Max Weber, at least as mediated through Professor Andrew Mayes, wrote that there is no ideology without conflict of ideology. Almost a decade after sitting through his lectures it is my belief that everyone who took his class can still quote this line, even if they remember little else of the “Yahweh” experience. Now that I am spending more time in the Academy – this time round focussing on Conflict – I am thinking more and more about ideology; that we all have one, and those we are reading have written through the filter of an ideology. When one of its thinkers contributes to the discussion on Conflict it is natural that the World Bank would have a carefully thought out ideology. We would expect nothing else. Enter Paul Collier and his 2000 article “Rebellion as a Quasi-Criminal Activity.” On one level he and I agree that rebellion – armed rebellion that is – is a criminal activity. It is so because the state defines the law, but where we part company is at the point where he assumes the law of the state is necessarily just. Collier goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid dealing with the questions of social and political justice in his treatise, and in so doing limits himself to a pseudo-philosophical economic discussion to support his conclusion that rebellion is base thuggery.

By his over reliance on the mathematics of an actuary and his Neo-Liberal weltanschauung he reduces the complexities of real life and those of social and political conflict to the criminality of house breakers and mobsters. His claim is that, like burglars, rebellions have the simple objective of theft, and like organised crime they increase their payroll to meet the rising response of the [legal] government. As mere observation this analysis is true, but is it far from being the full truth. He assumes, as a man who is incapable of understanding or even imagining any ideology not rooted in greed, that all rebellions are motived by greed and that rebels do what they do for the financial rewards. Indeed, this may be true of some rebellions or civil wars. Greed does motivate people. Yet one gets the impression that he is being disingenuous. He wilfully ignores the reality of sacrifice and volunteerism in rebellion, and such things do happen. It is irrelevant whether or not we agree with the “Cause” of the rebellion – whatever that may be – but we do know that revolution and rebellion often come with ideologically driven people who are willing to fight and die without any promise of reward. All of this is overlooked by Collier because, I believe, he is afraid to admit to beliefs that might contradict his world of cash money and self-interest.

Jason Michael
Blog Author

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