‘Hard-Core Libertarian’ Austin Petersen’s Advice for ‘Soviet’ Ron Paul

by | Jul 25, 2014

Austin Petersen

Austin Petersen, who describes himself in the introduction to his Freedom Report Podcast as a “hard-core libertarian” who cares about “pure freedom,” is upset that Ron Paul wrote an editorial expressing skepticism regarding the US government’s and media’s line on the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight in Ukraine.

Petersen, indeed, provides in his Wednesday podcast some advice for Paul: No more of that saying what you think stuff. If you do that, you might make some people uncomfortable, and the media might even run negative headlines!

Petersen’s advice brings to mind former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani challenging Paul to “withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean it,” when Paul discussed “blowback” from US foreign intervention during a 2007 presidential debate. By answering Giuliani with more education about the history of US foreign interventions and blowback instead of backing down, Paul, then a US House of Representatives member from Texas, took the limelight of the debate in a manner that strengthened his campaign and expanded his educational reach.

Petersen says Paul “sounds like he hates America” because — get this — an article concerning Paul’s editorial was published with the headline “Ron Paul Defends Russia After Malaysian Plane Crash.” That gives you an idea of the lack of logic involved in Petersen’s presentation. Just to be crystal clear, Paul wrote neither that headline nor the article it accompanies.

Defending Russia is synonymous with hating America only among the people who relentlessly try to depict Russia as an enemy of the United States, not among libertarians who value peace, communication, and commerce internationally.

Also, there is no reason to conclude from Paul’s editorial, or even from the headline of the article concerning the editorial, that Paul endorses everything the Russia government does.

Petersen in his podcast even presents an absurd discussion of how media cannot get away with publishing misleading headlines. The reality, as Paul knows from experience, is that, when media decides to attack you, media can mischaracterize you in multiple headlines in a single day. Petersen, not apparently willing to let reality interfere with making a point, says this does not happen.

Petersen, who touts his experience “in the media” to encourage people to accept the nonsense he is proclaiming, gives Paul’s famous “blowback” confrontation with Giuliani as an example of how Paul sometimes makes counterproductive statements. Of course this confrontation in which Paul forcefully and succinctly explains that people want to attack America because of the US government’s foreign interventions was a huge boost to Paul’s presidential campaign, the spreading of Paul’s message, and the creating and motivating of activists for non-intervention and respect for liberty.

Elsewhere in the interview Petersen lets slip that his disagreement with Paul regarding Paul’s “blowback” debate within a debate with Giuliani is not just based on a “message marketing strategy” difference of opinion. Instead, Petersen in fact takes Giuliani’s side in the debate. Petersen explains:

…people probably hate us around the world not because of our arrogance necessarily, although that may be part of it. The people probably hate us because they’re a bunch of socialist backwaterers and they’re jealous of our success. Now, people uh libertarians one of their favorite things is to make fun of the statement that George Bush made about “oh, they hate us for our freedoms.” And it’s funny, you know it sounds jingoistic and sounds just overly simplistic, but, the more you delve into the foreign policy history of the United States and into the war on terror specifically and the actors in the war on terror, the more you realize that there are actually people who do despise us for our freedoms.

Petersen proceeds along this line of thought further, never giving any credit to Paul’s side of the debate.

People seeking more information regarding US foreign intervention and blowback can read some or all of the books Paul recommended to Secretary of State John Kerry in March, including Robert Pape’s Dying to Win that provides an analysis of the motivation for suicide attacks.

Petersen also complains that Paul is using the same rhetoric as did “Soviet apparatchiks.” Oh no — rhetoric cooties!

If we abandon every form of argumentation Vladimir Lenin — just one Soviet political leader — used in his voluminous communications, we may well be left with little means of arguing at all.

The only real point of Petersen’s complaint is to associate with Paul through proximity the disconcerting term “Soviet apparatchik.” Petersen’s Soviet smear is just a “gotcha” turn of phrase; it is not an exercise in logic.

The “Soviet apparatchik” non-argument is a deceptive two-fer for Petersen. At the same time it illogically smears a champion of freedom with endorsing the defunct Soviet Union, it similarly equates in people’s minds the current Russian government with that of the defunct Soviet Union. The low-grade trick even seems to work on Petersen in his own presentation, with him having to correct himself after referring to Russia as the Soviet Union.

