Introduction – Taxes No Better Than Slavery

by Carl Watner




[The following is the Introduction to the book Render Not. More information can be found here. It is available for purchase here.]

Slavery is wrong.
Taxation is a form of slavery.
Therefore taxation is wrong.
The implications that follow from this syllogism are the subject of this book.

Slavery is wrong. A slave is a person who is the property of another or others, such that whatever the slave produces can be taken by force or the threat of force.[1] The slave has no right of self-ownership, and those who exercise dominion over the slave always have the legal right to use coercion against him, but certainly have no natural right to do so. He who takes the life, liberty, or property of another without that other’s consent is stealing; and as the early abolitionist described it, man-stealing is just as wrong, if not worse, than property-stealing, because human beings hold a higher rank in existence than inert property matter.

Taxation is a form of slavery. A tax is a compulsory levy on a person subject to the jurisdiction of a government. Anyone who is taxed is a slave because his or her earnings and property are forcibly taken to support the State. Most individuals do not consent to taxation. Historically, the Romance languages, such as French, Spanish, and Italian, have tried to make the tax-payer “feel good” by euphemistically calling him a “contributor”.[2] “Customers” is the term that our own Internal Revenue Service uses to identify those from whom it extracts payments, using threats of force or actual force in some instances.

Therefore taxation is wrong. As Auberon Herbert, one of the contributors to this volume, pointed out decades before the passage of the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (on the basis of which Congress legislated a federal income tax): truth and consistency demand that if the State may forcibly take one dollar “out of what a man owns, it may take what it likes up to the last dollar … . Once admit the right of the [S]tate to take, and the [S]tate becomes the real owner of all property.” To those who wish to debate this point, I only ask: where in the federal Constitution is there any limitation on the amount that Congress may try to take from us?[3]

But, as Charles Adams, one historian of taxation, has observed: “without revenue, governments would collapse, society as we know it would disappear, and chaos would follow.”[4]

True: coercive political governments which depend on violence to sustain themselves with police and armed force would disappear. Yes, society as we know it today in the United States would change.

But would chaos follow? Not necessarily. If the opponents of taxation used revolutionary violence to abolish the State, then there would undoubtedly be some who would fight for the re-establishment of taxation But if taxation were to be abandoned as a result of a shift in pubic opinion and understanding, then, in the words of Murray Rothbard, we would simply achieve a peaceful “society without a state.” As Thomas Paine explained centuries ago: A “[g]reat part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of Government. It has its origins in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to Government, and would exist if the formality of Government” no longer existed.[5]

All history attests to the fact that if a service supplied by government is truly wanted, a voluntary way will be found to provide it. It may cost some people more than when the government supplied it; but the point is that if a true demand exists, some entrepreneur or some group of individuals will associate cooperatively to provide it. Any number of examples can be used to illustrate this point: Did religion disappear when churches lost their government support? Did people go without coined money when there were no government mints? Did people go shoeless because there were no government factories to produce footwear?

A number of contributors to Section VI of this anthology attempt to answer the question, “How would a society of individuals function without taxes?” But perhaps the even more important question is, “Does our governmentally-directed society based on coercive taxation really work all that well?” If we were to start out de novo would we actually entrust all our protective and defensive services to the members of one organization, and empower them to collect their revenues at the point of a gun? What kind of service could we expect from a monopoly that had no competition and a guaranteed income? Who would protect us from our guardians if they turned venal? Who would guard the guardians? Voluntary, consensual arrangements are always more flexible and less predictable than those imposed by coercive governments, which always perceive change as a threat to their dominance and sovereignty.[6]

Government taxation is a coercive activity that introduces force and violence into otherwise peaceful relationships. That is our primary reason for opposing taxation. It pits one man against another; one group against another group; upsets the natural market incentives that produce the greatest benefits for all. Although it is true that many who oppose taxation believe that a voluntary system will lead to a spectacular standard of living for the masses, that is not the reason for the opposition that inspires this book. We believe it is morally proper that a man keep the product of his labor; that he not be enslaved. If it is wrong for a slave owner to enslave a single person, then it is wrong for a group of individuals to do so. Majority rule cannot legitimize slavery or taxation. As R. C. Hoiles, founder of the Freedom Newspapers, was always keen to point out, there is only one standard of right and wrong, and that standard applies to the lone individual, to members of a group, and to the employees of the State.[7]

Conscientious objectors to taxation recognize that some goods and services are essential to human survival, but also realize they need not be provided by the government on a coercive basis. What we oppose is the coercion involved in collecting taxes. We oppose the means and take the position that the ends never justifies the means. Our opposition to taxation doesn’t concern itself with whether too much money is being collected, or whether that money is being spent wastefully. Rather, the focus is on the fact that any amount of money forcefully collected is stealing. It is no more proper for government agents to seize property than it is for you to rob your neighbor at gunpoint, even if you spend the money on something that you think will benefit your neighbor.

