The Successful Resistance of the Amish to Social Security Taxes

I’d just finished reading Carl Watner’s interesting voluntaryist-oriented summary of the beliefs, practices and history of the Amish (“By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them:” Voluntaryism and the Old Order Amish, ), and I was hoping I’d find time to write up a little something for The Picket Line about the successful legal battle that the Amish waged to be exempt from the Social Security program — taxes and all.

And then today Claire Wolfe linked to a report from Amish Country News detailing just how this battle was won, and saving me a lot of time: Valentine Byler vs. the IRS: “Pay Unto Caesar — The Amish & Social Security”

Crispin Sartwell recently did his damndest to knock some sense into a conference full of young Democrats:

Is there something you care about more than winning the next election? For example, curtailment of civil liberties; imprisonment without trial; torture; military adventures based on lies that kill tens of thousands of people? And I don’t want you just nodding your heads. I want your push-comes-to-shove response. Let’s say it’s and the choice somehow gets to be completely stark: proclaim your enthusiasm for torture or lose. Which will it be? It would be nice if that were not a question, if it was everyone’s moral intuition that you can’t trade lives for electoral victory. Indeed, anyone who made such a trade would both an evil coward. But, um…

Here’s what I believe about John Kerry. On the Patriot Act, on No Child Left Behind, on war, on gay marriage, on whatever: in every case he voted and spoke with one goal: getting elected president. For Kerry and the Democratic leadership, getting elected was more important that a thousand American lives, more important than tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, more important than the Constitution. Now of course this is more or less just the reality of American politics. But, um, it is morally monstrous. I actually admire a straight-up enthusiastic murderer more than someone who with eyes fully open endorses murder in order to further a certain set of personal ambitions. I do not believe that our sad little species offers up any more despicable choice. Kill because you believe it’s the right thing to do and you may be terribly, terribly wrong. Kill because killing polls well and you’re not even worth frying.

I’ve been arguing that, as FDR’s administration represented a sort of socialist revolution in America, GWB’s represents a fascist revolution. Of course, in both cases the revolution is pretty mild: FDR wasn’t Stalin; Bush isn’t Hitler. But even if he were, let me put it like this. Hitler is an evil man. But by himself he’s just another nutjob. He needs help. But he also needs acquiescence. He needs a whole citizenry and specifically a set of leaders who are just too chickenshit to say stop. Hitler is despicable, but the Vichy collaborators aren’t even good enough to be despicable, if you get me: they’re too empty. And Hitler can’t do his thing without them. Hitler believes something. And other people believe what he believes. But the real nightmare is the people who know he’s wrong and still help him herd the Jews into the cattle cars.…

Now what I’m about to say is a horrible thing to say to Democrats, really a dangerous thing because it constitutes a motivation for further acts of moral self-destruction. But the fact that Bush spoke plainly and took controversial and clear positions on most issues was a key reason he won. People looked at Kerry as if gazing into a void. That itself presents certain dangers in a leader that makes people leery of casting their vote. No telling what Kerry might do in a given situation because he comes unencumbered by beliefs. I mean, let me ask you this. Had Kerry been elected, would there be any difference in American Iraq policy? How about in the approach to Iran or North Korea? He’s unpredictable or unstable because he’s always feeling around for the safe answer.…

[I]f you take what I’m saying as strategic advice, then it won’t work as strategic advice or in any other way. You’ll hear what I’m saying as follows: next time we’d better simulate commitment. And then you’re truly living in a hall of mirrors. You’ve reached the point at which it is literally impossible to say what you believe or to believe anything, because your act of belief is always strategic. But we could say this: belief is never strategic. You never actually believe anything because you think it’s fun to believe it or because it will make you a million dollars or will win you the presidency, though you can start out on a lengthy process of self-delusion. But you believe something when and only when you take it to be true.

So here, again, is the question for Democrats: is there anything you believe that you would not give up or qualify in order to elect a president? If not, I suggest that there is no reason for you to exist at all. Get out now: you can’t possibly do anything good for anyone. Give up. Disband your party. Hang yourself. You really won’t be killing anyone when you do. So: is opposing the invasion of Iraq worth taking a political risk? If not, nothing is. If nothing is, die like the cur you are. That way you won’t be killing people by performing acts you yourself don’t believe in.…

Strategic questions cannot be the only questions. I think that the Democratic party had an absolute moral obligation to run against the Patriot Act and the war, to present an alternative to these disasters, even if it had been perfectly clear that these oppositions would lead to resounding defeat. It’s bad going down to defeat for what you believe, but it must be really sorry to betray all your convictions and get whipped anyway. The election of should have been a pivotal moment in American history, but turned out to be one that yielded nothing but bathos. It was not a turning point because the Dems were too scared to turn. It’s funny because the “get out the vote” thing was so extreme on campuses etc. but it was actually a good year for apathy because Kerry refused to articulate any convictions. Everyone kept saying “this is the most important election of my lifetime.” But it was barely an election at all. If you voted for Bush or you voted for Kerry, all you did was ratify the politics of the Bush administration.…

So here’s my advice, such as it is. Forget questions like: should we tack left or right? How can we carry Ohio? How can we appeal to Christians? Who’s the least offensive southern governor? How can we show that we’re tough on terror? How do we reach out to pro-life voters? How nasty can we get in our opposition to gay marriage? Etc. Stop asking the strategic question at all for a second.

Take a safari into your own heart and come back believing something. Now take a deep breath and say it.

Naturally, I took a look around to find out what else this Crispin Sartwell has to say. I found his very interesting-looking book on Extreme Virtue, and also a well-thought out meditation on the “support the troops” mantra and its use by people who are against the war: “I find this puzzling,” he writes. “If you think the war is wrong, then you think what the soldiers are doing is wrong.”

The way out of this dilemma is to think of the troops as being automata, acting apart from their own wills, or somehow in ways that are immune to judgment. That way you can continue to support them, because their actions are separate from who they are. This, Sartwell says, is going way too far.

[E]ven in a context in which someone is telling you what to do, you’re responsible for what you do. If this is not the case, then not only are there no war crimes, there are no war heroes. ¶ To join the military is a decision. To allow yourself to be deployed to Iraq is a decision.

He then quotes Thoreau, who wrote:

A common and natural result of undue respect for the law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed…

The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines.… In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on the level with wood and earth and stones: and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well.

“For us to oppose what our troops are doing and to support them for doing it,” Sartwell concludes, “is to regard them as inanimate objects, as things with no responsibility for their own actions. It is to excuse everything on the ground that the persons doing it have no conscience, understanding or will.”

But Sartwell is astute enough to see that if he pulls on this thread of logic long enough, he may end up chillier by one sweater:

[W]e, too, need to accept our responsibility. Thoreau went to jail because — in protest of the war and as a refusal to participate in it — he declined to pay his taxes. I myself, though I oppose the war, am no tax resister. In other words, when the authorities order me to cough up (or, rather, when they confiscate the war machine’s cut directly from my paycheck), I utter nary a peep.

The laws and mechanisms under which I do this are designed precisely to exculpate me, to diminish my own sense of my responsibility. But whether the law treats me as a child, an object, an idiot or a victim, still I am responsible as I pay for what I hate.

Support our taxpayers.