By Michael Youhana
In March, Eric Levitz of New York Magazine published a widely read and lengthy critique of dovish policies promoted by the Democratic Socialists of America in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Levitz’s sprawling challenge to the DSA’s proposals is thoughtful, and merits a rebuttal from those who support a more measured response to Russia’s war of aggression than the bellicose strategy adopted by the Biden administration.
I am not offering a comprehensive rejoinder to the piece in this essay. Rather, I aim to reply to a specific question posed by Levitz: How can the DSA “reconcile its moralistic objections to sanctions against Russia with its support for” the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel? The question is generative. It requires the identification of a universal standard for justifiable sanctions in response to international crimes, and an evaluation of the ongoing and proposed economic penalties on Russia and Israel against that standard.
So let us begin with a rough sketch of a universal sanctions standard: the only sanctions socialists (and everyone else) should support are those that 1) have the backing of the international community, and 2) are narrowly tailored so that their impacts fall primarily on culpable elites and militaries. We can call the first clause the “Legitimacy Clause,” and the second the “Distinction Clause.” While the sanctions on Russia fail on both counts, BDS more closely comports with the second principle. Let us consider each in turn.Continue reading “Reasons For Restraining The Economic Weapon”