Society vs. The State

“… just as the State has no money of its own, so it has no power of its own. All the power it has society gives it, plus what it confiscates from time to time on one pretext or another; there is no other source from which State power can be drawn. Therefore every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power; there is never, nor can be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and equivalent depletion of social power.”

– Albert Jay Nock, OUR ENEMY, THE STATE  (1935),

Caldwell: The Caxton Printers, 1950, Chap. 1, pp. 3-4.

“Knowledge itself is power.”

– Francis Bacon, MEDITATIONES SACRAE (1597)

In the age-old struggle for individual liberty against the power of the state, there can be no questions which side has triumphed throughout most of the twentieth century.

The one interest the state willingly sacrifices to the “common good” is personal liberty, the freedom to produce and create, to buy and sell, to speak and publish, to travel, to live freely. By diminishing liberty, government systematically subverts people’s responsibility for their own lives. It robs those who produce in order to placate those who only consume. The result is economic stagnation, retrogression, and political corruption.

Since the seventeenth century, in England, France, and America, and more recently in Russia and Eastern Europe, revolutions against this tyranny of the state  were fought on behalf of an alternative we can call “natural liberty.” At first successful, over time these revolutions cooled down to complacency and hard-won freedom came to mean guaranteed entitlement to government largess.

True natural liberty means that each one of us is the sole legitimate owner of our own life and destiny, free to act as we wish so long as we use no violence, fraud, or other aggression against others. That same freedom dictates a free-market economy enjoying peaceful production and trade. It opposes government control by self-serving politicians.

No activity of statist governments has diminished personal liberty more than the unchecked power to tax. In the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany the effective rate of personal taxes far exceeds 50 percent of earnings. In some nations, such as France and Sweden, it is higher still. Business is taxed at even greater levels. And everyone pays the ultimate price.

When government takes wealth from some and gives it to others, this forced redistribution diminishes the rights and well-being of the former, and often destroys the independence of the latter.

The issue of taxation involves nothing less that the human and natural right to own, use, and enjoy private property, a “civil right” of the most basic kind. Property and wealth determine personal power to control our lives, to make decisions, to raise a family, to live free.

As Albert Jay Nock noted, every additional tax imposed diminishes our freedom.

In an economic history of the Middle Ages, Paul Craig Roberts, the economist and columnist, showed that medieval serfs bound to the land and their masters rarely paid more than one-third the value of their labor in taxes. For good reason: with very low productivity, serfs could not survive if forced to pay more taxes. With nothing to lose, they would revolt and kill the tax collectors.

Yet half a millennium later, with capitalism’s enormously increased productivity, we have even less right to our earnings than did those enslaved serfs. Says Roberts, “You are not free when you do not own the product of your own labor.”

– From the “Preface,” Robert E. Bauman, ed., FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE,

Waterford: The Sovereign Society, 5th edition, 2004.

[Reprint permission dated March 6, 2006 by Shannon Crouch, The Sovereign Society, 5 Catherine Street, Waterford, Ireland. Phone 888-358-8125. Email: Web:]

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