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The Conscience Of A Phony Libertarian: Wayne Allyn Root And The Decline Of The Libertarian Party

If the only book on libertarianism that you ever read was Wayne Allyn Root’s The Conscience of a Libertarian, then you’d be compelled to conclude that the most important liberty issues facing America are internet gambling, tax cuts for small businesses, and home schooling. That’s because Root, a former Republican who became the Libertarian Party’s Vice-Presidential nominee in 2008, seems to devote far more space to those policy areas than to others that most libertarians that I know care about, such as civil liberties, the war on drugs,and the national security state. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that Root spends far more time talking about himself, and why only he is capable of making the Libertarian Party competitive, than he does about these issues, or about what it really means to be a libertarian.

That’s understandable, though, because this is quite obviously a campaign book designed to bolster Root’s bid for the 2012 LP Presidential nomination, and because Root is not much of a libertarian.

Like many Republicans, conservatives, and “Constitutionalists,” Root blindly worships the Constitution to the point where “state’s rights” take on more importance than individual liberty. For example, he suggests early on at page 18 (in my copy at least) that individual states should have the “right” to decide issues like abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, online gaming, assisted suicide, and drug use. This may be a perfectly correct Constitutional position, it is not, however, a libertarian position. To a libertarian, state interference in an individual’s life is wrong whether it happens at the federal, state, or local level, and a law saying that someone can’t ingest a certain substance is wrong regardless of whether or not the Tenth Amendment authorizes it.

Another example occurs on page 75, where he says that the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia, where the Court struck down state laws barring interracial marriages, was the wrong decision. Instead, he says, the Court “should have declared that government had no right to license marriage at all.” I happen to agree with the idea that marriage and the state should be separated, but this reaction to the Loving decision strikes me as bizarre, not the least because the Court never would have done what Root proposes because none of the litigants in the case were asking it to do that. Loving was decided correctly, why is it so hard to say that ?

On page 222, Root demonstrates yet another deviation from libertarianism when he discusses immigration and says; “We must secure our borders and bring illegal immigration to a screeching halt. How? By protecting our borders with all those troops we will bring home from … around the globe.” Militarizing the border ? Hardly a libertarian position, but definately a Republican one.

On page 257, he endorses the debunked claims of the anti-vaccination crowd: “I believe that our national epidemic of autism and ADHD has a definite connection to the large-scale vaccinations required of our young children.” There is, of course, no evidence to support this claim but I suppose that if Root were the nominee in 2012 the LP would get Jenny McCarthy’s vote. This is a minor issue, and not really “libertarian,” but the last thing the LP needs to do is associate with someone who believes in pseudo-science.

The final strange passage that I’ll reference here is on page 29, where Root discusses his reasons for leaving the Republican Party (mostly because they wanted to ban online poker), and says, “nothing made my decision clearer than the morning of October 19, 2008, when I heard the remarkable announcement that General Colin Powell was endorsing Barack Obama for President of the United States… I was finally completely at peace with my decision to leave the Republican Party…” This was nearly five months after he had been nominated to run on the Libertarian ticket; had not made his mind up about the GOP at that point ?

After reading this book, and based on my previous experiences of watching Root during his various appearances on cable television, I am left with the over all impression of someone who is a cross between a televangelist and a used car salesman. The one thing that he seemed most concerned with is his own self-promotion, and I question his commitment to the ideas of the party that he proposes to represent.  I will give Root credit for being energetic, but libertarian he’s not.

7 Responses to “The Conscience Of A Phony Libertarian: Wayne Allyn Root And The Decline Of The Libertarian Party”

  1. Scott says:

    In defending civil liberties before state rights, would you also find Rand Paul’s view on ‘Business > Discrimination’ as impractical and backwards? The MSM is painting Paul’s view as libertarian, but from discussion forums and what not, I find that a lot of libertarians are split on this.

  2. In principle, I think Paul is right.

    On the specific issue of discrimination against blacks and Congressional authority, I disagree for the reasons I set forth here:

    http://belowthebeltway.com/2010/05/21/contra-rand-paul-the-libertarian-and-constitutional-case-for-the-civil-rights-act-of-1964/

  3. Jonathan says:

    Back in the 2008 election period, before Bob Barr strangely usurped Root as the Libertarian candidate, I looked up Root and watched a number of interviews. The first sentence in your entry here is the exact impression I got from most YouTube videos I could dig up. He seemed very hyperactive and enthusiastic, almost to the degree of a dog that’s been left inside alone for a day, when the door finally opens. One particular exchange I remember went something like: “So, Mr. Root… It seems that no one has ever heard of you.” Root: “That’s a good thing! That’s a good thing!” nodding his head enthusiastically, and then he went on to explain that typical politicians are known, and from that you can only deduce that someone that is unknown is not a politician and instead the real thing. Or something like that.

    Libertarian principles are great. It’s the candidates that aren’t so hot. I guess the same could be said about any political party.

    In any case, it’s spelled “definitely”.

  4. Tom Knighton says:

    Normally, I really hate the whole “more libertarian than thou” thing. I generally see it as counter productive since most members of any party tend to deviate somewhat from that party’s platform. For example, a pro-life Democrat or an anti-gun Republican.

    However, Root is a different kind of problem. The vast majority of his positions seem more in line with the Republican party, the strict Constitutionalist variety of Republicans, than most libertarians. It seems that online gambling is one of the few areas he deviates from the GOP on…and IIRC he owns a casino. He could potentially profit from legalized online gambling, so he’s hardly an unbiased advocate here.

    While I hate it when libertarians get into the “more libertarian than thou” mess, I’ll make an exception when it comes to Wayne Allen Root. So far, I’ve seen nothing that really makes him appear libertarian, save for a few small issues.

  5. Steve C says:

    I’m largely in agreement with this article sans the abortion reference….. There are two fundamental pillars of libertarianism: (1) SELF – OWNERSHIP and (2) The NON – AGGRESSION PRINCIPAL…. While abortion is(at least) prima facie in line with the former, one might construe it as a gross violation latter — and this may be done in purely secular terms (there is a site — Libertarians for Life)which outlines this position. Secondly, moving the other issues to the states is progress for 2 reasons: First, to this extent you can work with strict constructionists / constitutionalists on this issue and second, to the extent thats these positions BOTH enhance individual rights and have utilitarian benefit, you are more likely to build a consensus on these issues.

  6. [...] written before about the questionable libertarian allegiances of Wayne Allyn Root, the LP’s 2008 Vice-President nominee and currently an At-Large member of the Libertarian [...]

  7. [...] written before about the questionable libertarian allegiances of Wayne Allyn Root, the LP’s 2008 Vice-President nominee and currently an At-Large member of the Libertarian [...]

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