No, sanctions against Russia are not justified from a liberal point of view

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Posted on September 27, 2022


Friday, Counterpoints proposed an article titled “Sanctions against the Kremlin are justified from a liberal point of view”.

Curious, I wondered how these sanctions could find any liberal justification. And unfortunately, I must say that reading the article did not answer my question. On the contrary, the arguments I read there are in my opinion symptomatic of a deep disagreement on the nature of liberalism. By focusing only on the collective and hypothetical consequences of the absence of Western reaction, Yves Bourdillon’s article places itself, in my opinion, at the antipodes of liberal philosophy, which reasons in terms of law and on an individual scale. . It therefore seems important to me to come back to certain points: the meaning of the word liberalism is already sufficiently distorted by its opponents, it is crucial that confusion not be maintained in our own camp.

Liberalism is a philosophy of law, not a utilitarianism

Wikiberal defines liberalism like the “political philosophy aimed at recognizing the primacy of the principles of freedom and individual responsibility over the authority of the sovereign”.

Can sanctions against Russia fit this definition? On the contrary, it seems to me that they are the exact opposite.

These sanctions consist in fact of a set of attacks on individual freedom, imposed by a public authority, ultra-centralized and bureaucratic. With its sanctions, the EU has multiplied the attacks on individual freedoms by imposing on its citizens to pay more for their gas, to no longer trade with Russians even to freeze their assets for those who have had the only fault of having a Russian-sounding name. One can also wonder where is liberalism when the State taxes us to finance bombings 1000 kilometers from our home or sends weapons which are then recovered by the delinquents in our neighborhoods ? How censorship of media deemed pro-Russian could it be anything other than an attack on freedom of expression?

Thus, all the considerations on the effectiveness or the utility of the sanctions developed in the article are a misinterpretation if one places oneself in a liberal point of view.

Indeed, the liberal does not seek to determine what should be done, he wonders who has the right to do what. Liberalism is a philosophy of law, not a utilitarianism. Therefore, to say that the sanctions against Russia are justified by geopolitical arguments (a very questionable position, by the way) is a respectable opinion, but it is certainly not a liberal position. Sanctions are also all the less defensible from a liberal point of view as they do not strike those who have decided to launch this war. Indeed, they primarily affect ordinary citizens (Russian or European), who, on one side or the other, are in no way responsible for the invasion of Ukraine. However, it seems obvious to me that punishing people for a wrong of which they are not guilty is at the antipodes of liberal philosophy.

Freedom is not imposed

Discussions on the usefulness and effectiveness of sanctions seem all the more absurd to me since no one can provide a universal answer to these questions.

It is legitimate to think that we cannot stand idly by in the face of the Russian invasion, but it is just as legitimate to consider that the war in Ukraine does not concern us. This may be a mistake or stupidity as the author suggests (“Being a liberal does not mean being ignorant or stupid in geopolitics”), but stupidity is never an argument against freedom, since the latter by definition implies the risk of making a mistake; if you can’t make wrong choices, you’re not free. With regard to Ukraine, either it is absolutely obvious that the sanctions are necessary, in which case it is pointless to impose them (since the citizens will adopt them spontaneously), or their usefulness is not obvious to everyone, in which case no one has the legitimacy to impose them by force.

It also seems a little easy to me to defend the sanctions when the consequences do not concern us, or in a bearable way. It seems obvious to me that someone whose job depends on trade relations with Russia will not have the same view of what to do as the journalist who comments on the war from his ivory tower. Thus, if the second is convinced of the absolute necessity of sanctioning Russia, it is up to him to convince the first or to negotiate with him to compensate him for the sanctions which they could agree on together. Freedom is negotiated, it is not imposed.

Modesty, the foundation of liberal thought

To be liberal is to accept that others make different judgments from ours, that they have different aspirations and that they therefore make different choices.

The liberal is thus in my opinion the one who has the modesty to recognize that he has neither the infused science nor the legitimacy to decide in the place of others. Not to adopt this posture is to risk sinking intoutilitarianismwhich we find throughout this article, and which always serves as a Trojan horse for socialism.

As a counterpoint, the article by Yves Bourdillon: “Sanctions against the Kremlin are justified from a liberal point of view”.

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No, sanctions against Russia are not justified from a liberal point of view

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