However plain it may seem, it’s worth remembering the fact that opposing — every now and then — someone or something that actually is worth opposing is no test for what we ought to support. While it’s clear that the indiscriminate murder advocated by people like Osama bin Laden is an affront to morality, there’s nothing about that fact that contradicts the causal link between United States imperialism and terrorism.
In the old banality, “two wrongs don’t make a right,” and none of this should be taken as an apology for terrorism. But there can be no doubt about the cause-and-effect relationship at issue, about the fact that consistent opposition to terrorism necessarily entails opposition to United States military exploits. The elimination of bin Laden is as good an occasion as any other to draw attention to the worldwide campaign of terrorism being carried out every day by the United States.
If bin Laden was an enemy of humanity and civil society, an agent of senseless death in the world, then the United States government is an enemy many orders of magnitude more dangerous. With its military bases scattered across the globe and its wars victimizing thousands of innocents each day, the attacks of terrorists are retaliations against the United States.
The question of whether such attacks are morally justifiably has nothing at all to do with recognition of the relationship between American Empire and the blowback it provokes. Since we object to the initiation of violence against non-aggressors, market anarchists are of course opposed to terrorism, to the arbitrary disregard of human life. What that means, though, is that we likewise stand against the foremost agency of terrorism in the world, the state — and particularly the hegemonic power of the empire that has spread across the world.
Osama bin Laden was a menacing source of dread in the world, capable of rallying the frustrated and tractable around a terrible cause, but his capacity to deal death was limited as compared to that of the state. The “trustworthy” opinions of the mainstream conversation in politics and international affairs universally recognized bin Laden as an absolute moral evil. As it would be in the case of any serial murderer, voices in support of bin Laden and his inhuman crusade were few and far between, confined to what most consider the fringe, outside “respectable discourse.”
The state, on the other hand, enjoys a sempiternal assumption of legitimacy, one that endures regardless of its crimes or their magnitude, that flies in the face of the moral judgment we apply to “the terrorists.” I have heard it said — and I think it essentially true — that the crucial difference between what is called “war” and what is called “terrorism” is the sophistication of the weapons employed.
The United States murders on a scale that is impossible for an Osama bin Laden, but, because its actions bear the imprimatur of the state, we immunize it from our moral opprobrium. Wrong as it may be, the blowback of retaliatory gestures will continue until the imperialism of the American corporate state comes to an end. Osama bin Laden’s defeat has done nothing to diminish the staggering destructive capabilities of the single greatest enemy of humanity on earth, the United States armed forces; indeed, the propaganda potential of his death may serve to fortify the psychological bedrock on which the Empire is built, but it doesn’t have to.
Market anarchism poses an alternative to the warlike aggression of the state in all areas of life, asking simply that relationships between people be noncompulsory and based on a mutual respect for individual autonomy. Trade where there was misappropriation, and cooperation where there duress — these are the supposedly “radical” modifications that market anarchists would see in society.
The state is still out there, and it is decidedly not hiding. We don’t need to hunt it down; we have merely to reject it and replace it with the superior means of voluntary society.