Obamacare Foes Threaten Civil Disobedience Tax Strike

Dave Ridley of The Ridley Report interviewed some demonstrators on various sides of the health care industry legislation debate in New Hampshire.

A pair of foes of the impending legislation had a remarkably sophisticated understanding of the history and use of tax resistance that I’m not used to seeing in protesters on the right-wing:

Here’s a partial transcript from where things get interesting (around 6:12):

Dave Ridley: Have you heard about this: I guess the IRS is going to be enforcing some of this possibly, and they’re going to be making you pay into [government-mandated health insurance].

Protester #1: Absolutely.

Dave Ridley: Will you do civil disobedience? Are you up for it? Are you willing to not…

Protester #1: Well, how do you do civil disobedience when they take it out of your check, when they take it out of a fine? It’s confiscatory — we practiced that word earlier today — confiscatory taxes. You don’t have a choice if you pay your taxes or not. It’s taken out of your check, it’s a parking meter, it’s a fee, fine, or a tax on everything that happens behind the scenes. The telephone tax was instituted during the war to pay for the war, and here we are 50 years later, we’re still paying for it — it’s one of the highest taxes we have on a percentage basis. So [gesturing at fellow-protesters] I think this is civil disobedience. I don’t know how you do civil disobedience out of confiscatorial taxes, when you don’t have them in your own possession to give. If we did, then it’s a decision you can make.

Protester #2: Up your deductions [W4 allowances]. Change your deductions.

Protester #1: Then they’ll get the money later.

Protester #2: Well, don’t pay it! That’s civil disobedience.

Protester #1: All right, there you go, she’s got an answer.

Protester #2: That’s civil disobedience. Gandhi said that’s the fastest way to end a government, is to withhold the payment of taxes to it.

Protester #1: She’s absolutely right. I’ve been reading stuff about the leading up to the [American] revolutionary war. That’s exactly what they did against Britain. They said, we’re not buying any goods against Britain, and anybody who buys them is going to be ostracized from the community. And that’s what they did in local towns like Concord, Mass. And anybody who didn’t sign the pledge, people didn’t do business with them. So they cut off Britain, they took off the life blood which was economic products and things like that, so… that’s… we have to think about that.

It’s fascinating to me to see this sort of lore starting to percolate through the American right-wing, and I’m curious to see whether or not it will emerge in actual tax resistance or whether it will remain mostly hypothetical.


In the sixth section of the seventh book of The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle looks at the particular variety of loss of self control that is prompted by anger.

The other varieties he has discussed are mostly caused either by the temptations of pleasure or by aversion to pain. Aristotle says that loss of self-control due to anger is less shameful than these, for the following reasons:

  1. Anger is at least partially obedient to the demands of our reason or better nature, but is just ineptly so. (He compares this to an over-sensitive watchdog that barks every time anyone approaches the door, whether or not it is a stranger.) Appetite (the temptation of pleasure or aversion to pain), on the other hand, seems deaf to reason. Someone conquered by anger is conquered by a flawed, primitive argument, but an argument nonetheless; someone conquered by appetite is conquered by appetite alone, not reason of any variety.
  2. Anger is more natural & normal than excessive appetites, which are abnormal and grotesque.
  3. People motivated by appetite are more prone to guile and premeditation, while anger is more of a sudden and unplanned thing.
  4. Anger is a painful condition, while the wantonness of self-indulgence is pleasurable.

Continuing where we left off in the previous section, Aristotle reminds us of the three basic varieties of bodily pleasure:

  1. human & natural (though these can be excessive)
  2. brutish (for instance, sadistic psychopathology)
  3. morbid (for instance, phobias or obsessive fetishes)

Continence, lack of self control, temperance, and intemperance only concern items in the first of these categories (although the terms can be used metaphorically to describe people and behavior in the other two).

Brutishness is less evil than vice, but is “more alarming… for [in brutish people] it is not the better part that has been perverted… they have no better part.” Still, says Aristotle, a vicious person will do ten thousand times the harm of a brutish one.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

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