Anarchy and Near Term Extinction

It is often said that the invention of terrible weapons of destruction will put an end to war. That is an error. As the means of extermination are improved, the means of reducing men who hold the state conception of life to submission can be improved to correspond.

— Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You (1849)

Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.

— Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989)

According to the theory of Near Term Extinction (NTE) the human race is about to go the way of the Dinosaurs. Though polls on the subject are scarce, it is safe to assume that the majority of humanity disagrees. Most of us remain at least cautiously optimistic about our long term survival prospects. Notable exceptions can be found amongst various apocalyptic cults, whose followers anticipate near term divine intervention, as well as trans-humanists, who anticipate the rise of post-humans due to exotic new technologies. In contrast to these worldviews, NTE is not rooted in religion or science-fiction but a pessimistic reading of the environmental sciences, probability theory and the law of unintended consequences. Nor is NTE limited to the fringe. A growing number of scholars, including highly visible figures like Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, have suggested that near term extinction is plausible, though certainly not inevitable (predictions range from years to decades to centuries). Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, environmental crises such as climate change have supplanted global thermonuclear war in the pessimist’s hierarchy of doom. Yet these threats are not mutually exclusive. A leaked 2004 report by the Pentagon on global warming anticipates increased risk of “Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting…Once again, warfare [will] define human life.” ((Mark Townsend and Paul Harris, “Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us” The Observer (22 February 2004).)) Though such predictions are self-serving – environmental crises are deemed yet another threat that can only be contained by militarism – they are also rational. Under state capitalism, competition for diminishing resources may exacerbate violent conflict, creating a feedback loop not unlike global warming itself. This essay will argue that if the human race is to survive, anarchic systems based on participatory democracy must replace top down models of state rule.


In his book The McDonaldization of Society, sociologist George Ritzer portrays rationalism as a paradox: highly rational models frequently produce highly irrational outcomes. ((George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society (London: SAGE Publications, 1998): 12.)) The modern workplace, where we spend most of our waking hours, provides a familiar illustration: rationalist modes of production based on efficiency, calculability, predictability and control have reduced large swathes of humanity to human resources, disposable entities afforded little in the way of self-determination and dignity. In Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), the Little Tramp himself becomes part of the assembly line, compelled forward by gears and pulleys, sliding through the bowels of the machine.

When it comes to international affairs, rationalist models generally fall under the heading realpolitik, a term used to denote both cynical amorality and unflinching “realism” by political leaders acting for a perceived greater good. Unlike idealist interpretations of the state, which focus extensively on ethics, realpolitik is primarily concerned with power. The Italian philosopher and diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote, “How we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that [the ruler] who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather bring about his own ruin rather than his preservation.” ((Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1513): Chapter 15.)) Since the ruler’s primary objective is to maintain power, immoral behaviour is not only acceptable but necessary.

Machiavelli did not usher in in a new political philosophy; he merely articulated what had always been understood by rulers anywhere and everywhere. In 1934, British historian A.J.P. Taylor suggested that the principles we associate with realpolitik are “a series of assumptions, with which statesmen have lived since their earliest years and which they regard as so axiomatic as hardly to be worth stating.” ((John Bew, “The Real Origins of Realpolitik.”)) Nevertheless, Machiavelli remains scandalous to this day. His brutal practicality is summed up in Chapter 18 of The Prince – people ought either to be “well treated or crushed.” ((Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1513): Chapter 15.))

The 19th Century anarchist Mikhail Bakunin agreed with Machiavelli’s cynical understanding of power but came to very different conclusions about how humanity should proceed. He bitterly praised the Italian philosopher for exposing the state with “terrible frankness,” and demonstrating that “crime… is the sine qua non of political intelligence and true patriotism,” yet rejected the notion that such crime was inevitable. “We are the sons of the revolution… We believe in the rights of man, in the dignity and necessary emancipation of the human species.” ((Mikhail Bakunin, “The Immorality of the State.” )) The state – as well capitalism – should be abolished.

Up until the mid-twentieth century, and with the exception of a few rogue philosophers who advocated world government, self-government or no government at all, near-constant warfare between competing states has been viewed as an unfortunate but necessary byproduct of international relations. The invention of the nuclear bomb changed that – or would have, if the idealists were correct. American military strategist Bernard Brodie was overly optimistic when, in 1946, he wrote, “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose.” ((Gregory G. Brunk, Donald Secrest, Ioward Tamashiro, Understanding Attitudes about War (University of Pittsburg Press, 1996): 37.))

The military establishment, soon to be termed the military industrial complex by President Eisenhower, did in fact have another purpose, namely to expand American power through imperialism. Tolstoy was proven correct: not even the creation of the most “terrible weapons of war” would put an end to the state’s quest for dominance.

Few people who consider themselves rational would advocate for the disarmament of the state apparatus in which they live. Yet in the age of nuclear weapons, it is precisely this insistence on “national security” through state power that is most likely to kill us. If, as Bakunin argued, “small states are virtuous only because of their weakness,” ((Mikhail Bakunin, “The Immorality of the State.” )) powerful states demonstrate an ineluctable tendency toward dominating others. The result is militarism.


The history of civilization is sufficiently blood-soaked that many modern intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, have argued that competitive state frameworks must be abandoned if the human race is to survive.

Following the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein implored:

A world government must be created which is able to solve conflicts between nations by judicial decision. This government must be based on a clear-cut constitution which is approved by the governments and nations and which gives it the sole disposition of offensive weapons. ((Nicholas Hagger, The World Government (John Hunt Publishing, 2010): 30.))

It is doubtful that a world government such as envisioned by Einstein – which allowed for the centralization of “offensive weapons” – would have eliminated the nuclear threat, let alone war, if for no other reason than secessionist movements and other power struggles would have remained a constant concern (we will return to this subject at the essay’s closing).

In any case, Churchill, Truman and Stalin would carve up most of Europe at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, creating the foundation for the Cold War. As if to underscore the improbability of world government, the three leaders had an argument over who would enter the Potsdam conference room first; they eventually decided that they would enter at precisely the same time through three separate doors. ((Brad MacDonald, “President Obama and the Phone Call that Endangered America” The Trumpet (17 October 2013).))

The new paradigm was MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. Because man is a rational being, he would not risk annihilation by attacking his foe. Game theorists at the Rand Corporation, a Pentagon think tank, provided the theoretical basis. According to the prisoner’s dilemma, both players had to assume the other was rational.

While most nuclear strategists took it for granted that the point of the game was to maintain peace between the super-powers, others believed, quite logically, that the point of the game was to win it.

Among those who embraced the “winner takes all” view was General Curtis Lemay, purported model for the character “Jack the Ripper” in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Best known for masterminding the massive bombing campaign against Japan during WWII (which resulted in half-a-million dead and about five million homeless), Lemay headed up the Strategic Air Command and served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965.

Lemay drew up a war plan which involved dropping “the entire stockpile of atomic bombs in a single massive attack” on the Soviet Union. The Washington Post later quoted the General as stating, “Every major American city – Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles – will be reduced to rubble. Similarly, the principal cities of the Soviet Union will be destroyed.” ((Paul Lashmar, “Stranger than ‘Strangelove’: A General’s Forays into the Nuclear Zone,” Washington Post (3 July 1994): C9.))

