Liberals Don’t Respect a Nation’s Sovereignty

Eric Zuesse, originally posted at

When the United States and some of its allies in 2003 invaded and destroyed Iraq on false pretenses — and without Iraq having ever invaded (much less destroyed) any of the invading countries — this was actually within the scope of the invaders being liberal countries, because a nation’s sovereignty isn’t at all respected in traditional liberal thought. This also is the reason why some of the same nations invaded and destroyed Libya in 2011, and Syria since 2012. Neither of those two invaded countries had ever invaded — much less destroyed — any of their invaders; but, in all of these cases, such invasions were accepted by the populace within each of the invading countries, all of which invading countries considered themselves to be liberal nations. Why do liberals (and not only conservatives) so routinely accept barbaric aggressions by their own country? Here is the reason (and it needs to be read slowly and carefully, in order to become understood, because what follows is densely packed with meaning; the subject here is sufficiently deep to reach the core of things, like drilling through hard rock — it’s necessarily slow going):

A nation’s sovereignty means that the residents in a land possess the ultimate authority over that land, regardless of what its ‘owner’ might happen to be: a foreign king, an international corporation, or even a domestic person who is one of the people who live there. Consequently, whereas an authentic revolution by the residents within a country, to overthrow and replace their government — or else a vote to secede — is acceptable in the concept of national sovereignty (and is recognized as “the right of self-determination”), no foreign invasion is (and this includes any internal invasion to defeat a secession), unless the invasion is authentically a response to a real and present danger of, or else in direct response to, an invasion by the country (or region) that’s being invaded. This is the concept of national sovereignty: the residents rule — no foreigner does. However, the concept of national sovereignty is fundamentally alien to liberals.

Liberalism is instead dominated by the concept of the individual’s right to property, which is the fundamental right in liberalism, upon which all other rights are (in traditional liberalism) based.

As one summary of John Locke’s political theory put this most clearly:

“The theory of property was understood to be central to the structure of Locke’s argument in the Second Treatise in that it serves as an explanation for the existence of government and a criterion for evaluating the performance of government. Locke’s individualist, private property stance was not always admired or believed to be without flaw, but criticism was leveled within the context of Locke’s claim to a place as a liberal philosopher.”

However, Adam Smith, writing in Locke’s tradition 87 years later, provided a clearer case than anyone up till his time, for the right to property being the fundamental right, the right which governments are instituted specifically in order to advance and to protect; and, so, here that basic statement is, in The Wealth of Nations, Book V, Ch. 1, Part 2:

… Wherever there is a great property, there is great inequality.

For one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many. The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy to invade his possessions. It is only under the shelter of the civil magistrate, that the owner of that valuable property, which is acquired by the labour of many years, or perhaps of many successive generations, can sleep a single night in security. He is at all times surrounded by unknown enemies, whom, though he never provoked, he can never appease, and from whose injustice he can be protected only by the powerful arm of the civil magistrate, continually held up to chastise it. The acquisition of valuable and extensive property, therefore, necessarily requires the establishment of civil government. …

The causes or circumstances which naturally introduce subordination, or which naturally and antecedent to any civil institution, give some men some superiority over the greater part of their brethren, seem to be four in number.

The first of those causes or circumstances, is the superiority of personal qualifications, of strength, beauty, and agility of body; of wisdom and virtue; of prudence, justice, fortitude, and moderation of mind. …

The second of those causes or circumstances, is the superiority of age. …

The third of those causes or circumstances, is the superiority of fortune, the authority of riches …

The fourth of those causes or circumstances, is the superiority of birth. Superiority of birth supposes an ancient superiority of fortune in the family of the person who claims it. …

In liberalism, a person’s “superiority” or “inferiority” is measured by the amount of wealth he or she “owns.” (Otherwise called “net worth.”) This is the professional economist’s belief in the inevitable rightness of “the free market”: an economist, by his/her being a professional who is devoted to that theory, is committed to this type of hierarchy or inequality — the belief that the more property one owns, the better that person is; and, so, the less that one owns, the worse he or she is.