If some in our society think that certain government services are necessary, then let them collect the revenues to support those services in a voluntary fashion. We who oppose taxation may or may not support their efforts. It would soon be revealed which services are sufficiently desired. And if the people collecting the money to support these services do not, in their judgment, collect enough, then let them dig into their own pockets to make up the deficiency or do without. They do not have the right to spend other people’s money.

The articles in this anthology have been chosen because they discuss the historical, political, and philosophical relationships between taxation, slavery, and stealing. Robert Ringer, in his opening essay, describes taxation as a disgrace to the human race because it is a “violation of property rights, which means a violation of human rights.” He points out that he is not only opposed to the income tax, but to all the “subtle” and hidden taxes that politicians on every level of government have enacted. He further alludes to the tremendous amount of “stolen” time that taxpayers surrender as they fill out their tax returns and compute the amount of taxes they owe. Harry Reid describes these activities as “voluntary” because everyone (or everyone’s accountant) figures out the extent of his or her own tax liability. The interview with the Senator has been included because it demonstrates the gross absurdity of calling taxes, especially the federal income tax, a consensual activity. It only appears so because the American taxpayers are so brainwashed that most of them no longer perceive the government as a violent threat, but rather view it as an unending source of welfare benefits that someone else pays for.

Two articles by an anonymous author illustrate the inherent dangers in criticizing government authorities. If you were Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and received a letter from a disgruntled citizen comparing your organization to the Mafia wouldn’t you investigate that critic to make sure he or she was paying his or her taxes? The fact is that the United States government has prosecuted and imprisoned those who question the constitutionality of its unapportioned taxation of income. In my own article, “Is ‘Taxation Is Theft’ A Seditious Statement?,” I point out that judges in the federal courts have gone so far as to prevent defendants (alleged tax protesters) from presenting their constitutional arguments against income taxation. But as is apparent here, the U.S. Constitution has no special moral authority to convert taxation into non-theft. For those of our authors who embrace taxation as theft and slavery, Anonymous summarizes their opposition by writing: “I am going back to ‘the old, traditional standards of religion, ethics, common law,’ and common sense. I am refusing to act in a way that produces or contributes to evil.”

What you will not find here is the call for “tax reduction” or for declaring the federal income tax laws “unconstitutional.” The closest we come to that is Vivien Kellems’ chapter in which she attacks the federal withholding system as being “illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional” because it is not her responsibility, as an employer, to discharge the income tax liability of her employees by making deductions from their pay. Instead, you will find a moral clarity exuded by many of our authors. For example, Frank Chodorov declares that “taxation is robbery” and that no amount of verbiage “can make it anything else.” In conclusion, he notes that there can neither be a “good tax nor a just one” because “every tax rests its case on compulsion.” Mark Crovelli tackles the Catechism of the Catholic Church and writes that “theft is theft – even if the State does it.” His purpose is to harken back to the unadorned language of the 7th commandment that “offers a straightforward condemnation of the taking of other people’s property without their consent.” As he notes, the commandment “does not offer exceptions, such as “You shall not steal unless you are a government employee.”

Some of the contributors to this volume label themselves pacifists and war tax resisters. In Michael Benedetto’s essay on “The Origins of Conscientious Tax Objection” we find a review of the religious objections to war taxes. Juanita Nelson, author of “A Matter of Freedom,” (reprinted here) and her husband, Wally, began their tax resistance in 1949, but it was not until June 16, 1959 that Juanita “became the first woman in modern times to be apprehended by the federal government for opposition to war and war preparation.” Although she was eventually released, the government filed tax liens against her and in 1973, agents from the Internal Revenue Service attempted to seize two vehicles that she and her husband had parked at their home in New Mexico. “Each of them sat in front of a vehicle, and the agents finally left.”[8] Ammon Hennacy, another one of our contributors, was imprisoned during World War I for his refusal to be conscripted. Out of this experience, he became a Catholic, an anarchist, and a tax refuser. He, the Nelsons, and other war tax resisters certainly earn my greatest respect for having the courage and consistency to stick to their beliefs – even when the State has used force against them. Yet, to them and all other war tax resisters, I ask: What about excise taxes, real estate taxes, personal property taxes, use taxes, inheritance and estate taxes, social security taxes, and sales taxes? Are they not wrong, too? Do these taxes not go to support government? Are not all activities of government ultimately dependent on force, violence, and threats? Why limit your opposition to government wars and their funding? Are not the actions of the U.S. government in controlling its citizens in its own domestic venue similar in nature to its military operations abroad since both are predicated on the exercise of coercion?