According to then Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, Lemay was “absolutely certain” that “the US was going to have to fight a nuclear war with the Soviet Union” and that “we should fight it sooner rather than later.” ((Paul Lashmar, “Stranger than ‘Strangelove’: A General’s Forays into the Nuclear Zone,” Washington Post (3 July 1994): C9.))

Equally disturbing as the super-hawks at the Pentagon were the numerous academics – people who considered themselves highly rational – who advocated a similar strategy. Most found their home at the Rand Corporation.

One of Rand’s most notorious strategists was Herman Kahn. He believed that the US atomic arsenal was a wasting resource. So long as the Soviet Union continued to build its own arsenal, America’s would decrease in value. For Kahn, nuclear weapons were like a precious commodity in danger of depreciation on the global marketplace. Though he did not explicitly advocate a first strike, Kahn believed that a nuclear war was “winnable.” ((Louis Menand, “Fat Man: Herman Kahn and the Nuclear Age” The New Yorker (27 June 2005).))

Breaking the Chain of Command

MAD is widely regarded as a triumph of both rationalism and hard-nosed realpolitik. The missiles stayed in their silos. We didn’t go extinct. Starry-eyed idealists who rejected Ronald Reagan’s belligerence and exorbitant military spending were proven wrong.

What few realize is that we escaped destruction primarily due to a handful of individuals who rejected the chain of command – and even the logic of their computer screens – in order to embrace the better angels of their being.

In my documentary film The Power Principle, I explore several of the biggest “close calls” during the Cold War.

The most serious event occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In the midst of the conflict, a group of United States Navy Destroyers began dropping practice-depth charges on a Soviet submarine positioned near Cuba in order to force it to the surface. The sub commanders believed WWIII was underway.

According to Soviet military protocol, the commanders had previous permission to launch missiles if all three reached consensus. Two said yes – one said no. Then “an argument broke out among the three, in which only Vasili Arkhipov was against the launch.” Thomas Blanton, a director of the National Security Archive, later remarked, “A guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.” ((Marion Lloyd, “Soviets Close to Using A-Bomb in 1962 Crisis, Forum is Told” Boston Globe (Retrieved 7 August 2012): A20.))

In 1983, a computer malfunction at a nuclear warning facility near Moscow falsely indicated a nuclear attack by the United States. The probability indicator was at level 1.

The man in charge, Stanislav Petrov, did not have the ability to launch a retaliatory strike. However, were he to pass on the information to the top command, the Soviet leadership would have only had a few minutes to decide on whether to launch a counter-attack. According to Bruce Blair, a Cold War nuclear strategist, “the top leadership, given only a couple of minutes to decide, told that an attack had been launched, would [have made] a decision to retaliate.” Petrov broke military protocol, and waited.

It turned out that the computer malfunction was caused by “a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and satellites.” ((Burrell’s Information Service, “War Games,” Dateline NBC (November 12, 2000).))

The third biggest close call occurred in the same year when NATO began a war exercise; the scenario – an all out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It was codenamed Able Archer.

?When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union during WWII, they did so under the guise of a war game. Alarmed by Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” rhetoric, as well as America’s deployment of Pershing II strategic missiles in Europe, hard-liners in the Kremlin became convinced that history was about to repeat itself. In the run up to the exercise, the Soviets secretly mobilized all key components of their military forces, including nuclear submarines. One mistake by either side and a holocaust would have resulted.

There are other examples, though not quite as hair-raising. A report by the Nuclear Files Foundation lists over 20 “close calls” during the Cold War. ((Alan F. Philips, “20 Mishaps That Might Have Started Accidental Nuclear War.”))

The greatest danger has never been a rogue commander in the vein of “Jack the Ripper” – though that threat is real enough – but accidental nuclear war caused by incompetence and/or technical malfunction. ((The Power Principle. Directed by Scott Noble (Metanoia Films, 2012).))

Former Defence Sectary Robert McNamara, who was present in the Oval Office during the Cuban Missile Crisis, eventually came to a stark conclusion: “It can be confidently predicted that the combination of human fallibility and nuclear arms will inevitably lead to nuclear destruction.” ((J. Peter Scoblic, “Robert McNamara’s Logical Legacy.” ))

Unlike most of the public, US military leaders are well aware of the numerous close calls of the Cold War. The same is presumably true of most men and women who (along with military leaders) formulate current US policy. If their goal was the survival, let alone health, of the human race, the United States would have long since abandoned aggressive war. A fraction of the US military budget could eliminate poverty worldwide, ((Bo Filter, “Slaying Goliath: Give David a Stone.”)) and in doing so drain the swamp of resentment and rage that provides the lifeblood of the “terrorist threat.”

For critics of American foreign policy, the failure of US leaders to pursue a peaceful path following the collapse of the Soviet Union is often attributed to a uniquely American belligerence or depravity. Yet a cursory glance through the history books shows that the American empire, while exceptional in terms of global reach and technology, is anything but exceptional in terms of base motivation; it is behaving in a remarkably similar fashion to every empire that preceded it. We can only conclude that powerful states – and the people to tend to wield great power within them – share peculiar forms of logic that are alien to most of their citizenry.

The Power Principle

The dominant view amongst anthropologists is that we have lived in relatively peaceful, cooperative, egalitarian societies for 99% of our history. In the words of anthropologist Christopher Boehm, “Humans were egalitarian for thousands of generations before hierarchical societies began to appear.” ((Christopher Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behaviour (Harvard University Press, 2009): 5.)) Many of the behaviours we now celebrate – “success” through the hoarding of wealth, for example – were traditionally considered socially deviant. Ethnographies of extant nomadic foragers reveal that they are “all but obsessively concerned with being free from the authority of others. That is the basic thrust of their political ethos.” ((Boehm, 68.))

The Utku in the Canadian Arctic have an extreme intolerance for “displays of anger, aggression, or dominance.” ((Boehm, 50.)) The Pintupi Aborigines insist that “One should assert one’s autonomy only in ways that do not threaten the equality and autonomy of others” (Myers). ((Boehm, 74.)) Among the Wape tribe in New Guinea, “A man will not tolerate a situation where a neighbour has more than he has. A man should not possess either goods or power to the disadvantage of others” (Mitchell). ((Boehm, 98.))

In both egalitarian and hierarchical societies, power is jealously guarded. For egalitarians, the goal is to maximize freedom through group solidarity; for despots, the goal is to maximize the “freedom” of rulers to oppress the majority.

Among political philosophers, only anarchists have seriously considered the threat posed by hierarchy in human affairs. For this reason they have been labeled “utopian.” Yet it may be that idealized notions of benevolent hierarchies are not only unrealistic but wildly implausible. Just as systems of domestic law have proven incapable of preventing tyranny, so too have international laws utterly failed to prevent war.