Precisely how this system contrasts in any fundamental way with conservatism is not clear (and liberals especially don’t discuss it), but Smith’s central case was actually against mercantilism, which, in recent times, is part of nationalism — mercantilism is the argument for any nation to apply tariffs and other protectionist measures in order to block foreigners from “grabbing” business away from the residents (the subjects to the local sovereign) within the given nation. Adam Smith’s argument was against sovereignty, not in support of it. Property-rights and property-obligations — obedience to, and governmental protections of, these rights and obligations — are at the very foundation of liberalism, whatever one might happen to consider either “liberalism” or “conservatism” to mean.

Progressivism means something totally different than either liberalism or conservatism: it is the belief not in “natural law” nor in any “God’s Law,” but instead in natural worth: Worth inheres in any sentient being, because it is sentient and can therefore experience joy (positive) and/or misery (negative). No sentient being can be property — it can only be an owner. It can be conquered, but it can’t be owned. It can be a dependent, but it isn’t itself owned, not by anybody but itself. By extension, this applies to the residents on any particular land; and, since they and they alone own themselves, they collectively are the sovereigns over that land; they alone possess the natural right to rule there. In the view of a progressive person, consciousness (especially the polarity between joy and misery) is the actual basis of worth; property isn’t. Materialism is no longer the basis in the realm of values, but “spirit” (consciousness) is that. The goal is societal well-being, not merely personal wealth. In a progressive light, invasions are evil (because negative, misery-inducing). But, in a liberal light, they aren’t evil, and they can even turn out to be good, if the result is ‘success’: “victory.” (Consequently, empires are acceptable to liberals.) 

Consequently (for recent examples), no progressive supported nor endorsed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, nor the invasion of Libya in 2011, nor the invasion of Syria since 2012. (And, to call that invasion of Syria, by tens of thousands of foreign jihadists who were paid by Saudi Arabia and armed by the United States, a ‘civil war’, as is commonly done, is simply a lie, just as bad as the lie that Saddam Hussein was hiding WMD in 2002.)

This is the concept of national sovereignty. It isn’t an economic concept; it isn’t a philosophical concept, it is instead a statement about sentience and what sentience entails; it is a scientific concept, and it is the very foundation of any progressive (i.e., science-based) political theory.

This concept, national sovereignty and all the rest of progressivism, does not preclude some type of world government gradually emerging, so long as that occurs 100% by means of democratic processes, and respects the national sovereignty of each and every one of the participating nations, and so long as all nations are honestly welcomed to join, on the same basis as the existing member-nations did. Only in this way, and by democratic process from the bottom to the top, would it even be possible for a world government to develop as being a force for peace in the world, instead of as a force for some type of international dictatorship (and thus as a force for even more war).

So: whereas liberals don’t respect a nation’s sovereignty, progressives do — it’s a basic part of progressivism.

(NOTE: This article had been offered, as an exclusive, to nine U.S. mainstream news-and-commentary publications, none of which ever responded: Washington Post, New York Times, TIME, The Nation, New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, BusinessWeek, and The National Interest. Each of them is a mainstream traditional U.S. print medium that has a significant highly educated readership that’s interested in U.S. political matters. Yet none replied. The editorial decision-makers at each publication were all contacted directly by email, and none of them replied. One might infer that there’s something about this article, which causes all of those individuals to be opposed to publishing it. Or, one might infer that there’s something about U.S. news-media and the situation they’re all in, which does. But, in any case, this was the result. I then sent this article to Strategic Culture Foundation, which isn’t U.S.-based, and they published it.)


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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  • paul

    Great piece

    • Eric Zuesse

      Thanks for the feedback, and for the favorable view of this article, which the publications I had offered it to as an exclusive had rejected by never replying. It’s heartening that there might be an audience for it, even if the print publications refuse to serve that audience. Other than by responses such as yours, I’d never know, one way or the other.

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  • cstahnke

    Great piece! I think your distinctions make sense though I think there are similar and perhaps more interesting distinctions within conservativism. I see the distinctions as not being in the narrow band of liberals and progressives as between two sets of opposites. First is the division between authoritarians who believe that the State must coerce people to be virtuous and those who believe that human beings are naturally virtuous and it is only trauma that causes people to be “bent” into shapes that echo the trauma they experienced. Second, is the division between those who favor the sovereignty of the international ruling class particularly as representatives of corporate entities and those who favor the sovereignty of the nation state or even smaller local authorities.

    We are on the cusp of some kind of compromise between these forces because, at the moment the current power arrangements are politically unstable.