Maybe it is too charitable, however, to refer to Petersen’s Russia-Soviet Union misstatement as just a slip-up induced by his smear. Because Petersen is disturbed that Paul supposedly sounds like “a real America-hating socialist liberal,” you might expect Petersen to make a greater effort not to sound like a devoted cold warrior who believes that Russia is the “evil empire” in new clothing still intent on invading the world to impose global communism. Yet, Petersen remarks in his podcast:

The thing is that I worry sometimes that libertarians when they say, when they make these sorts of jokes about foreign policy, “oh, they hated us for our freedoms, ha, ha” it betrays a lack of full understanding of the true nature of what we are against. Now, just because I am a non-interventionist libertarian, it doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that there are threats around the world. And it also means that I think that we should acknowledge those threats, Russia being one of those primary threats.

Examining Petersen’s allegation that Paul is using the “Soviet apparatchik” argument form, we find that there is no truth to the allegation — no matter how unimportant the allegation is in the first place. Here is Petersen’s description of the “Soviet apparatchik” argument form along with his description of the argument form Paul uses:

This is the concept called “Whataboutism.” And I’m going to read this — you have to apologize for you — I’m going to read this to you from Wikipedia because I think it’s got the best definition of what “Whataboutism” is:

“Whataboutism is a term for the Tu quoque logical fallacy popularized by The Economist for describing the use of the fallacy by the Soviet Union in its dealings with the Western world during the Cold War. The tactic was used when criticisms were leveled at the Soviet Union, wherein the response would be ‘What about…’ followed by the naming of an event in the Western world loosely similar to the original item of criticism.”

So, what I’m saying here is that every time something wrong happens overseas or every time a big government does some evil thing overseas Ron Paul comes out and says “Well what about the United States? What about the United States?” in order to show the hypocrisy of the American government for making a stance on that.

Yes, you read that right. In Petersen’s sloppy attempt to smear Paul by repeatedly saying Paul is like a “Soviet apparatchik,” a “Soviet apologist,” and a person “nostalgic for the Soviet Union,” Petersen lets slip the truth that the argument Paul is making is just about the opposite of the one Petersen is smearing Paul for allegedly presenting.

As presented by Petersen, a person would use the “Soviet apparatchik” argument form to defend his own country’s government by noting that other governments do bad things too. In contrast, Petersen admits in passing before continuing with his rhetorical trickery that the argument form Petersen dislikes Paul using is Paul comparing actions by foreign actors with those of Paul’s own United States government to “show the hypocrisy of the American government.”

If Paul and other advocates for non-intervention overseas and respect for liberty at home follow Petersen’s urging and stop presenting Paul’s form of argument, they would be giving up on a powerful means of educating people and exposing government wrongdoing.

After using the word “Soviet” repeatedly while never presenting the slightest logical argument to back the smear and even illustrating for attentive listeners that the comparison is totally erroneous, Petersen proceeds to say that Paul, a prominent champion of free markets, sounds like “a real America-hating socialist liberal.” This is just nonsense piled on nonsense.

Petersen’s new assertion seems to rely on blind acceptance of a left-right political spectrum that says liberals are America-hating and conservatives are America-loving.

While Petersen says in his podcast introduction “I’m not a conservative,” his advice is that libertarians just shut up about areas where their philosophy leads them to conclusions that may be seen as anti-American, socialist, or liberal from a political orientation heavily biased toward an interventionist conservative perspective.

Petersen’s advice to libertarians can thus be summed up as keep your libertarianism to yourself — at least to the extent it conflicts with interventionist conservatism. Following this advice also shuts the door on libertarians working with people “on the left” on important matters where they agree and can and do make a difference, from preventing a US military attack on Syria to rolling back the drug war.

All this nonsense from someone who does not describe himself as a “hard-core libertarian” who cares about “pure freedom” could just be laughed off. But, when presented by someone who claims to be on the same side as Paul on the issues, the nonsense should be addressed. Otherwise, people not familiar with libertarian ideas including non-intervention and respect for liberty may hear the unanswered nonsense and think that the libertarian philosophy is just as messed up and contradictory as the political views of many of the people working to grow the military-police-surveillance state.


  • Adam Dick

    Adam worked from 2003 through 2013 as a legislative aide for Rep. Ron Paul. Previously, he was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Elections, a co-manager of Ed Thompson's 2002 Wisconsin governor campaign, and a lawyer in New York and Connecticut.

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