For anarchists, the reason for this is self-evident: the logic of power is power. There is no law or principle so compelling that it will not be tossed aside at the first sign that those who hold power are in danger of losing it. Hunter-gatherers are able to prevent social dominance hierarchies because they act in a group wide coalition; under the state apparatus, with its entrenched hierarchies, this ability is severely curtailed.

Nevertheless, for the vast majority of political philosophers, the idea that a select minority should rule over the mass is taken for granted. James Madison, the “father of the American constitution,” argued that a primary purpose of government was to “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” His great fear was “levelling tendencies,” in other words, real democracy. ((Noam Chomsky, “Consent Without Consent.”))

If nation states existed in a vacuum, incapable of waging war against other states, minority rule would perhaps be tolerable, depending on the disposition of the men and women who happen to rule over the majority at a given time. The problem is that states are not content to rest on their laurels. Schopenhauer’s famous quote about wealth – that it is “like sea-water; the more we drink, the thirstier we get” – applies equally to power itself. The anthropologist Gregory Bateson explained the phenomenon in terms of “optima” and “maxima”: “the ethics of optima and the ethics of maxima are totally different ethical systems. The ethics of maxima knows only one rule: more.” ((Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World (Cornell University Press, 1981): 506.))

Egalitarian societies are able to maintain optima due to a low center of gravity. In large hierarchical societies, wherein power becomes centralized, leaders or entire social classes can easily become despotic. Lord Acton’s famous quote that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” was more vividly expressed by the great American novelist Kurt Vonnegut: “Human beings are chimpanzees who become crazy drunk on power.”

Austrian political scientist Leopold Kohr, who described himself as a “philosophical anarchist,” regarded powerful states as the most dangerous expression of the maxima principle:

There could be no gentler peoples on earth today than the Portuguese, the Swedes, the Norwegians, or the Danes. Yet, when they found themselves in possession of power, they lashed out against any and all comers with such fury that they conquered the world from horizon to horizon. This was not because, at the period of their national expansion, they were more aggressive than others. They were more powerful. ((Leopold Kohr, “The Power Theory of Aggression,” Panarchy.))

Great powers may temporarily “check” one another, to the point where – depending on the global power configuration – some powerful states may seem positively benign; nevertheless, by their very nature, states must exist in an environment of perpetual conflict; when a “critical quantity of power” is reached by one state in relation to others, war is a likely result. For these and other reasons, Bakunin believed that international law is always destined to fail.

There is no common right, no social contract of any kind between them; otherwise they would cease to be independent states and become the federated members of one great state. But unless this great state were to embrace all of humanity, it would be confronted with other great states, each federated within, each maintaining the same posture of inevitable hostility. War would still remain the supreme law, an unavoidable condition of human survival.

Every state, federated or not, would therefore seek to become the most powerful. It must devour lest it be devoured, conquer lest it be conquered, enslave lest it be enslaved, since two powers, similar and yet alien to each other, could not coexist without mutual destruction. ((Mikhail Bakunin, “The Immorality of the State.” ))

Universal Hostility

When NATO was created in 1949, its ostensible purpose was to protect Europe from the Soviet Union. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO did not; in fact, it expanded.

Speaking in 2005, American military geostrategist Thomas Barnett boasted that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, “demand for our services has increased 4-5 times.” ((The Power Principle. Directed by Scott Noble (Metanoia Films, 2012).)) Instead of the “peace dividend” promised by Bill Clinton, aggressive war by the United States actually escalated.

Twenty years after Perestroika, Gorbachev lamented that his concessions – rather than creating more peace and harmony – had produced a “winner’s complex” among the American political elite. ((Claire Shipman, “Gorbachev: ‘Americans Have a Severe Disease’,” ABC News (21 July 2006).)) Gorbachev had envisioned for post-Soviet Russia a social democracy similar to the Scandinavian nations. What actually followed were a series of brutal “free market” reforms engineered by technocrats from the Chicago school of economics. It took decades for Russia to regain some semblance of stability. Now that it has – and despite the vanished pretext of an ideological battle between capitalism and communism – the Cold War is back with a vengeance.

When Gorbachev allowed for the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet Union, he was promised by George H.W. Bush that NATO would not expand “one inch to the east.” ((The Power Principle. Directed by Scott Noble (Metanoia Films, 2012).)) Instead, NATO has expanded to much of the world – including Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, the Baltic and Central Asia. Coinciding with these aggressive policies of expansion and encirclement, the US has insisted on establishing anti-missile systems in Poland designed to eliminate Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

The theoretical basis behind America’s treatment of post-Soviet Russia crosses party lines. Paul Wolfowitz, who served as Deputy Secretary of Defence under George W. Bush, wrote in Defence Planning Guidance (1992): “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere.” (( “Excerpts from Pentagon’s Plan: ‘Prevent the Re-Emergence of a New Rival’,” New York Times (8 March 1992).)) Similarly, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argued in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard that control of Eurasia – to the exclusion of Russia – is the key factor in ensuring American primacy:

Failure to widen NATO… would shatter the concept of an expanding Europe… Worse, it could reignite dormant Russian political aspirations in Central Europe… Europe is America’s essential geopolitical bridgehead in Eurasia… A wider Europe and an enlarged NATO will serve the short-term and longer-term interests of U.S. policy. ((Mike Whitney, “Showdown in Ukraine.” ))

In February 2014 the democratically elected albeit corrupt government of Ukraine was overthrown in a right-wing putsch supported by the United States, prompting Vladimir Putin to engineer a referendum in Crimea allowing for its annexation into Russia. Long before the crisis, and in response to previous provocations on Russia’s borders, Putin delivered a speech to the Kremlin in which he stated:

Their [U.S.] defence budget in absolute figures is almost 25 times bigger than Russia’s. This is what in defence is referred to as ‘their home — their fortress’. Clever… Very clever. But this means that we also need to build our home and make it strong and well protected. We see, after all, what is going on in the world. Comrade Wolf knows whom to eat, as the saying goes. It knows whom to eat and is not about to listen to anyone, it seems. ((The Power Principle. Directed by Scott Noble (Metanoia Films, 2012).))

In Putin’s portrayal of America as a ravenous wolf we see an echo of Bakunin’s maxim that states must “devour lest [they] be devoured.”

The desire by Russian leaders to retain control of their Black Sea port in Crimea and to project power into neighbouring (NATO-affiliated) states is a classic expression of the cordon sanitaire or “quarantine line.” In state-craft, the term is defined as a protective barrier against a potentially aggressive nation or dangerous influence.

Putin has not been without his own forays into military violence, such as the brutal subjugation of Chechnya in the mid-90’s (during which the capital, Grozny, was largely reduced to rubble). Nevertheless, the Russian leader has focussed most of his attention on building economic alliances, most notably that of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Following the first BRICS summit in 2009, member nations called for a new global reserve currency (rather than the US dollar) that would be “diversified, stable and predictable.” (( “BRIC wants more influence,” Euronews (21 June 2009).))

Apart from the small matter of nuclear weapons, it is in the economic realm that Russia is considered most dangerous. Russia provides the European Union with about a third of its gas, remains one of Germany’s largest trading partners, and has arranged a massive natural gas supply deal with China.