    • sometime

      you write: ” the current power arrangements are politically unstable.” I ask, hasn’t the governance of people always been unstable. Especially so, since people age, die and must be replaced. Also, political corruption is accomplished by financial bribery….even at the nation level. So looking for political stability is only a momentary state at best. I wish people had the moral courage, the moral stamina to always be kind and loving to one another…across the board, so that human suffering would rarely be such a thing. My wishes don’t get me far, however, in real life. Sadly!!!!

  • diogenes

    Neither “liberals” nor “conservatives” respect the sovereignty of our own country, which has been usurped by an oligarchy with headquarters on Wall Street. When money rules there is no res publica, only a res privata predating on the populus.

  • plamenpetkov

    this is a classic example of Straw man’s argument; invent an imaginary target and attack it; instead of attacking Corporitism which is the real threat you’re doing yet another straw man argument to divert the attention from the real problem.
    obviously you are deliberately confusing simple terms to make yor argument, ergo your argument is fake.
    Since there arent really such thing as those phantom “Liberals” you and a lot of shills keep on babbling about, your argument is totally fake. I NEVER heard of anybody calling themselves “Liberal” all I hear is shills like you who are collectively and very determinedly attacking the left using this meaningless term.

    IT is in Capitalism and Conservatism where a person’;s wealth is a measurement of a person;s worth.

    • cettel

      And not only in conservatism, but (as the texts that I’ve cited prove) also liberalism. You — iike many other liberals — ignore that ugly fact. You aren’t a progressive.

  • kimyo

    Liberalism is instead dominated by the concept of the individual’s right to property

    In liberalism, a person’s “superiority” or “inferiority” is measured by the amount of wealth he or she “owns.”

    this word, ‘liberalism’, wikipedia does not think it means what you think it means….

    Liberalism in the United States

    Liberalism in the United States is a broad political philosophy centered on the unalienable rights of the individual. The fundamental liberal ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion for all belief systems, and the separation of church and state, right to due process, and equality under the law are widely accepted as a common foundation across the spectrum of liberal thought.

    Modern liberalism in the United States includes issues such as same-sex marriage, reproductive and other women’s rights, voting rights for all adult citizens, civil rights, environmentalism, and government protection of freedom from want.[1] National social services such as: equal education opportunities; access to health care; and transportation infrastructure are intended to meet the responsibility to “promote the general welfare” of all citizens. Some American liberals, who call themselves classical liberals, fiscal conservatives, or libertarians, support fundamental liberal ideals but disagree with modern liberal thought, holding that economic freedom is more important than equality, and that providing for the general welfare exceeds the legitimate role of government.[2]

    Since the 1930s, without a qualifier the term “liberalism” in the United States usually refers to “modern liberalism”, a political philosophy exemplified by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and, later, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. It is a form of social liberalism, whose accomplishments include the Works Progress Administration and the Social Security Act in 1935, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    do you agree that fdr’s new deal ‘exemplifies modern liberalism’?

    how can you possibly advance the conversation if you can’t even get your vocabulary straight?


    no progressive supported nor endorsed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, nor the invasion of Libya in 2011, nor the invasion of Syria since 2012.

    please name these progressives. surely you can’t be referring to people like warren/sanders….???

    Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren joins push for US escalation in Afghanistan

    Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a self-styled “progressive” Democrat, joined with Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain and his right-wing pro-war ally Senator Lindsey Graham at a July 4 press conference in Kabul calling for the Trump administration to put forward a renewed war strategy for Afghanistan.

    The bipartisan appeal, which was also joined by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, came in anticipation of a more than 50 percent increase in US troop levels and the unveiling of more aggressive rules of engagement in the 16-year-old war.

    • LostInTheStars

      The term “liberal” was bastardized by Bill Clinton and others. It simply does not today mean what in used to mean.

  • diogenes23

    What makes Bush and Cheney liberals?

  • LostInTheStars

    Having left the Democratic Party I’ve been in a quandary as to what to call myself. It seemed that the Clintonesque New Democrats had usurped the labels “liberal” and “progressive.” I think I’ll cede the label “liberal” and cling to “progressive.” I’m putting my foot down, and I hope others do too. The neoliberals can’t have both.

    Today “liberal” means neoliberal. It refers to the center-right power base that caters only to the top ten percent and believes in worldwide military interventions in the affairs of other countries.