We know that, other things being equal, war should be avoided because destroying things and people is not the path to prosperity and freedom. By “we” I mean those who have reflected on this matter with the benefit of some economic knowledge. In addition to the direct effects of the violence of war, the negative impact on (individual) liberty operates through the increased power that states, victorious or not, occupy during war and remain active or dormant afterward. We see this not only in Russia, but also in Ukraine as the war continues.

Apart from that, it seems to me that the war in Ukraine should have taught us two basic lessons. By “us” I mean liberals and classical liberals. One lesson is that, without force or the threat of force, foreign tyrants will wage war to seize resources and extend their dominance. Therefore, if one lives in a somewhat free society, one should defend against these foreign oppressors. As Adam Smith said, “Preservation . . . is far more important than prosperity”—if only tyranny prevented prosperity.

It is not without reason that Antony de Jassay, a liberal or perhaps conservative anarchist, sees the main problem of anarchy as protection against foreign states. This is also a problem, although not necessarily a major one for our current more or less free society.

In my opinion, it is a lame argument that foreign tyrants only show their teeth when the states of (more or less) free societies mobilize or strengthen their defense capabilities; They will never attack pigeons. Not only does history show the opposite, but basic economic theory suggests that a foreign tyrannical regime will have less incentive to attack the more costly it is to them (just as tyrants in our own society will attack our liberties less. They are expected to do so. costs increase). We must not wait until foreign tyrants are on our shores or conquer parts of the world to raise the war incentive: alliances and treaties may be a less expensive way.

Of course, if our society becomes as free as those living under foreign tyrants, it will do no good to fight them.

Another fundamental lesson of the war in Ukraine is that the distinction between soldiers and civilians continues to shrink, despite international law and Bertrand de Juvenel’s fears. And this is true the freer and the richer a society is: as we saw in Ukraine, for the enemy, every civilian with a mobile phone can be and assumed to be an enemy combatant. An occupier in the United States would have another reason to consider any person a combatant: having or carrying guns in his home. (In other more or less free countries, civilians are disarmed by their own governments.)

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