Fear and loathing of Russia is all the rage in Washington, D.C., as both liberal Democrats and neoconservative Republicans unite in a campaign to demonize the Kremlin as “the premier and most important threat, more so than ISIS,” as Sen. John McCain recently put it. While Hillary Clinton and her dead-ender supporters conjure a Vast Russian Conspiracy to hand the 2016 election to Donald Trump, and the neocons take advantage of this to push their longstanding hatred of Russian President Vladimir Putin, even ostensible libertarians are getting into the act.
This may seem counterintuitive: after all, the modern libertarian movement was born in rebellion against the cold war politics of the Vietnam war era, and libertarians have always opposed Washington’s interventionist foreign policy, such as NATO and a destabilizing and dangerous arms race. Yet even libertarians are not immune to the power of groupthink and the tyranny of political fashion, as the cover story in the most recent edition of Reason magazine makes all too clear. Provocatively entitled “Russia’s Global Anti-Libertarian Crusade,” and authored by longtime Russophobe Cathy Young – herself an immigrant from Russia – the piece makes the case for viewing Russia in McCain-esque terms, i.e., an implacable enemy, the driving force behind an “illiberal international” dedicated to stamping out the last vestiges of liberty all across the globe. And it doesn’t stop there: Young advocates a series of measures to be undertaken by both governments and private entities to stem the “illiberal” tide – including economic sanctions against Russia. She writes:
“Aside from a verbal commitment to liberal democracy and the rule of law, what can Western countries do to curb Russia’s anti-liberal influence without risking military conflict? Economic sanctions – particularly when they target the Russian political elite and its properties abroad, as opposed to targeting ordinary Russian consumers – can be more effective than they are often believed to be.”
As Young and the editors of Reason know full well, existing sanctions against Russia are not limited to “the Russian political elite.” And, in any case, Young doesn’t object to these comprehensive restraints on trade: she wants them extended to include particular persons and institutions for the sole purpose of antagonizing them and making any sort of rapprochement between Russia and the United States impossible.
Which leads us to scratch our heads and ask: what’s up with a “libertarian” magazine pushing economic sanctions? What happened to “free trade” and untrammeled capitalism, supposedly the touchstones of the free market philosophy so energetically celebrated by Reason since its founding in 1969? Isn’t it odd that Reason opposes economic sanctions on Communist Cuba, but wants them slapped on Russia – which is just emerging from 70-some years of its Marxist nightmare? Perhaps one explanation is that the magazine is funded in large part by oil oligarch Charles Koch, of Koch Industries, who stands to make billions if Russian energy exports are blocked by government action.
While ascribing this motivation to the editors of Reason may seem uncharitable, it is the least uncharitable explanation for publishing Young’s farrago of falsehood, innuendo, and neo-McCarthyite rubbish. Far worse would be an ideological motivation: that they actually believe the pathetic conspiracy theory Young cobbles together out of the imaginings of various professional Russophobes.
While distancing herself from the “more extreme” anti-Russian narratives, which she admits are conspiracy theories with little evidence to support them, Young weaves a “moderate” conspiracy theory of her own – with just as little evidence to support it. She claims that the Russians are supporting the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party of Greece, and Hungary’s “quasi-fascist” Jobbik movement, although no evidence of this is presented. She says in several instances that the National Front party of France’s Marine Le Pen is a Russian front: her “evidence” is that a Russian bank with “links to the Kremlin” provided the party with a loan. One wonders if, say, a British bank (with undefined “links” to Westminster) loaned money to an America political party, would that make them a tool of Perfidious Albion?
Who needs actual evidence, anyway, when writing about Russia? After all, as computer security expert Jeffrey Carr points out, there is exactly zero public proof that the Russians “hacked” the 2016 elections – and yet the media “reports” this as undisputed fact.
Bereft of any actual facts, Young proceeds to assemble an ideological construct, one that, however, has some pretty big cracks in the foundations. To wit:
“Cloaked in the mantle of religious and nationalist values, the Kremlin positions itself as a defender of tradition and sovereignty against the godless progressivism and the migrant hordes overtaking the West. It has a global propaganda machine and a network of political operatives dedicated to cultivating far-right and sometimes far-left groups in Europe and elsewhere.”
How does one reconcile Russia’s alleged crusade against “godless progressivism” with their alleged support for “far-left groups in Russia and elsewhere”? She mentions Syriza, the Greek leftist party that briefly came to power. Leaving aside that Young nowhere documents this alleged support – not even with so much as a single link – it would seem more than a bit odd for the Kremlin, the supposed fountainhead of Orthodox Christianity, to be behind the success of the Greek Syriza party, which is militantly secular: a Syriza proposal to completely separate the Greek state from the Orthodox Church and levy a special tax on all church members would seem to contradict Young’s thesis. Are leftists now suddenly defenders of “tradition”?
Young’s hostility to Orthodox Christianity is one of the linchpins of her conspiracy theory: Putin’s support for Christian values, as viewed through the lens of Russian Orthodoxy, is depicted as a threat to the West. This is a curious argument to make, since Christianity – while in retreat in the West – is still seen as the basis of the Western individualist ethic, the foundation of the very same “liberal values” that Young extols throughout her essay.
She cites John Schindler, a former US Naval War College professor forced out for sending photos of his penis to a Twitter follower, in support of this contention. Schindler asserts that Edward Snowden is a Russian agent and that Glenn Greenwald, who reported on Snowden’s findings, was in it for the money. Young cites him as a credible authority, invoking his theory that Putin is engaged in “Orthodox Jihadism” against the West. It doesn’t matter that Putin’s “Orthodox jihadists” – Where are they? Who are they? – aren’t the ones planting bombs throughout Western Europe. They’re against gay marriage, aren’t they? Writes Young: “The main example of Western decadence and liberal extremism was, of course, same-sex marriage.” Case closed! Except that Schindler ridiculing Greenwald, who is gay, as “Glenda” seems to undercut Young’s depiction of the former Naval War College professor and NSA veteran as a champion of liberal tolerance. One also has to wonder what Young, an admirer of novelist Ayn Rand, makes of Schindler’s belief that Rand was a secret Russian agent.
Another building block of Young’s argument that Putin’s Russia is “authoritarian” and a danger to the West is Ivan Ilyin, an early twentieth century Russian writer whom she describes as an “authoritarian nationalist,” a designation that has little to do with his actual views. During his time as Russia’s chief executive, Putin has quoted Ilyin on exactly five occasions, and Young sees this as “telling” – but what exactly does it tell us?