In the same way that NATO has attempted to encircle Russia, the Pentagon’s “Asia pivot” seeks to quarantine China militarily. China has responded by announcing a new Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea, overlapping disputed territories with Japan. In April, the US established a new “Defence” pact with the Philippines.

Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed US-sponsored Security Council Resolutions that would have allowed for the legal bombing of Syria (which houses one of Russia’s last foreign military bases outside of the former Soviet Union). Yet this has not prevented the United States from attempting to subvert the Syrian government through semi-covert means. The CIA, the British SAS, Saudi Arabia, and NATO member Turkey have been training and supplying Syrian rebels in Jordan and elsewhere since the beginning of the insurgency against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. ((Greg Miller, “CIA ramping up covert training program for moderate Syrian rebels,” Washington Post, (2 October 2013).)) Syria, in turn, has a mutual defence pact with Iran.

As always in the recent history of the Middle East, the wild card is Israel.

The destruction of Iran remains Israel’s primary foreign policy objective. Although Hezbollah has sensibly warned that an attack against Iran would “set the entire middle east ablaze.” (( “Hamas will not come to Iran’s aid in a case of war with Israel: official,” Al Arabiya (13 April 2014).)) Israeli leaders perceive Iran as a potential counter-check to Zionist power. In addition to geopolitical concerns, Israeli leaders embrace a peculiar military strategy known as the “Mad Dog” doctrine. First articulated by Israeli military leader and politician Moshe Dayan, it calls for Israel to behave “like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” ((Jonathan Cook, “‘Mad dog’ diplomacy: A cornered Israel is baring its teeth.”)) North Korea seems to have embraced a similar strategy, though to considerably less effect.

The most disturbing manifestation of this strategy is the so-called “Samson option.” Named after the biblical character Samson, who pushed apart the pillars of a Philistine temple, thereby killing both himself and his captors, the Samson option calls for destroying much of the world in response to an existential threat to the Jewish state. Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld explains: “We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions… We have the capability to take the world down with us.” ((Felicity Arbuthnot, “Attack Iran? Nuclear Insanity,” Dissident Voice.))

The Samson option, and Israel’s behaviour in general, has led the American political scientist Norman Finkelstein to describe the country as a “lunatic state.” ((Norman G. Finkelstein, “Israel is Now a Lunatic State.”))

In his article “Marching as to War,” American paleoconservative author Pat Buchanan expresses incredulity over American Vice President Joe Biden’s post-Ukraine-coup trip through the former Soviet bloc countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. During the junket, Biden reiterated America’s commitment to “protect” these nations: “our word” is “solemn” and “iron clad.” According to Buchanan, Biden was “affirming war guarantees General Eisenhower would have regarded as insane.” ((Patrick Buchanan, “Marching as to War.” ))

Here we may say that while Biden’s actions may have been insane during the Eisenhower administration, they are perfectly logical under the Obama administration. In keeping with the theory of the Power Principle, or Kohr’s notion of “critical quantities of power,” the collapse of the Soviet Union eliminated the primary check to the American empire. The dogs of war could be fully unleashed. Now that Russia is resurgent, and the US declining economically, there is a great deal of barking going on.

On April Fool’s Day, 2014, NATO Sectary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated:

NATO’s greatest responsibility is to protect and defend our territory and our people. And make no mistake, this is what we will do. We will make sure we have updated military plans, enhanced exercises and appropriate deployments. (( “NATO takes measures to reinforce collective defence, agrees on support for Ukraine.” ))

Rasmussen is nothing if not worldly, considering that “his” people evidently include populations from countries as varied as Albania, Croatia, Canada, France, Iceland, Italy, Romania, the UK and the USA.

The illegal bombing of Serbia by the Clinton administration may be regarded as the starting point in the New Cold War, for it was during the assault that NATO began its eastward shift.

The destruction of Yugoslavia was “rational,” argues historian Michael Parenti, because “Yugoslavia was the one country in Eastern Europe that would not voluntarily overthrow what remained of its socialist system and install a free-market economic order… Yugoslavs were proud of their postwar economic development and of their independence from both the Warsaw pact and NATO.” ((Michael Parenti, “The Rational Destruction of Yugoslavia.” ))

Considerably less rational was the behaviour of US General Wesley Clark during the conflict. According to British pop singer James Blunt (best known for his song “You’re beautiful”), who commanded 30,000 NATO troops in Bosnia, he was instructed by the US General to attack a squadron of Russian soldiers at the Pristina Air Base.

The direct command [that] came in from Gen Wesley Clark was to overpower them. Various words were used that seemed unusual to us. Words such as ‘destroy’ came down the radio. (( “Singer James Blunt ‘prevented World War III’,” BBC (14 November 2010).))

Like Vasili Arkhipov during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Stanislav Petrov during the 1983 nuclear-warning “computer glitch,” James Blunt disobeyed orders. He was backed up by British General Sir Mike Jackson. Said Jackson: “I’m not going to have my soldiers be responsible for starting World War III.” (( “Singer James Blunt ‘prevented World War III'” BBC (14 November 2010).))

In contravention of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which demands “good-faith” efforts to work toward nuclear disarmament, the United States is projected to spend 1 trillion maintaining and expanding its nuclear weapons systems over the next 30 years ((Robert Dodge, “Budgets as Moral Documents.”)) – assuming we survive that long.

Rationalizing War

No state, no matter how powerful or totalitarian, is capable of engaging in aggressive war absent ideological justification. These justifications typically take on two forms: a noble cause that the public can relate to and a cause that – though it would seem brutal and even immoral to the public – is deemed rational by members of a particular ruling class.

The celebrated American political philosopher Rienhold Neibuhr claimed that “rationality belongs to the cool observers.” Elites should recognize “the stupidity of the average man,” who must be ideologically manipulated via “emotionally potent oversimplifications.” ((Noam Chomsky, “Force and Opinion.”)) Walter Lippmann, the “Father of modern journalism,” agreed, arguing that the “masses” are a “bewildered herd” who should be “spectators” in the affairs of state but not “participants.” ((Noam Chomsky, “Force and Opinion.”))

Very often, a casus belli (or war pretext) will be manufactured by leaders to coerce a peaceful population into accepting war, though intensive propaganda is often sufficient. In the modern age, covert agencies like the CIA have allowed for a more cost-effective and PR-friendly alternative to transparent military aggression. Black operations are especially useful for the United States because the over-arching propaganda narrative (“freedom,” “democracy,” “human rights”) is diametrically opposed to the brutal realities of American foreign policy. Eisenhower’s concept of the Military Industrial Complex is better described as the Military Industrial Intelligence Complex.

The vast gulf between propaganda and realpolitik can be seen in various internal memos by figures like US Cold Warrior and State Department official George Kennan. While American leaders publicly warned of an existential threat to democracy posed by the Soviet Union, Kennan’s 1948 memo to the Secretary of State cooly observes:

We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. ((Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide: U.S. Interventions in Central America (South End Press, 1985): 48.))

