But is it? There are different forms of capitalism, and, above all, laissez faire ideology is not monolithic, and it comes in different forms.
And it’s rather obvious that some of the most vehement capitalist ideologues are also the most vehemently anti-imperialist. Just think of Murray Rothbard or Ron Paul.
For instance, just take Ron Paul’s comments in the videos below.
Libertarians hate government and have historically been vehemently critical of imperialist aggression even by capitalist states. And Murray Rothbard’s view of American foreign policy, for example, had obvious similarities to that of Noam Chomsky.
If one takes the libertarian ideology seriously, then it does indeed have strong anti-war and anti-imperialist aspects, as can be seen, for example, on the popular website Antiwar.com, which is run by American libertarians. But it is also the most extreme laissez faire and pro-capitalist ideology too.
Marxists and others barely recognise this, and instead reduce laissez faire ideology to a monolithic caricature.
Nor is the anti-war and anti-imperialist stance unique to modern libertarians. Classical liberalism – which was also strongly laissez faire – also had its anti-imperialist wing, and so much so that it even annoyed Karl Marx who was dismayed to find that the British Manchester school’s view of war and imperialism was opposed to Marx’s own cult-like views on capitalism.
The most famous instance of this was the Crimean war of October 1853 to February 1856. Marx was vehemently pro-war because of his anti-Russian phobia and urged even more aggressive action against Russia than Britain and France actually took (Sperber 2014: 304). But what really made Marx apoplectic and drove him mad was that John Bright (1811–1889) and Richard Cobden (1804–1865), the most popular and vocal advocates of laissez faire and free trade in England, were hostile opponents of the Crimean war (Sperber 2014: 305).
At one point during the Crimean war, Marx launched into an astonishing rant about the anti-war capitalists:
“One thing must be evident at least, that it is the stockjobbers, and the peacemongering bourgeoisie, represented in the Government by the oligarchy, who surrender Europe to Russia, and that in order to resist the encroachments of the Czar, we must, above all, overthrow the inglorious Empire of those mean, cringing, and infamous adorers of the golden calf.” (Marx 1897 : 132).Wait a minute, Marx was ranting about... those wicked “peacemongering bourgeoisie”? According to Marx, those vile peace-loving, peacenik capitalists of Europe had to be overthrown so that a communist Europe was free to wage total war against Tsarist Russia.
A final issue is simply this: the Communist world of the 20th century was also guilty of its own form of imperialism. The Soviet Union, for example, was just a continuation of the multi-ethnic Russian empire, which had conquered vast swathes of the non-European world in central and northeast Asia, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. The Soviets continued to rule these areas as the new imperial overlords, and in ways so vicious and brutal that they made 19th century European empires look mild. And this is before we get to Stalin’s takeover of Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
The truth is that whenever great powers arise in the world – whether capitalist or communist – they will almost inevitably be drawn into some form of hard or soft imperialism on the world stage. That is a reality.
Marx, Karl. 1897. The Eastern Question. A Reprint of Letters Written 1853–1856 Dealing with the Events of the Crimean War (eds. Eleanor Marx Aveling and Edward Aveling). S. Sonnenschein & Co., London.
Sperber, Jonathan. 2014. Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life. Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York.