Randolph Bourne, an early 20th Century intellectual, once observed that “war is the health of the state.”[9] Compulsion is its backbone; taxes are its lifeblood. The ultimate basis of State power is coercive taxation.[10] As Lysander Spooner pointed out in his essay, “Taxation,” (reprinted here) written before the United States Civil War, with money a government can hire armed men to plunder and punish those of its citizens who do not obey. The underlying premise of government taxation is that you and your property belong to the State.[11] Whatever you are allowed to keep is due to its generosity, and if you resist and want to keep more of your own property, you will be fined, jailed for contempt of court, or killed resisting arrest. Taxation is nothing but a polite euphemism for stealing – legitimized by the overpowering strength of the State. Thus it becomes our duty as individuals, and as inhabitants of the earth, to speak out – to make known our views about taxation. Regardless of how much or how little tax we pay, we can say: taxes are wrong.

We agree with the Jewish Zealot, Judas of Gamala, who over two thousand years ago said that the census tax imposed by the Roman occupiers of Palestine in 6 A.D. “was no better than introduction to slavery.”[12] Would Jesus Christ have agreed with the Jewish Zealots? When faced with the question, “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” Christ refused to answer directly. Instead he said, “Show me a coin. Whose likeness and inscription has it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. It was then that he exclaimed the famous lines: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Render not unto Caesar is the conclusion of this book – for as Dorothy Day is reputed to have once said, “If we render unto God all the things that belong to God, there would be nothing left for Caesar.”[13]

One of the main purposes of this book is to encourage people to look at an old situation in a new way. Until individuals could recognize that there was a practical alternative to slavery, it was difficult for them to see slavery as the moral atrocity it was. To speak of doing away with taxation, today, brings forth the same reactions and reasons that Robert Higgs describes in one of the concluding chapters of this book. The defenders of slavery could not visualize how civilization, how law and order, could be maintained without slaves, and yet, society and civilization have survived. It is our position that taxation is just as abominable, as unjust, and as unnecessary as slavery. There are many voluntary ways to solve societal problems if only people would begin to free their minds from the constraints of government indoctrination and propaganda. Only a free mind is able to recognize the truth. Paraphrasing Alexander Solzhenitsyn, only a free mind is able to take that courageous step, and refuse to take part in falsehood. Only a free mind can recognize that “one word of truth outweighs the world.”[14]

End Notes

[1] Lesley Brown, (ed.), The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993, See “slave,” Vol. II, p. 2893.

[2] Mario Pei, Double-Speak In America, New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1973, p. 96.

[3] Auberon Herbert, “Some Reasons Why Voluntaryists Object To Compulsory Taxation In All Its Forms,” Section 27 (reprinted here). Even if there were such a limitation in the federal Constitution, of what value would it be? First and foremost, how can the Constitution possibly legitimize stealing and/or slavery? Second, and of lesser importance, what would prevent such a limitation from being amended, repealed, or ignored?

[4] Charles Adams, For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of History, Lanham, Madison Books, 1993, pp. 1-2.

[5] See Murray Rothbard, “Society Without a State,” The Libertarian Forum, Volume 7, No. 1, January 1975, online at, and see Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (1792), Ch. 1, Bk. 2.

[6] Rothbard, op. cit. For historical examples of voluntaryism, see Carl Watner (ed.), I Must Speak Out: The Best of The Voluntaryist, 1982-1999, San Francisco: Fox & Wilkes, 1999.

[7] See Carl Watner, “To Thine Own Self Be True: The Story of Raymond Cyrus Hoiles and His Freedom Newspapers,” in Watner, op. cit., pp. 151-152. Originally printed in The Voluntaryist, Whole No. 18, May 1986.

[8] Ed Hedemann and Ruth Benn (eds.), War Tax Resistance: A Guide to Withholding Your Support from the Military, New York: War Resisters League, Fifth Edition, 2003, p. 96.

[9] Lillian Schlissel, The World of Randolph Bourne, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1963, pp. 246-250, and pp. 259-271. Excerpts reprinted in The Voluntaryist, Whole No. 39, August 1989. The fact is: there couldn’t be wars without taxation.

[10] David Beito, Taxpayers in Revolt, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989, p. 127.

[11] Anonymous, “Why I Refuse To Be Numbered,” The Voluntaryist, Whole No. 116, 1st Quarter, 2003, p. 1, 4th paragraph.

[12] Flavius Josephus, Selections from His Works, with an Introduction and Notes by Abraham Wasserstein, New York: The Viking Press, 1974, p. 179 (from The Antiquities of the Jews. Cited on the internet as Jewish Antiquities, 18.4-6). This description of the Roman tax is attributed by Josephus to Judas of Gamala (otherwise known as Judas the Galilean), the reputed founder of the Zealots who revolted against the institution of the poll tax by the Romans in 6 A.D. in Palestine. He is to be distinguished from the better known Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles and the betrayer of Jesus.

[13] See the New Testament, Luke 20: 22-25 and Jeffrey F. Barr, “Render Unto Caesar: A Most Misunderstood New Testament Passage,” Posted on, March 17, 2010.

[14] I would like to thank Ned Netterville and Spencer and Emi MacCallum for their critical reading and suggestions on how to improve this introduction.

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