Kennan helped to establish the Office of Policy Coordination inside CIA. ((Sarah-Jane Corke, “George Kennan and the Inauguration of Political Warfare.” )) Despite its intentionally bland title, the OPC specialized in black operations: assassinations, torture, coups, false flags. Its officers did in the dark “what would have never stood the light of day” ((See Bill Moyers, “The Secret Government.” )) in a self-proclaimed democracy committed to freedom and human rights. After the attacks of 9/11, these tactics were brought out into the open – a dangerous gambit that has undermined America’s moral legitimacy both at home and abroad.

According to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the “neoconservatives” who would come to dominate the George W. Bush and Obama administrations were described by fellow analysts – in the 1970’s/80’s – as “The Crazies.” (( “American Intelligence Analysts Have a Patriotic Duty to Speak out and Transcend the Cult of Secrecy: An Interview with Ray McGovern,” Dissident Voice.)) The neocons openly argued for war as a way of life, and for the projection of American power into every corner of the globe.

“Ideas do not succeed in history by virtue of their truth,” writes sociologist Peter Berger, “but by virtue of their relationship to specific social processes.” ((Peter Berger, “Towards a Sociological Understanding of Psychoanalysis,” Social Research, 32 (Spring 1965): 32.)) Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and coinciding with the increasing power of the Israeli Lobby, the neocon philosophy suddenly became not so crazy after all. It now had utility, and was widely accepted.

The philosophical “Godfather” of the neoconservative movement was the philosopher Leo Strauss. Born in Germany of Jewish parents, he emigrated to the United States and took up a teaching political science at the University of Chicago. Despite his lineage, Strauss’ teachings bear a disturbing similarity to those of the Nazis.

Shadia Drury, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, writes that Strauss believed in “perpetual war” and “an aggressive, belligerent foreign policy… Following Machiavelli, [Strauss] maintained that if no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured.” ((Jim Lobe, “Leo Strauss’ Philosophy of Deception.” ))

For liberals and progressives, neoconservatism is the current Bete noir of American politics. In alleged contrast to the realist school, neoconservative are deemed idealistic, irrational, even insane, yet also uniquely ruthless and cunning.

In his book Reclaiming Conservatism, Mickey Edwards of the Aspen Institute argues that “Neoconservatives are driven by theoretical objectives, and by a moral or ethical compass that fails to take into account the complexities of world politics, [whereas] adherents to a Realpolitik foreign policy often seem to have no moral compass at all.” ((Mickey Edwards, Reclaiming Conservatism (Oxford University Press, 2008): 141.))

Apart from different propaganda narratives, the reader can be forgiven for failing to notice a significant difference between the neocons and their alleged ideological opponents in the American power structure. In terms of real world outcomes, what we actually find is a remarkable degree of uniformity between “realists” and “neoconservatives,” Democrats and Republicans, with foreign policy differences amounting to a friendly disagreement over exactly how to go about maintaining and expanding US hegemony. Increasingly, Democratic politicians such as Hillary Clinton are being described as “neocons” despite having no historical attachments to Strauss or his philosophy. This indicates a certain level of cognitive dissonance amongst the party faithful; unable to come to terms with the failure of the state capitalist model, they attribute the American empire not to structural factors but a diabolical clique that has usurped American power from its proper guardians.

A much more compelling and historically consistent explanation for the remarkable continuity between Democrat and Republican regimes has already been provided: the logic of power is power. For the half-a-million Iraqi children who perished under the sanctions program of Democrat Bill Clinton, or the similar number who perished under the Republican George W. Bush, the distinctions between philosophies of empire are meaningless. The ideological framework for imperialism may change, but the game remains the same.

In Love with Death

The Power Principle demands that the class that holds power attempts to retain and expand that power. Therefore, ruling classes within one nation find themselves in conflict not only with domestic populations but other nation states. The greatest fear of those who hold power is Anarchy – the loss of control by those who exercise it.

For neoconservatives like Irving Kristol, the 60’s counter-culture was an outbreak of “moral anarchy,” which, if it had been allowed to continue, would have led to the collapse of “ordered liberty.” ((Ira Chernus, “Ukraine plus Flight 370 = Bad news for Neocons.” ))

Externally the same principles apply. “Realist” Zbigniew Brzezinski argues: “America’s withdrawal from the world… would produce massive international instability. It would prompt global anarchy.” ((Chris Erenesto, “The Eurasian Chessboard: Brzezinski Mapped Out ‘The Battle for Ukraine’ in 1997.”))

When I asked the late historian Howard Zinn what he thought of the word “anarchy” being used as a synonym for chaos, he suggested that anarchic systems are actually much more stable than hierarchical systems. Anarchism is based on horizontal principles of free association and mutual aid, whereas hierarchical systems demand coercion and violence. “Our political systems are in chaos,” Zinn stated. “International relations are in chaos.” ((The Power Principle. Directed by Scott Noble (Metanoia Films, 2012).)) In the desire to dominate others in order to prevent chaos, chaos is the result.

It is by no means certain that chaos is considered undesirable by military strategists, provided it serves to weaken the opposition. In his “Strategy for Israel in the 1980’s,” Israeli strategic planner Oded Yinon advocated the fomenting of civil war throughout the entire middle east. Arabs would be turned against one another on the basis of nation, religion and ethnicity in order to increase Israel’s relative power. ((Israel Shahak, “Greater Israel: The Zionist Plan for the Middle East.” ))

In countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya (or indeed Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia and Vietnam) we see the fruits of such strategies. Genocidal violence is not merely an unfortunate byproduct of well-intentioned plans for regime change but a goal in and of itself. It weakens competitors, and is therefore deemed justified. Human life has neither a positive nor a negative value, it is simply irrelevant – another number in the calculus of power.

Former Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, the so-called “architect of the Vietnam war,” was obsessed with mathematics. “He was so impressed by the logic of statistics that he tried to calculate how many deaths it would take to bring North Vietnam to the bargaining table.” ((David K. Shipler, “Robert McNamara and the Ghosts of Vietnam,” New York Times Magazine (10 August 1997).)) Millions of Vietnamese people were slaughtered by bullets and bombs, burnt with napalm, poisoned by Agent Orange; yet for the man who helped design the war, they were little more but numbers on a chalkboard. McNamara argued that US violence in Vietnam was preferable to the “complete anarchy” that might otherwise result. ((The Power Principle. Directed by Scott Noble (Metanoia Films, 2012).))

The psychologist Eric Fromm suggested that the desire to control and dominate may produce a necrophilous orientation. Such people are “cold, distant, devotees of ‘law and order’” ((Eric Fromm, The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil: 37.)) who are excited not by love but death.

The necrophilous person is driven by the desire to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if all living persons were things…

He is deeply afraid of life, because it is disorderly and uncontrollable by its very nature. To the necrophilous person justice means correct division, and they are willing to kill or die for the sake of what they call justice. ‘Law and order’ for them are idols, and everything that threatens law and order is felt as a satanic attack against their supreme values.

…People are aware of the possibility of nuclear war; they are aware of the destruction such a war could bring with it – and yet they seemingly make no effort to avoid it. Most of us are puzzled by this behaviour because we start out from the premise that people love life and fear death. Perhaps we should be less puzzled if we questioned this premise. Maybe there are many people who are indifferent to life and many others who do not love life but who do love death. ((Eric Fromm, The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil: 37.))

