Ron Paul and a New Libertarian Rift Over Ukraine

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 24 2014 4:57 PM

Ron Paul and a New Libertarian Rift Over Ukraine

163106203-former-us-representative-ron-paul-speaks-at-george
Which Paul is this one again?

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Early this morning, the president of the libertarian group Students for Liberty co-wrote an op-ed critical of Ron Paul's response to the Crimea incursion. Alexander McCobin (whom I worked with briefly when I was at Reason magazine) told readers of the Panam Post that "former Congressman Ron Paul, whose views are interpreted by many as wholly representative of the libertarian movement, gets it wrong when he speaks of Crimea’s right to secede." He went on:

Make no mistake about it, Crimea was annexed by Russian military force at gunpoint and its supposedly democratic “referendum” was a farce. Besides a suspiciously high voter turnout without legitimate international observers, the referendum gave Crimeans only two choices — join Russia now or later. Besides a suspiciously high voter turnout without legitimate international observers, the referendum gave Crimeans only two choices — join Russia now or later.

It’s much too simplistic to solely condemn the United States for any kind of geopolitical instability in the world. Non-interventionists who sympathize with Russia by condoning Crimea’s secession and blaming the West for the Ukrainian crisis fail to see the larger picture. Putin’s government is one of the least free in the world and is clearly the aggressor in Crimea, as it was even beforehand with its support of the Yanukovych regime that shot and tortured its own citizens on the streets of Kyiv.

Advertisement

After Rosie Gray spotlighted the op-ed, I got flashbacks. In 2007 and 2008, when Ron Paul ran for president, the libertarian movement was of two minds about his candidacy. "Two" might be selling it short. Paul, whose political career began in the 1970s as a reaction to Nixonian monetary policy, came from the "paleo" wing of the movement as defined by the late Murray Rothbard and as enforced by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Later generations of libertarians, generally, were more socially progressive and, while critical of foreign entanglements, constantly looking for alliances in other countries' protest movements. (Go buy a copy of Brian Doherty's history of libertarianism, which was stiffed by critics but has been cribbed by many a reporter since then.)

Students for Liberty was founded in the summer of 2008, after the Paul campaign had (to the surprise of many) created or located countless young libertarians. McCobin, who'd come to D.C. on a Charles Koch Institute fellowship, was its founder. Around that same time, the Ron Paul movement produced Young Americans for Liberty, an outgrowth of the campaign's young voter outreach program—a young activist named Jeff Frazee moved seamlessly from the campaign to the new organization.

The two groups haven't exactly clashed. By 2009, Democrats ran the entire federal government, and the Cato/Koch-type libertarians were in the same foxhole as the Rothbardians. But the tone of McCobin's post is key—he wanted readers to know that Ron Paul, who remains well-known enough to be quoted as a prominent American politician, does not represent all libertarians. YAL has said nothing about Ukraine/Crimea, and Frazee demurred when I asked whether the group had an opinion.

Both groups, both factions in the movement, are currently comfortable with Rand Paul's approach to the crisis. But allies of the Pauls don't exactly thrill when the other faction alerts the media to the fissures.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 19 2014 6:22 PM Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.