The Ethos of Empire

According to USA Today, “A gunman killed two American military advisers with shots to the back of the head Saturday [February 25] inside a heavily guarded ministry building.” The story notes that the Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the killings and cited them as “retaliation for the Quran burnings” at an American military base.

Responding to the attack, General John Allen, commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, “recalled all international military personnel from the [country’s] ministries.”

It’s difficult to overstate the centrality of NATO within the broader framework of U.S.-led, western imperialism, itself a social, political and — importantly — economic phenomenon. The globalization of the 21st century economy couldn’t exist, at least not in anything like its current shape, absent a menagerie of interdependent enabling institutions like NATO and the World Bank.

As Peter McLaren and Ramin Farahmandpur argue, NATO and kindred global political bodies have, in the decades since World War II, allowed multinational corporations to “exercise worldwide political influence within the governmental offices of nation-states through lobbying, campaign donations, and unholy business partnerships.”

Discussing the features of the United States’ reorganization of the world system, the authors outline the program of specific actions undertaken to impose the new post-war paradigm. One among these has been the wholesale transfer of precious natural resources and land to nominally “private” big business owners.

This naturally requires the exercise of military dominance in order to induce acceptance of and compliance with global monopoly. In the absence of such hegemonic power, “third world” people who in fact rightfully own such land and resources might get uppity, convoked around some subversive revolutionary spirit. NATO, not much more in substance than the military vehicle of American Empire, has been in constant attendance at civil wars, revolutions and uprisings to ensure that, when the dust settles, everything is as it ought to be.

Advocacy for a libertarian society is ultimately just the argument for a world more fair and more just, one where (among other things) property rights are attached to some concept of what a person equitably deserves. And while no doubt there aren’t any easy answers there either, what one deserves must bear a relation to their work and effort, and further to what they’re able to collect through voluntary trade.

The world created by NATO and similar tangible renditions of the imperialist ethos operates on quite a different principle. This other principle states, without shame or faltering, that what you can take by force and conquest is yours — that violent monopolization by the politically connected is a “free market.”

The violence in Afghanistan is a natural, even if not justifiable, backlash against occupation and domination from without, a cri de coeur for self-determination and freedom in a world where the American military is omnipresent. Market anarchists don’t condone or excuse terroristic violence against innocents, not even a smidge, but neither do we shrink from castigating terrorism when its source is the powerful.

It can’t be that violence is vicious and inhuman terrorism when executed with IEDs, yet perfectly legitimate when carried out with billions of dollars worth of drones and missiles. Something is very wrong with our values as a planet when coercive monopolism and appropriation are “free enterprise,” and a murderous new colonialism is a “peacekeeping” War on Terror.

Basic principles are now in competition: We can continue to tolerate the brutal methods of the state, or we can experiment with something else: Stateless societies built on voluntary associations and mutual respect.

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