That many of our most beloved military figures had or have a necrophilous orientation is plainly evident. Observing the corpses and ruined architecture following a battle during WWII, George Patton remarked, “I love it. God help me I do love it so. I love it more than my life.” ((Gracy Trosclair, “War’s Attraction: Love or Fascination?.” ))

The actor Richard Burton, who played Sir Winston Churchill in a television drama, became repulsed by the figure:

In the course of preparing myself… I realized afresh that I hate Churchill and all of his kind. I hate them virulently. They have stalked down the corridors of endless power all through history… What man of sanity would say on hearing of the atrocities committed by the Japanese against British and Anzac prisoners of war, ‘We shall wipe them out, everyone of them, men, women, and children. There shall not be a Japanese left on the face of earth’? Such simple-minded cravings for revenge leave me with a horrified but reluctant awe for such single-minded and merciless ferocity. ((Howard Zinn, Howard Zinn on War (Seven Stories Press, 2001): 194.))

In Churchill’s desire to “wipe out” the “Japanese race” we sense a sort of mania bordering on sadistic perversion. Indeed, on the other side of the conflict, Imperial Japan took sadistic perversion in warfare to horrifying extremes. Hitler brought sado-masochism into his bedroom; a coprophiliac, he was sexually aroused by having young ladies defecate on his face. In so doing he became, in the words of historian Robert Waite, “the personification of [his own] depraved self, as the persecutor who attacks a part of himself in his victims.” ((Robert G.L. Waite, The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler (Da Cap Press, 1993): 241.))

Hitler believed that it was in doom that art reached its highest expression. Consumed by sado-masochism and narcissism, hiding at last in his bunker, he devoutly wished for all of Germany to die with him. Afforded the opportunity, Western military leaders may well opt for global conflagration rather than conceding a diminution in their power.

The Tyranny of Borders

For Cold War General Curtis Lemay and nuclear strategist Herman Khan, it seemed perfectly logical to risk the annihilation of the human race in order to “win” the game against the Soviet Union. Missing in their analysis was that the game itself was insane.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded that climate change could pose an irreversible, existential threat to civilization. ((Eric Holthaus, “‘Climate Change War’ Is Not a Metaphor,” Slate.)) Among the few American military strategists who commented on the report was retired Army Brig. Gen Chris King. Echoing the conclusions of the Pentagon’s leaked 2004 report on global warming, King emphasized that increased military conflict would seem to be the inevitable outcome of environmental collapse: “This is like getting embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years… You can see in military history, when they don’t have fixed durations, that’s when you’re most likely to not win.” ((Eric Holthaus, “‘Climate Change War’ Is Not a Metaphor,” Slate.))

Another American military figure, retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley, commented on the report:

You could imagine a scenario in which both Russia and China have prolonged droughts. China decides to exert rights on foreign contracts and gets assertive in Africa. If you start getting instability in large powers with nuclear weapons, that’s not a good day. ((Eric Holthaus, “‘Climate Change War’ Is Not a Metaphor,” Slate.))

I began this essay by noting that under the rules of state capitalism, it is rational to regard climate change and other environmental crises as probable force multipliers for interstate conflict. At the same time, militarists make a fundamental error in assuming that current forms of hierarchical organization will continue on indefinitely. Institutional hierarchy has only existed for about 1% of our time on Planet Earth. There is every reason to believe that hierarchical organization, far from being inevitable, is actually unnatural for human beings insofar as it creates massive social dysfunction.

In The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate statistically that more equal societies “enjoy better physical and mental health, lower homicide rates, fewer drug problems, fewer teenage births, higher math and literacy scores, higher stands of child wellbeing, less bullying in schools, lower obesity rates, and few people in prison.” ((Richard Wilkinson, “In Defence of Equality.” ))

Equally interesting, the psychological malaise caused by hierarchy extends to the men and women at the top of society’s pyramid. In The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, psychotherapist Graham Music notes that “The higher up the social-class ranking people are, the less pro-social, charitable and empathetically they behave… Those with more materialistic values consistently have worse relationships, with more conflict.” ((Tanya Gold, “How Materialism Makes us Sad.” ))

If the assumptions inherent to state capitalism continue to be shared by majorities or large minorities, environmental collapse will likely entail an increase in intra-species violence, exactly as the militarists predict; however, as our rulers are quick to point out in their internal literature, in crisis there is opportunity. Environmental degradation may also force people to examine alternative ways of living, including those currently deemed “utopian.”

War, poverty, environmental collapse and other catastrophes of modern existence are inextricably linked. “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist,” states capitalist ideologue Thomas Friedman. “McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15.” ((John Pilger, The New Rulers of the World (Verso, 2002): 114.))

“Globalization” has entailed a dual tendency: increased border militarization combined with the growth of powerful supranational institutions. While capital is increasingly liquid – penetrating borders with the mere click of a mouse – 99% of humanity remains confined within nation states. The dominant media has portrayed this process as one of increased border erasure, yet the reality is that borders have never been more militarized. The logic of increased “border security” in the era of elite globalization is explained by the anthropologist David Graeber:

If it were not possible to effectively imprison the majority of people in the world in impoverished enclaves, there would be no incentive for Nike or The Gap to move production there to begin with. Given a free movement of people, the whole neoliberal project would collapse. This is another thing to bear in mind when people talk about the decline of ‘sovereignty’ in the contemporary world: the main achievement of the nation-state in the last century has been the establishment of a uniform grid of heavily policed barriers across the world. It is precisely this international system of control that we are fighting against, in the name of genuine globalization. ((David Graeber, “The New Anarchists,” New Left Review (January-February 2002).))

Though David Rockefeller is often accused of conspiring to engineer a “world government,” he remarked in a 2007 interview with Benjamin Fulford that be believed states are necessary, and that he does not view World Government as likely nor desirable. ((Benjamin Fulford Interview with David Rockefeller.)) Nevertheless, in his memoirs, Rockefeller clearly states that he is a proud “internationalist.”

Rockefeller’s brand of internationalism is consistent with the rise of supranational institutions like the EU, the IMF and World Bank. The goal is not the elimination of borders but the elimination of any semblance of democratic control over elites. The state has come to function as the ultimate divide and conquer mechanism, reducing the human species to a series of artificial, warring tribes serving a decidedly unpatriotic transnational ruling class.

Government as Constant Reconquest

Thus far I have conceived of warfare primarily in terms of external competition. But internal competition is at least as important. The American dissident philosopher Randolph Bourne believed that war is not only a primary function of the state but the health of the state. At the outbreak of WWI he wrote:

The nation in wartime attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war. Loyalty – or mystic devotion to the State – becomes the major imagined human value. Other values, such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed, and the significant classes who have constituted themselves the amateur agents of the State are engaged not only in sacrificing these values for themselves but in coercing all other persons into sacrificing them. ((Randolph Bourne, “War is the Health of the State” (1918).))

