Market Patriotism and the "War on Terror"

By Whyte, Dave | Social Justice, Fall-Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Market Patriotism and the "War on Terror"


Whyte, Dave, Social Justice


I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for "bread," "bread," and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism.... My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40 million inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands for settling the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced in the factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.--Cecil Rhodes, 1895 (cited in Robbins, 1999: 93-94).

THIS STATEMENT STARKLY SUMS UP THE ECONOMIC IMPERATIVE OF LATE BRITISH imperialism. It sets out a perspective that was no doubt related to Rhodes' personal role in British colonial expansion. As the founder of the British South African Trading Company (and co-founder of the De Beers diamond company), he obtained a British government charter that empowered the company to form armies and police forces to capture large parts of central Southern Africa with the aim of securing concessions for land and mineral rights. His colonial mission was, explicitly and directly, to expropriate and brutally suppress local populations for profit. Underpinning the mission was a belief in the cultural supremacy of the "Anglo-Saxon race," and Rhodes (1877) argued that British imperialism was necessary to spread what he regarded as "the best, the most human, most honourable race the world possesses." Rhodes' colonial mission illustrates the close correspondence between the racism at the heart of the British Empire and the interests of the private profiteers in the form of the colonial corporations and the traders and merchants that prospered from British military dominance.

A combination of economic and cultural-racial supremacy underpins all forms of imperialism. Rarely is it represented as explicitly as it is in Rhodes' cherished idea. Imperial powers have tended to sugar the pill of colonial domination with the promise of social advancement or humanitarian assistance. Although the British historically laid claim to a "civilizing mission," U.S. imperialism during the Cold War more crudely promised "liberation" through the opening up of "free markets" (legitimized by a generalized defense of human rights, of liberal democracy, etc.). The racist and economically egotistical motives of Empire (the economic subordination of populations, the capture of resources, and the development of markets) are typically masked by the promise of the cultural/social/political advantages for subordinate populations. Thus, techniques of neocolonialism that emerged in the 20th century sought to discipline and control populations with the promise of economic incorporation or the threat of economic exclusion. More recently, the legitimating narrative for U.S. imperialist military interventions has been constructed around a doctrine of preemption/prevention in which "axis of evil" states represent a legitimate target for reasons of the "liberation" of their people and for a much more nakedly egotistical defense of U.S. national interests.

This article will explore how the current U.S. imperial project combines an increasingly naked economic rationale with a more overt nationalist one. It will point to the ideological mobilization of "market patriotism," which is welding notions of "national security" and the "national interest" to the (neoliberal) market. "Market patriotism" is emerging to play an increasingly important role in engineering political legitimacy for the mobilization of the coercive apparatuses of the state domestically and internationally under conditions of a so-called war on terror.

Legitimizing Capitalist Social Orders

The securing of political legitimacy is a complex process in which the battle for ideas, in a Gramscian, sense, is related to underlying struggles between social classes or competing power blocs.

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