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Anarchism, Christianity, and the Prophetic Imagination 10

Written by Jason Barr : November 30, 2007

In the past few installments I’ve initiated a brief discussion of some basic principles of anarchism. Now I will turn to a discussion of some implications of these principles regarding the relationship between anarchists and the modern nation-state.

I first have to say that, which it is very possible to look back through history and see anarchistic ideals lived out in various contexts, anarchism as a political philosophy proper (or, depending on how you look at it, improper) has developed in a very modern context and continues to develop in the late/post-modern world in different ways. It’s not necessarily that it’s simply reactionary to modern developments, but rather one has to understand that the development of the modern nation-state and capitalism in the 17th-18th centuries forms a necessary backdrop to anarchism from the 19th century to the present. I’m not going to make a thorough recap of the history here, but I will suffice it to say that there is a strong argument historically that can be made to present the nation-state and capitalism as the modern heir to the structures of monarchy, nobility, and feudalism from the Medieval period - not necessarily in all respects, but if one follows the dominant strands of political thinking, particularly in the Anglo-American world, Hobbes, Locke, and the American Federalists (as well as Jefferson to a large extent) make definite arguments for an elite class in society to regulate and govern the affairs of the society as a whole. In fact, it is very arguable that the United States Constitution is a seminal development in this process.

From Hobbes’ idea of the tyrant who protects the masses from themselves to Locke’s concept of a social contract between property owners, for the mutual protection of their own interests, to the developments in America and modern political theorists’ conception of the nation-state as an entity that exists to control the use of violence, the history modern political development can very easily be read as of the development of techniques to control the course of society in order to further the interests of select classes of people (and with that I invite you to re-read my Ecclesiastes and Empire post). Capitalism likewise has developed under the shadow of the nation-state, generally dependent upon the state or at least intertwined with it, as has always been the alliance between money and political power. Just ask people in Hawaii in the 1890s, Guatemala and Iran in the 1950s, Iraq from 1991 to the present, and Burma in the 2000s about the relationship between economic “prosperity” and political oppression (and these are far from being the only relevant cases). Or for a view from history, read General Smedley Butler’s classic War Is a Racket. An excerpt:

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.

I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

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