The Conscience of a Bullshit Artist.
I have the unpleasant task of reading Wayne Root’s misnamed book, The Conscience of a Libertarian. The title is, of course, just a rip-off of The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater. There was no need to change titles since Root’s work is clearly the work of a conservative, not a libertarian. Root remains a pretender, a conservative in libertarian clothing.
Early in the book Root defines himself as a “Libertarian conservative.” That is more telling than he would care. First, note that the term “libertarian” is modifying the term conservative. His main identity is that of a conservative not that of a libertarian. A “conservative libertarian” is someone who says they are foremost a libertarian with some conservative sentiments. A “libertarian conservative” is the opposite: someone who is mostly a conservative with some libertarian sentiments.
There is another telling point to Root’s self-labeling. He uses the term “Libertarian” instead of “libertarian.” A big L libertarian is merely a member of the Libertarian Party and these days that is no indication as to whether or not they are libertarian in political terms. The small l libertarian is someone who is a libertarian philosophically. Root identified himself as a “Libertarian conservative” not a “libertarian conservative.” This is even weaker that what I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Here he is not actually claiming to be a libertarian philosophically, merely a Libertarian Party member who is a conservative.
Of course, the whole thing could be imprecise writing and bad editing. Root is no intellectual and it shows. He is a loud-mouthed, brash, self-promoting individual with all the charms of a cross between a used car salesman and Richard Nixon, just without the principles.
Early in the book, Root dismisses discussing issues that separate libertarians from conservatives: social freedom. He does talk about taxes, and taxes, and more taxes. Social freedom is not something he talks about, but then he doesn’t want his conservative, anti-libertarian views too obvious while he tries to con the desperate and dying Libertarian Party into nominating him for President. Consider how Root addresses social freedom:
As a Libertarian, I believe that social and personal freedom issues are quite simply States’ Rights issues. …These issues are none of the federal government’s darn business. Voters should decide these issues on the state and local level.”There is nothing libertarian about that position. That is a conservative through and through.
Libertarians, by which I mean philosophical libertarians, not LP members, believe in individual rights not states’ rights. No decent libertarian would argue that the rights of anyone should be put up to majority vote of the public. But Root is no decent libertarian; hell; he’s not even an indecent libertarian.
What Root is doing is trying to hide social conservative values by sweeping that entire category of issues under the rug. We will hide social issues behind the mantra of “state’s rights” instead of addressing them. Libertarians have NEVER supported the violation of rights as long as it is the states that are violating those rights. That view is classic conservative thinking and was quite popular with the Dixiecrats, the racist Democrats who wanted to use state law to oppress blacks. Root is speaking in the tradition of Strom Thurmond, not Lysander Spooner.
Root is also ignoring an important question: what should the states do about these matters? Even if he is merely a Libertarian, and not a libertarian, the LP still has state affiliates and those affiliates must take stands on censorship, equality of rights for gays, separation of church and state, and other issues that Root avoids. What stand should they take, Mr. Root? When Root first floated the idea that he was the great savior of the LP, his web site did take stands on social issues and the stands I saw were very conservative. That was losing Root some support. So he pulled the same sort of trick pioneered by that other social conservative, Ron Paul. He called social freedom a state’s rights issue and then ignored it. Easier to keep conservatives happy and hide his true views.
Mr. Root also seems to be taken aim at the many agnostics and atheists that are in the Libertarian Party—including most of the LP presidential candidates, until the conservatives took over. Root says he is “comforted by the idea of our electing public official who are religious God-fearing and love men and women.” Apparently atheists like John Hospers (the first LP presidential candidate) or Ed Clark (the most successful LP presidential candidate) make Root uncomfortable. Worse, Root then equates morality with religion implying that non-religious people are immoral and corrupt. He says that electing “God-fearing” candidates is good for America “because moral people are less likely to bring about a corrupt government.” (Sort of like the non-corrupt, good government of George Bush, right Mr. Right?)