The domestic repercussions of war are typically regarded as an unintended consequence or happy accident for the ruling class; in the process of engaging in imperialism, or defending a population against imperialism, the state must neutralize subversive elements.

Neoconservative philosopher Leo Strauss believed the opposite: domestic control is the imperative, war the effect:

Because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed… Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united – and they can only be united against other people. ((Jim Lobe, “Leo Strauss’ Philosophy of Deception.” ))

In 1984, Orwell also conceived of war in terms of domestic utility:

In some ways she was far more acute than Winston, and far less susceptible to Party propaganda. Once when he happened in some connection to mention the war against Eurasia, she startled him by saying casually that in her opinion the war was not happening. The rocket bombs which fell daily on London were probably fired by the Government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep the people frightened.’ ((George Orwell, 1984 (1949): 127.))

Viewed through a macroscopic lens, the perceived separation between “domestic” and “foreign” is an illusion. There is no race except the human race, no nation except the world.

Does this mean we should embrace a world state?

Before examining the question, we should ask ourselves exactly what the state is.

In contrast to coercion theories of state formation, which argue that the first states were only beneficial to a privileged minority, and were achieved through a process of violence, conservative theories argue that the state was brought about through a process of “mutual benefit” and “consent of the governed.” Though understandably popular amongst apologists for state violence, conservative models are easily dismissed. As noted by the anthropologist James C. Scott:

…all ancient states without exception were slave states. The proportion of slaves seldom dropped below 30 per cent of the population in early states, reaching 50 per cent in early South-East Asia (and in Athens and Sparta as much as 70 and 86 per cent)…slaving was at the very centre of state-making. ((James C. Scott, “Crops, Towns, Government.” ))

The state is a new phenomenon in the human experience. But what of warfare itself?

In his book A Terrible Love of War, American psychologist James Hillman argues that war “is the father of all things,” “the first of all norms” and “the ultimate truth of the cosmos.” ((Gracy Trosclair, “War’s Attraction: Love or Fascination?.” )) For militarists, this view is a comfortable one: war is inevitable, it has always existed and always will. Another prominent psychologist, Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, has also advanced a “Constant warfare” theory of human evolution, suggesting that civilization and the state have actually diminished war, pacifying our instinctually savage, warlike ways. Like conservative theories of state formation, Pinker’s theories are easily debunked. ((See Brian Ferguson, “Pinker’s List.”))

In Archaeology, Cultural Anthropology, and the Origins and Intensification of War, Ferguson analyzes worldwide evidence of violence before 10,000 years ago. He finds that while violence certainly existed, it was comparatively rare, and in no way indicative of war. Thus, a study of all skeletons available from 100,000-10,000 in southwestern France finds that only 2.5% show any signs of fractures – and even these could have been caused by accidental injury. In the Middle East, amongst 370 skeletons from the Natufian (10,800-8,500 BC), only 2 showed signs of trauma. (( “Comments on Pinker’s History of Violence.”)) Similar patterns are evident throughout the world:

Warfare is largely a development of the past 10,000 years. The multiple archaeological indicators of war are absent until the development of a more sedentary existence and/or increasing sociopolitical complexity, usually in combination with some form of ecological crisis and/or steep ecological gradients. ((Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Reality Denial: Apologetics for Western-Imperial Violence,” Dissident Voice.))

Ethnographies of extant nomadic hunter-gatherers help to explain why war would have made little sense to our forebears. Anthropologist Douglas P. Fry writes:

The very nature of nomadic-band social organization makes warfare, slavery, or despotic rule well-nigh impossible. The small social units lack the ability to engage in large-scale slaughter—and since positions of authoritative leadership are also lacking, there is nothing to plunder, tools and weapons are rudimentary, and population density is extremely low. The archaeological facts speak clearly, showing for particular geographic areas exactly when war began.  And in all cases this was recent, not ancient activity—occurring after complex forms of social organization supplanted nomadic hunting and gathering. ((Douglas P. Fry, “Peace in Our Time.”))

The cause of hierarchy and warfare is disputed, but a common explanation is the shift from nomadic bands to sedentary tribes; when these new domesticated forms combined with technological innovation and increased social complexity, the result was the state. Engels long ago suggested that agriculture was a primary determinant; it allowed for surplus, which in turn gave rise to social classes. In The Evolution of Political Society, Morton Fried points out that extreme social stratification is inherently unstable; thus, in any large hierarchical society, an organization with a monopoly on “warfare and killing” is required. ((Keith F. Otterbein, How War Began (Texas A&M University Press, 2004): 100.))

The state has attempted to effect a reconciliation between different classes by arrogating to itself a monopoly on “legitimate” violence. Yet violence alone is not sufficient. Ideologically, the “religion” of the state is nationalism. In lieu of class analysis, nationalism is successful because it appeals to primal human desires for solidarity and belonging, as well as fear of the unknown (“outsiders”). Fear of outsiders is deliberately cultivated by rulers in order to mystify the real cause of the people’s discontent (namely rulers themselves), especially during times of economic/environmental crisis. Ultimately, the state has come to function as a sort of artificial surrogate for real community.

The textbook A Short History of War, provided to students at the US Army War College, is surprisingly candid about the state’s role as surrogate not only for community but spirituality and even “God”:

The aggregation of large numbers of people into complex societies required that those living within them refocus their allegiances away from the extended family, clan, and tribe, and toward a larger social entity, the state. This psychological change was facilitated by the rise of religious castes that gave meaning to the individual’s life beyond a parochial context. Organized belief systems were integrated into the social order and given institutional expression through public rituals that linked religious worship to political and military objectives that were national in scope and definition. Thus, the Egyptian pharaoh became divine, and military achievements of great leaders were perceived as divinely ordained or inspired. ((Richard A. Gabriel and Karen S. Metz, A Short History of War (Professional Readings in Military Strategy, No. 5, 1992): Chapter 1.))

The role of state as surrogate helps to explain why the popularity of state leaders tends to rise – often dramatically – during times of war. George W. Bush began his presidential term with an approval rating of 50%; following 9/11, that number skyrocketed to 92% (the highest number ever recorded for an American president since modern polling began). (( “Behind the Numbers: Approval Highs and Lows,” Washington Post.)) The “rally around the chief” effect is no secret, and has been satirized in several Hollywood films such as Canadian Bacon and Wag the Dog.

Though egalitarianism alone is not sufficient to bring about peace (sedentary tribal societies often engaged in war, albeit on a far lesser scale than state societies), it is a necessary precondition for the simple reason that the perceived interests of rulers are often radically different – and even diametrically opposed – to those of their subjects. Nowhere is this more apparent than during times of violent conflict. Leaders are celebrated and aggrandized even as their subjects are oppressed and slaughtered. Indeed, Anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson has gone so far as to suggest that hierarchy may be the the most fundamental cause of war.

…My view is that in most cases — not every single one — the decision to wage war involves the pursuit of practical self-interest by those who actually make the decision. The struggle can be joined over basic subsistence resources, but it can just as easily erupt over goods available only to elites.
…Not only do these leaders experience vastly different costs, benefits and powers in war, leaders may literally require successful war to establish and maintain rule. ((R. Brian Ferguson, “The Birth of War.” ))

In Ferguson’s view, the problem is not limited to competition over resources but the manner in which such competition – or lack thereof – is expressed.

