Edward Tverdek Demonstrates the Dangers of American Liberal Thought

Edward Tverdek, at his blog The Narrow Gate, writes about his drift into and then out from war tax resistance.

He was brought into the fold in under the influence of Kathy Kelly and Karl Meyer. They recommended that Tverdek increase his withholding allowances until no federal income tax was withheld from his paycheck, and then refuse to pay the balance at tax filing time. “This I tried,” Tverdek reports, “and it worked without a hitch for about three years. No IRS agent came knocking, no threatening letters arrived in the mail; I simply stopped funding what I believed to be an illegitimate government and put the money saved toward causes of which I approved.”

So what happened? Why did I return to paying my taxes after only a few years “sticking it to the man” and getting away with it? I fabricated a story to tell friends; my position as an Illinois state employee made it easy for me to target even as a small fish, and I was advised to cease even my relatively inconsequential silent protest and pay back taxes to avoid being “made an example of.” This was only a ruse, however, to avoid having to confess — and explain — an emerging ethical conundrum. The real reason I decided to return to the ranks of taxpayers was more moral than prudential: while I still supported the notion that tax resistance might be a viable political strategy when the recipient government is violating human rights, waging unjust war, exploiting foreign (and domestic) populations, etc., I was unsettled by the prospect of bleeding dry the things I believed in along with the things I detested. Yes, illegal, morally unjustified military excursions into El Salvador and Nicaragua would not be carried out on my nickel, but neither would projects subsidizing school lunches or Head Start programs. Evil was taken down an infinitesimally tiny notch by my political “statement,” but so was the good that our collective contributions make toward building a more equitable society, repairing the environment, and generally correcting the mess that free markets make. I could no longer look upon the newly paved public road that carried emergency vehicles safely to the distressed or the increasingly smog-less Lake Michigan sunrise and say to myself, “Yeah, I helped with that.” Sure, I had more cash in pocket to donate to social, politica, and charitable causes of my choosing, but I had withdrawn from the democratically accountable pool of funds that goes toward the projects of our choosing — you, me, and every other American who pays taxes and votes, indirectly at least, on how that pool will be divided. This started to settle in my gut as the unmistakable feeling of hubris.

I find his “ruse” more believable, but I suppose I should take him at his word. Did he believe that the federal budget was a “democratically accountable pool of funds” when he stopped contributing to it, and only later felt guilty about that; or did he only after starting war tax resistance come to believe that the federal budget was a “democratically accountable pool of funds” after all? It’s kind of hard to tell. I know that’s the bedtime story people tell about their tax dollars when they’re trying to convince other people to pay up, or when they’re trying not to feel so bad about how much their paycheck has shrunk, but it seems implausible to me that someone who had gone to the trouble of becoming a war tax resister would take the bedtime story very seriously.

But Tverdek is a liberal, and part of the ritual involved in being a liberal is to complain with righteous outrage at all of the watertight evidence that the federal budget is neither democratic or accountable, and then to insist that this undemocratic, unaccountable trough be filled ever higher — and if you ask why, you’ll be told that it’s so we can have accountable democratic control over the commonweal, even though we all know better.

In Tverdek’s case, either because he’s carelessly following what seemed like a useful justification to its logical conclusions or because he actually believes what he’s saying, liberalism is an explicit prioritizing of the collective over the actual flesh-and-blood human beings that make it up:

…society is a thing in and of itself — a reality sui generis as the French sociologist Emile Durkheim described it at the turn of the 19th century. There are facts about individual persons, and there are social facts, and the two categories need not overlap.…

…we can no longer think of morality strictly in terms of the duties of individual moral agents and the things they are obligated or permitted to do or not to do to/with other moral agents, much less in strictly Aristotelian terms of what constitutes the "virtuous" person. If we understand society as a reality sui generis, and if we thus accept the notion that there are goods that may be valued by that society that may not be valued in the same way by each of its constituent persons, morality can no longer speak solely of actions that are incumbent upon me, or even just the omission of actions that I should have taken for moral purposes. In the fancy language of moral philosophers, morality must be, at least in some respects, agent-neutral and best described in the passive tense: we can’t reasonably say that any particular person X ought to provide ‘public health,’ but we can reasonably argue that ‘public health ought to be provided,’ as should environmental integrity, general literacy, etc. What this means for individuals in that population remains open to moral discussion.

And this is what makes liberalism so dangerous. Because of course, when you design your public policy around such passive-voice freebies as “public health ought to be provided,” you find that you cannot actually implement them without turning them into active-voice “so-and-so ought to provide it”s. Which means either turning so-and-so into a slave, or taking enough resources from someone-else to make it worth so-and-so’s while (or, frequently, a little of both). And meanwhile the liberal insists that he or she is not putting a gun to anyone’s head but is merely repeating the unobjectionable passive-voice mantra.

Vickie Aldrich thinks about civil disobedience at her blog. She says that maybe the term “civil disobedience” is too much defined in terms of the government and law being disobeyed. Perhaps “civil initiative” would be better: “It changes the emphasis from objecting or disobeying authority to that of supporting and initiating civil society.”

In her blog post she also reproduces the text of a letter she wrote to her state’s U.S. senators to complain about the IRS having dinged her with a “frivolous filing” penalty for having included a letter of protest along with her last tax return.

About half way down this genealogical biography of David Leigh is a very good overview of the “Rebecca Riots” that hit Wales in . This outbreak of organized direct action largely targeted toll booths, but also had some other interesting features.