, dangerous drugs, etc.
It’s almost as if he’s unaware we already live in a world where Goldman Sachs exists and where wages have been more or less stagnant since the 1970s. Instead of scaring his readers away from an anarchist world, he likely just left them wondering what the difference would be.