Under Discussion: The Conscience of a Libertarian: Empowering the Citizen Revolution with God, Guns, Gambling & Tax Cuts, Wayne Allyn Root, Wiley (2009), 400 pages.
When I decided to read Wayne Allyn Root’s latest book, The Conscience of Libertarian, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed. A blabbering narcissist, who looks and acts like a cross between Mitt Romney and infomercial icon Kevin Trudeau, Root managed to con his way onto the Libertarian Party’s Presidential ticket in 2008 by brokering a deal with the equally appalling former GOP Representative Bob Barr. I believed this “reform” ticket was a Trojan horse peddling a stripped-down “libertarianism” that offered little for a decentralist like me and even less for those seeking to challenge the status quo of Beltway bureaucrats.
During the election, I was quite adamant in my denunciation of the LP for its crude political sellout. It was evident to me that the Barr/Root ticket was completely unacceptable, because it was so obviously a step back from the radicalism of Ron Paul’s primary campaign. Just as Americans were organizing around Constitutional principles, an America First foreign policy, and opposition to the Federal Reserve, why on earth would Barr and Root think it politically wise to back off these issues and turn the LP into a kinder, gentler GOP? The fact that this pair of used car salesmen were almost guaranteed to fall far short of the vote total achieved by Dr. Paul made the shameful descent into “low-tax liberalism” even less appealing. When the dust had settled in November, the Barr/Root ticket ended up as the massive failure I expected, and the LP had cemented its status as helplessly irrelevant for at least another four years.
This back history may seem unnecessary, but it is instructive in understanding why I read Root’s book.
For at least several years, there has been a growing trend on the Right of commentators” disassociating themselves from the term “conservative.” On the dissident right, there is a sense that the term has been hopelessly compromised by its association with a series of neocons and warmongers dedicated to a National Greatness credo anathema to traditional American values and culture. Though I am personally torn on the subject of whether the label can be separated from the creeps that has appropriated it, the argument has much merit. In fact, at this point the abandonment of the “conservative” label by the next generation of Right-thinking people may in fact be a foregone conclusion.
One of the byproducts of this has been a massive increase in the number of self-identified “libertarians.” Contrary to the fantasies of many well meaning Alternative Righties, this phenomenon pre-dated the Ron Paul campaign by years”if not decades. As far back as the early-“80’s, many pop celebrities had started to appropriate the label for their own purposes and by the “90’s radio talking heads like Neal Boortz and Larry Elder were peddling their respective brand of faux-libertarianism to discontented and dissatisfied Republicans from coast-to-coast. The total ineptitude of the “94 Republican Revolution coupled with the rise of the Internet accelerated this trend.
While the relative success of such figures expanded the usage of the term “libertarian,” it did very little to promote the central tenets of the philosophy. As a resident of South Carolina, I have been exposed to hours of the Atlanta-based Boortz & Co. for more than a few years. The non-aggression principle never seems to come up and criticism of the Federal Leviathian is always tempered by a safe deferment to the proper authorities on any issue that might involve the potential use of the U.S. Armed Forces. In other words, some of the most widely known, popular “libertarian” figures are in fact libertarians in name only. That the end result of this was the eventual corruption of the LP by a cadre of such folks should surprise no one. (Remember Bill Maher has been calling himself a “libertarian” for years.)
Keeping this in mind, the planned ascension of Wayne Root to the forefront of Libertarian politics in 2012 is something that seems uniquely awful. Reading Root’s first attempt at campaign biography did nothing to assuage these fears and much to feed them.
I began reading what I considered to be Root’s highly suspect election recollection wondering what the face of Libertarianism would become if turned over to the Wayne Roots of the world. I left the book wondering if the term “libertarian” is now on course to become as corrupted as the label “conservative.”
In fairness to Root, he’s not all bad. He does oppose the Federal Reserve. He mentions this factoid at least three times in passing, though the inflationary nature of fiat currency was apparently unworthy of a chapter length dissertation. After all this would mean cutting down on the gratuitous use of Goldwater quotes (many of them repeated) and “son of a butcher,” self-congratulatory one-liners (all repeated multiple times). Root also is clear about his opposition to the IRS, though his plan to “abolish” the dreaded income tax is needlessly complex. Instead of calling for the outright repeal of the federal income tax, Root treats us to a bizarre sub-chapter where he argues that we should devolve federal tax policy powers to the states as a roundabout way of starving the beast. Root also advocates for Presidential Impoundment as a weapon against a spend thrift Congress”a policy that may be Constitutional, but is not exactly ideal in the age of the imperial presidency.
For “libertarians” like Root, radicalism is a rhetorical tool and nothing more. He can rattle off a laundry list of federal bureaucracies he wants to throw under the proverbial bus, but at the end of the day, it’s the same, tired “balanced budgets,” “fiscal restraint” schlock that gave us Newt Gingrich. Mentioning the Empire is off the table, and anything more than a hint of non-interventionism is anti-American liberalism to be stamped out immediately.
Even worse than this thinly disguised statist accommodation is Root’s inability to grasp the logic of his own arguments. While page after page is devoted to the problems posed by taxation, Root spends nearly as much time advocating for a new “sin tax” on Internet gambling. Considering the fact that Root made his name, and at least part of his fortune, off of online gaming, this is a position that transcends hypocrisy and hurdles head first into the absurd.
Equally troubling is Root’s take on drug legalization. Whether or not this is an issue that should be a primary concern for the Alternative Right is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that the current prohibitionist position is a failure. One would expect a “libertarian” to be more than willing tackle this taboo in a hardcore fashion. Instead Root talks the talk about the ridiculous nature of drug laws and the toll that takes on our penal system”before going far out on the establishment limb and advocating for medical marijuana. Root will be happy to know that this tough stance puts him just slightly to the “libertarian” right of such luminaries as Bill Bennett and Charles Rangel.
Ron Paul garnered millions of votes, organized an impressive base of young supporters and activists, put monetary policy back on the table for discussion, and set the stage for a serious, anti-imperial politics on the right. Meanwhile, LP activist and leaders are still promoting the old canard that Murray Rothbard was a GOP infiltrator and Mary Ruwart is a Hakim Bey style anarcho-pederast. And people wonder why the good doctor didn’t want to tie his horse to that wagon.
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Over the years I’ve suffered through many poorly written books. Several of them have been penned by egomaniacal hacks whose hubris rivals Root (no small feat). Still, it is rare to encounter a book as shamelessly self-absorbed and foolish as The Conscience of a Libertarian.
Snake oil salesman like Root are all to willing to commandeer the burgeoning liberty movement for their own ends. The final result of this would be the completion of a decade-long drive to make the term “libertarian” safe and cuddly for establishmentarian types and consumption-addicted yuppies. Holding court against this trend should not be the long-term goal of the Ron Paul Revolutionaries”but it’s a short-term necessity for anti-statists of all shapes and sizes.