“If you work for peace, stop paying for war”

The most omnipresent slogan of libertarianism in the digital age is the one that argues, or maybe just declares, taxation is A, theft is B, and A is B. Everyone has a gut feeling about being stolen from or coerced into losing his or her property, and so whether it’s extortion or theft anyone is apt to understand what “taxation is theft” means on a primitive level.

Even if anyone can understand what it means, it seems there’s little agreement about what it encourages — since, “the government’s up to no good again” doesn’t really have a telos behind it and pitching a preferred state of arrangements is useless without appropriate connected action.

I was thinking about this, and ran into a short essay by Gina Lunori that looks to answer the question, with the same frustration.

I heard someone praise a conscientious objector who refused
to fight in Iraq, and I asked him if he was still paying taxes. He told
me that the government hadn’t created a “conscientious objector”
category for taxpayers, so he was sorry to say he wasn’t able to
stop paying. As if you only have a conscience when the
government issues you a permit for one!

I told him I know people who’ve stopped paying their taxes
without waiting for permission, just by lowering their income and
living below the tax threshold. He told me that he wasn’t prepared
to make that kind of sacrifice. If I had a pocket calculator I could
have told you the maximum price of his conscience. If I had a
quality postal scale I probably still couldn’t discern its weight.

Like Walter Mitty these armchair peaceniks burn their draft
cards in their daydreams, meanwhile the people who serve in the
military in their place are equipped, and shipped, and paid for by Walter Mitty’s tax dollar.

The biggest obstacles to change aren’t the few who are
abusing the government, but the many who are submitting to it and
facilitating the abuse.

A government that loved liberty would be trying at every
opportunity to expand and protect that liberty. Our government
tries everything it can to evade the few protections that have
survived since its founding. Look at how shamelessly it has
whisked people off to Cuba — Cuba! — in order to sweep them out
from under the protection of the Constitution.

A person who loves liberty would not shovel coal into a
tyrant’s engine just to earn a higher salary. Why does a person in
the United States who claims to love freedom, and who is
intelligent enough to understand that the government is freedom’s
enemy, still feel that it’s worthy of respect to be a taxpayer, and the
more salary — and therefore the more taxes — the more respect?
If you love liberty, if you hate war, you should at once withdraw
your support from the government. Withdrawing your moral
support isn’t enough — it’s your practical support that the
government feeds on — it doesn’t give a damn what your opinions
are.

This is something you must do because you know the
difference between right and wrong and you know, when you look
the facts straight in the face, that when you willingly give practical
support to the government you participate in its wrongs. But this is
more than a matter of personal integrity.

Imagine the power of this statement. What if every person
who felt that the government had lost their moral support also
withdrew their practical support? What if only one in ten did? It
would be the beginning of the end. It would be that nonviolent
revolution we’re praying for.

Maybe the best tests of intellectual integrity are consistency and hypocrisy. How do the people that swear off voting as aggression feel about funneling taxed income to the government to enable its aggression? How do the people that mantra “taxation is theft” feel about surrendering their goods, each and every year, in a way they would never, ever tolerate from a burglar?

6 thoughts on ““If you work for peace, stop paying for war”

  1. And yet somehow, despite all this theft and war, our living standards are the highest in the history of humanity. In addition, life expectancy, health, education and freedom are higher globally than ever before, and by a wide margin. Even death by war and violence levels are an order of magnitude lower than in all prior eras.

    Point being, maybe we should consider the broader conditions and our accomplishments before making simplistic interpretations about the consequential effects of things like taxation and US military actions.

    • You make an interesting point while completely whiffing on the point of the essay. What’s the correct word for your response? Deflection?

    • Sorry Dan, I am missing something in either your comment or the main post. I read the main post as an argument for consistency between our beliefs and our actions. If the state is indeed an immoral thief and villain then we should react accordingly. If this interpretation is incorrect, then I apologize.

      My point in response to this is simply that our modern society is unimaginably better than any society in the history of life on earth. As such, tearing apart components of that integrated system is risky. Perhaps libertarian anarchists should consider that there is a very real possibility that if they tear down/undermine the imperfect system we have we will actually achieve something WORSE not better. And by worse, I mean something that leads to mass poverty, more war and the death of billions. If this is something armchair theorists can set aside lightly, then they have me worried.

      The ramifications of this view are that we should be extremely careful about destroying or undermining the current system with its much better than ever before results. The perfect can be the enemy of the good.

      I hope this makes my point clearer, but do correct me if I totally botched the authors point.

    • The post/essay is about the tension between people who feel a certain way about taxation and their actions, not about whether or not anarchy leads to chaos or whether or not the world is a better place to live than ever

    • Thanks for the reply, Bill.

      The essay ended with a series of what if questions. My take on your final paragraph was that it made at least a passing endorsement of intellectual consistency, thus playing directly into the what if scenarios.

      I gave an answer to the what if’s, clarifying that undermining the best system in history is not something to be undermined lightly. If you accept my premise, then if we want both intellectual consistency and good outcomes, we should consider changing (or at least being much more cautious on) our underlying assumptions on the benefits and moral standing of representative government.

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