Since a world government would constitute the apotheosis of hierarchical organization, such an entity could not possibly put an end to war (which is, after all, simply organized killing by one group of humans against another). If a world state came into existence, propaganda models could simply be reconfigured to reflect the new cultural dynamic: internal enemies would replace external enemies, creating something akin to civil war on a global scale.

The Austrian philosopher Leopold Kohr, who was especially concerned with the problem of size in human social structures, found the prospect of world government positively chilling:

The process of unification, far from reducing the dangers of war, seems the very thing that increases them. For, the larger a power becomes, the more is it in a position to build up its strength to the point where it becomes spontaneously explosive. But not only does unification breed wars by creating war potentials; it needs war in the very process of its establishment. As states did not come into existence by natural development but by conquest, so they cannot maintain themselves except by conquest – the constant reconquest of their own citizens through a flow of patriotic propaganda setting in at the cradle and ending only at the grave. ((Leopold Kohr, “The Power Theory of Aggression.”))

Kohr rejected the idea of artificial unity in favour of harmony, which he regarded as the natural order of the universe. The unity of a world government would need to be imposed, if for no other reason than consensus between different regions would be impossible (imagine, for a moment, attempting to create a system of law incorporating the Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri rainforest; the people of Waco, Texas; the Inuit; and the Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan and Pakistan). The result would not be the end of war but the constant reconquest of the global citizenry.

Conceivably, as technology advances, a logical solution for the ruling class to the “problem” of cultural differentiation, “surplus population” and rebellion may be the deliberate culling of the human race. This seems to have been one of the great fears of the brilliant yet homicidal primitivist Ted Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber), who wrote:

Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses and because human work will no longer be necessary, the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system; if the elite is ruthless, they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity. ((Bill Joy, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” Wired.))

There is no question that our elite is “ruthless” (over a thousand children die every day due to easily treatable diseases) so we can put aside moral conundrums. Interestingly, the quotation of Kaczynski has been cited by leading trans-humanists such as Ray Kurzweil, who currently works as Google’s Director of Engineering. Bill Joy of Wired magazine also cites the quote in his article “Why the Future doesn’t need us,” sub headed, “Our most powerful 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nano tech – are threatening to make humans an endangered species”. ((Bill Joy, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” Wired.))

The Path to Peace: Correcting the Power Imbalance

Now that we have examined what won’t work, we can start imagining real alternatives to the present system of state competition.

As we have seen, the greatest fear of world leaders in anarchy.

Though the term is falsely equated with violent chaos, Anarchy is defined by Noam Chomsky as “the closest you can get to pure democracy.” ((The Power Principle. Directed by Scott Noble (Metanoia Films, 2012).)) Chomsky also interprets anarchism as a “set of principles” rather than an a pure ideology. The word itself derives from the Greek Anarkos meaning “without rulers.” Rather than electing a politician who makes decisions for you, anarchists believe that decision-making capacities should lie with the people affected by those decisions.

It is often said that if politicians had to fight in wars, there would be no more war. By the same measure, if the CEO of a company polluting a water source was forced to drink that water daily, he or she would presumably be much less likely to dismiss concerns about water pollution. A key issue is accountability. Under our present system, our “leaders” have none. Indeed, we have managed to create a system whereby we begrudgingly elect the most depraved, venal individuals in society to rule over us.

In 2012, The Atlantic published an article entitled, “The Startling Accuracy of Referring to Politicians as Psychopaths.” Noting that “Psychopathy is a psychological condition based on well-established diagnostic criteria, which include lack of remorse and empathy, a sense of grandiosity, superficial charm, cunning and manipulative behaviour, and refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions, among others,” the article goes on to state that psychopaths may in fact be “particularly well suited” for careers in politics. ((James Silver, “The Startling Accuracy of Referring to Politicians as Psychopaths” The Atlantic (31 July 2012).))

Debates continue over whether what we call psychopathy is bio-genetic or culturally programmed (or some combination of the two), but there can be no disputing the fact that when it comes to the well-being of the majority, our “leaders” are at best disinterested and very often downright malevolent. This is well understood, even in the United States. Polls demonstrate that the Congress – which is imagined by orthodox political scientists to be a “check” on power – has an approval rating roughly on par with cockroaches. (( “Congress somewhere below cockroaches, traffic jams, and Nickelback in Americans’ esteem,” Public Policy Polling, 2013.))

Instead of centralized power and competition, anarchists advocate decentralization and cooperation. Decentralized communities can be federated horizontally, thus ensuring stability through a low center of gravity rather than the precarious, ever-shifting power configurations of top-down rule. Anarchism does not demand a “one size fits all” model, and therefore embraces the organic rather than the mechanical.

Above all, anarchism demands equality; human beings should not be permitted to dominate their fellows.

In The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society, Sam Dolgoff writes:

Federation is the coordination through free agreement – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. A vast coordinated network of voluntary alliances embracing the totality of social life, in which all the groups and associations reap the benefits of unity while still exercising autonomy within their own spheres and expanding the range of their freedom. ((Sam Dolgoff, The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society (AK Press, 1 Jan 1989).))

Paradoxically, for some “small a” anarchists, the state itself may be a tool. It can be used to protect the public against private power, create more equitable social conditions, and help facilitate horizontal power through participatory democracy. Some Latin American anarchists have described this process as “expanding the floor of the cage.” (( “Expanding the floor of the cage: Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamiam,” Z Magazine (April 1997).))

Other anarchists want little or nothing to do with the state, and believe in acting outside of official political channels. This is the traditional tendency amongst anarchists, and requires no explication.

The concepts of anarcho-pluralism and Pan-Secessionism seek “radical localism” and “the simple territorial withdrawal withdrawal of regions and localities and renunciation of the central state by secessionists.” ((Keith Preston, “Anarcho-Pluralism and Pan-Secessionism: What they are and what they are not.”))

Though anarcho-X-adjective strategies differ significantly, in common with all anarchists is a desire to prevent social dominance hierarchies whereby a privileged class is permitted to oppress the majority. Viewed globally, such oppression takes on the form of genocide and war.

The first step in solving a problem is to admit that there is a problem. For the majority, the state and its armies are viewed as a necessary evil. They are imagined to be required, at minimum, to defend populations from aggression by other states. This seemingly rational belief has produced the irrational consequence of possible near term extinction. Once we begin – as a global community – to conceive of states, as well as capitalism, as unnecessary and indeed harmful constructs, we can start to build alternatives from the bottom up. A pessimist view would regard such radical change as unlikely absent a massive global awakening. Yet such an awakening is not far-fetched, if for no other reason than current socio-economic models are unsustainable. Even a fatalist interpretation offers hope – that if humanity survives the coming calamities, our descendants may not automatically repeat the mistakes of our hierarchical, violent age. Anarchism will return us to our basic survival mechanisms as a species – cooperation, equality and peace.

Scott Noble is a documentary filmmaker and wage slave. His films are available at his website Read other articles by Scott.