Never before has someone, who was an LP national candidate, taken a swipe at non-believers, implying that because they are not religious they are more likely to be immoral and corrupt. Elsewhere, Root claims he is the perfect candidate because he isn’t an atheist. “I’m the perfect political figure to lead this fight because of who I am. I’m not an atheist. I’m not a liberal, I’m not anti-religion. To the contrary, I’m a proud family man and patriot who strongly supports God, religion and prayer.” Notice he did not include, “I’m not a conservative.”
Root then goes into a discussion of marriage where he proves he is historically as adept as he is philosophical adept. In other words he is totally incompetent. He claims “After the abolishment of slavery, some states began licensing marriages in order to prevent blacks and whites from marrying each other. Prior to this, marriage was a religiously defined institution.” Both of these claims are false. State regulation of marriage goes back to the 1500s and was pushed by the Protestant Reformers who said marriage was a state institution more than a religious one. It was not the result of the abolition of slavery.
And prior to the Reformationists inviting the state to take over, marriage was primarily a non-religious, secular event. It was governed by custom and the will of those involved but not regulated by either church or state. Martin Luther wrote: “Since marriage has existed from the beginning of the world and is still found among unbelievers, there is no reason why it should be called a sacrament of the New Law and of the church alone.” Luther wanted state control over the matter but acknowledged it was primarily a non-religious institution predating the church. Root doesn’t know his history any more than he knows libertarianism.
In Root’s long diatribe about God and morality he seems to be saying that it is a bad idea to have government enforced morality. But how does that jive with his claim that these are all state issues? At first it appears he is saying that government, at any level, should not take on the role of moral enforcer. But that is not the case. He actually qualifies his position by saying: “Do not ask or demand that the federal government impose your choice and values on the rest of us.” It is only Nanny statism at the federal level that offends him. This remains consistent with his stated position that voters have the right to dictate morality at the state level. In the world of Wayne Root, individual rights may be determined by popular vote at the state level.
Social freedom issues are not quite entirely ignored, though they may well have been. He has a short section on medicinal marijuana but little about the destructive effects of the war on drugs as a whole. There appears to be one paragraph in the entire book on this topic. He does have a chapter called The End of Prohibition but that isn’t about drugs. That is about the laws regulating gambling. Root is in the gambling business so his “ principled” stand here is not surprising. True principled libertarians defend the rights of people they don’t like. Mr. Root never does that.
Root has almost nothing to say about civil liberties and social freedom. Also missing is any discussion of foreign policy and the war on terror. Surely the war and the hysteria about terrorists have justified more big brother measures in recent years than anything else. And Root has not a single word to say about them. He doesn’t defend the traditional libertarian foreign policy of non-interventionism. But then Root was a pro-war cheerleader before, who only shut up about it when he realized it might hurt his desire to be an LP candidate. There is nothing condemning the Patriot Act, nothing condemning torture of individuals by the US government, nothing about indefinite incarceration of prisoners by the federal government.
The only things Root talks about are conservative talking points. He avoids most social issues and all issues of foreign policy. He will rant about affirmative action, which pales in significance to foreign policy. He spends page after page on taxes but says nothing about repealing the Patriot Act and bringing the troops home. Root’s book is purely a marketing gimmick. It is not meant to explain libertarianism. How could it? Root has no idea what that term means. The whole purpose of the book is to convince conservatives to complete the take-over of the Libertarian Party and nominate the con man from Nevada for President.
UPDATE: This con man conservative is now trying to become the National Chairman of the Libertarian Party. As hopeless as that party is, no one deserves that fate. The selection of candidates running is not a very good one. But then who really wants to captain the Titanic at the last minute? George Phillies appears to be the best of the lot even though I think he's wrong on global warming and boring as shit. Mark Hinkle is someone I've personally liked but I believe he may be too closely allied with some of the worst, most unprincipled elements in the LP, but I might be wrong on that. Ernie Hancock has more loose screws than your local hardware store. The one merciful thing about a Root win in that race would be that it would speed up the demise of the party. The damn this is dead already, for god's sake bury it and get on with something productive.