Root’s The Conscience of a Libertarian.

The two greatest tools in the Libertarian’s possession are privilege and resentment. Specifically, either privilege in already being well-off or resentment over the fact that you are not. Root’s The Conscience of a Libertarian, explicitly written as a manifesto for the Libertarian Party’s projected 2020 victory, is quite naturally full of both.

Reading the biography that Mr. Root provides, you’d be shocked at the amount of resentment that’s in his book. He was (as he never tires of telling us) a classmate of President Obama’s at Columbia. Comes from a family that was proud of hard work, married to a beauty queen, is able to home-school his kids, who are fantastic by the way. Lives in the great state of Nevada. So what’s he so resentful about?

Them. If I had taken a shot for every time Root wrote they, their or them in italics, I’d be dead on a slab and pre-embalmed. The simmering resentment toward unions, lawyers, bureaucrats, anyone who would interfere in anyway with Mr. Root’s life – it’s incredible. While the word “parasite” never appears, you can practically smell it on the page. It’s the “producers” who should run the country, the small businessmen, the ones who create the wealth. The chapter on affirmative action truly includes paragraphs on how hard it is to be a white man in this country.  The chapter on taxes suggests not merely a flat tax, but a tax that decreases with income. It really is a Randian fantasy. To get a sense of what’s driving Root, take a look at the last paragraph of his pages and pages of acknowledgments – it’s to his critics, who have made him relentless. They create absolutely nothing, but are crucial to Wayne Root, Libertarian warrior, and his success.

But just complaining about the style wouldn’t be fitting. The book was also wrong in matters of substance. Mr. Root is a Nevadan, and suggests we look to his state as a model. I’m not sure why, or how this would advance a libertarian point. Nevada, when you think about it, has more in common with any of the Persian Gulf Emirates than it does with, say, Illinois or New Hampshire. It’s economy is based in large part on tourism and mineral extraction, which allows it to maintain fairly low tax rates. Not to mention the fact that without the Department of the Interior’s Hoover Dam, there’d be no way to support a city the size of Las Vegas. This is not to mention the issues Las Vegas faces with its crime rate and unemployment. So surely taking Nevada’s road to become some sort of libertarian paradise isn’t in the cards.

What about implementing Mr. Root’s tax policies. His “plan B,” the plan he thinks we ought to enact if we can’t bring ourselves to transform overnight into a libertarian utopia, calls for a flat tax of 15% on all income up to $500,000/year, and 10% on all income above that. Not even a flat tax, as regressive and punitive as that is – a tax which actually shrinks as you get wealthier.

Which brings us to the other tool in the Libertarian’s chest. Privilege. Now, doubtless Mr. Root would accuse me of being some sort of effete, corrupted non-small-businessman for even mentioning the idea of privilege, tainted as it is by its association with such parasitical subjects as ethnic or gender studies. And,  in the interests of fairness I must admit that, yes, I am familiar with the concept and find it to be convincing in many cases, especially as relates to libertarian critiques of government. Mr. Root is operating, at every point in this book, from a position of privilege. He can write about how great homeschooling is because he and his wife were financially secure enough to have her stay home, and to hire private tutors. He can talk about the crippling burdens of being a white man in America, because he lives in a color-blind society – his race, after all, is invisible, so why can’t yours be? When he talks about immigration, he talks about letting the right kind of immigrants in – those willing to purchase or open a business that will employ themselves and others, or who are willing to buy a home worth $250,000 or more. No more huddled masses, no thought that someone might come to this country because it offers the chance for a better life, but a strict calculation of “will the Home-Owners Association like them?”

I really do have to repeat a few free-floating criticisms of Libertarianism and Root before I end this. First up is the tactic of calling everything “government” – mashing together federal, state and local government. Second is the States’ Rights (and it’s always capitalized like that in the book) dodge. States’ Rights, as a capital-letter political rallying cry, has never been used to advance individual liberties, only to diminish them. To take just one example, there’s no federal law mandating an invasive and unnecessary medical procedure, or legalizing certain politically palatable kinds of malpractice. Which brings us, again, to privilege. Women and minorities are very nearly invisible in both Root’s book and the broader libertarian movement in general, and workers only show up as either no-good parasites whom the government is trying to bribe with your money or as a burdensome responsibility for the small-business-owner. In other words, there are some serious problems with the polity of the libertarian ideal.

I feel, against my better judgment, that I should say some good words about Mr. Root. He does, for example, favor electoral reforms near and dear to my heart – removing the absurd and distorting cap on the number of Representatives and implementing some form of voting that wasn’t designed for 18th century England, for starters – and he spend a chapter admonishing the Christian Right that the government cannot be its enforcer. All things considered, though, Libertarianism is a movement by and for rich white men. Really, when you have to complain that the word “rich” has become an epithet, and spend time talking about the plight of white males in America, there is something about your movement that fails to capture, shall we say, the full breadth of our republic. Libertarianism is essentially a factional rebellion – devoted, despite all its claims, to the narrow interests of one group – and until and unless it moves beyond that, it will never present a credible alternative in American politics.

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