In the past few weeks, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine experiencing daily developments, many have opposed Russia’s tactics, strategy, and overall military adventure in Ukraine. These have come from Western and Eastern nation states, the international business community, and every day Russians. A substantial portion of the public opposes Russia, with Republicans and Democrats alike all coming out against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, denouncing him as a “dictator” and condemning his “special military operation” as illegal.
However, tiny fragments of U.S. domestic political life are either supportive of Russia or are hesitant to condemn Putin’s actions or the invasion itself, acting similarly to apologists for the regime. One of the sections are American Libertarians.
The Libertarian Party is an eclectic mix of persons from various political preferences, from hard core Reagan Republicans to Socialists. While it is difficult to try and group Libertarians together given their vast political differences (frequent discussions with Libertarians on this issue can result in the “True Scotsman” fallacy being made), there is some standardization of their views. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, “Because no individual has the right to control the peaceful activities of other self-owning individuals…no such power can be properly delegated to government. Legitimate governments are therefore severely limited in their authority… all acts of aggression against the rights of others—whether committed by individuals or by governments—are unjust… free markets are among the most important (but not the only) examples of spontaneous order. They argue that individuals need to produce and trade in order to survive and flourish and that free markets are essential to the creation of wealth… individuals should be governed by generally applicable and publicly known laws and not by the arbitrary decisions of kings, presidents, or bureaucrats”.
The former Chair of the Libertarian National Committee Nicholas Sarwark sums up Libertarian philosophy differently, saying, “We are the only political party that stands for your right to pursue happiness in any way you choose as long as you don’t hurt anyone else and as long as you don’t take their stuff”.
In some cases, Libertarian thought, at its core, is beneficial as it emphasizes the protection of one’s own (and all of humanity’s) freedoms and inalienable rights. However, as can be seen with the Ukraine crisis, Libertarians are staunchly opposed to any kind of recognition of Ukraine’s sovereignty and denounce any kind of U.S. or international action to the conflict.
The Libertarian Party chairman, speaking for the party as a whole, issued a statement after Biden’s State of the Union address, stating, “…the Libertarian Party will be plain and clear. Under no circumstances should we enter into another war that would cost thousands of American lives and significantly increase the already $30 trillion national debt. We call on Americans from across the political spectrum to join us in holding this administration accountable for demonstrating a commitment to peace…While sanctions against bloodthirsty megalomaniacs are understandably a reasonable response, we must not allow our actions to bring more harm to innocent people in Russia or Ukraine” in addition to reiterating that the Libertarian Party “stands in solidarity with the Russian people who widely reject the actions of their tyrannical president” in addition to requesting Biden pardon Edward Snowden. This mirrors their late January 2022 stance.
While this statement does mention the Party stands with the people of Russia, it spends more time asking the U.S. to not become involved and find a “third way” for diplomatic overtures instead of condemning Putin’s actions in Russia. Other Libertarian organizations, like the Libertarian Party of Colorado and the Libertarian Party of Texas, have similarly criticized both sides.
Alongside the national Libertarian Party and the parties of both Texas and Colorado, multiple Libertarians urged that the “vivid and painful memories of the 20-year war on terror should provide an example of how wise and compelling the Libertarian Party is with the current call for the U.S. to exit NATO”. Senator Rand Paul, the Republican Senator from Kentucky who has long endorsed Right-Libertarian ideas, threatened to block a bill symbolically supporting Ukraine in late January in addition to stalling a bill intended to limit trade with Russia over “language linked to human rights-related sanctions”.
Paul’s father, the former Representative from Texas who twice campaigned for President, went further than most, alleging that the U.S. was responsible for the Ukraine crisis (this not being the first time he has supported Russia’s illegal actions). Lincoln Chafee, the former U.S. Senator and Governor of Rhode Island who sought the 2020 Libertarian Party presidential nomination, also made similar statements that claimed the United States was responsible.
Clearly, various Libertarian authorities, from official parties to notable Libertarians in politics to everyday, self-identified Libertarians, all seem to share the same views on the Ukraine crisis; that the U.S., Russia, and NATO are all bad actors, that the U.S. should remove itself from NATO, and that the U.S. is at least partly responsible for the situation in Ukraine. However, this is not to say all Libertarians are alike. In response to a social media post made by the Executive Director of the National Libertarian Party and the New Hampshire Libertarian Party, the Libertarian Association of Massachusetts called out both entities for, rightly, “[regurgitating] Putin’s claims in their Facebook statement on the invasion”.
The Libertarian Party as a whole seems to also be facing a crisis over the Ukraine crisis. Much like how Republicans, paleoconservatives, and neoconservatives debate about the Ukraine and Russia crisis, Libertarians do as well. At a recent conference, called the Up From Chaos summit, conference goers discussed how some “would prefer a more hands-off American response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” with “the phrase of the day seemed to be “Putin is bad, but …” The attendees… offered variations on that tune according to their policy preferences: Putin is bad, but we don’t want a nuclear war. Putin is bad, but why should we trust the American foreign-policy establishment? Putin is bad, but the media is in thrall to the U.S. intelligence apparatus. The broad consensus: Putin is bad, but why is that our problem?”.
This seemed to be an all too familiar sentiment from the Libertarian side. The Ukraine crisis is severe and necessitates our attention, but how can we still show support while sticking to our values? That is the primary question necessary for any Libertarian, yet it also shows a flaw in their thinking. If anyone, regardless of their political affiliation, is unable to condemn a nation state for war crimes, violations of international law, or domestic repression without also condemning the United States for their involvement in the Iraq War or NATO for destabilizing Libya (effectively engaging in a “whataboutist” fallacious argument), then it comes across that they are more dedicated to their own politics rather than actually being committed to defending human rights.
With the Ukraine-Russia example, given the Libertarian’s constant blaming of the crisis on the West, the endless advancement of tangentially related issues, and their advancement of Russian propaganda, it seems apparent that there are some instances when one’s personal political values or ideals must become secondary to matters of utmost importance, which the war in Ukraine certainly meets.