Moral Responsibility under Totalitarian Dictatorships

Now that I’m moved in, I hope to soon be able to put some time into producing a new edition of the NWTRCC “Practical War Tax Resistance Series” pamphlet #5: Low Income/Simple Living as War Tax Resistance.

The previous edition was written by Clare Hanrahan and Susan Van Haitsma and published in . Much of it remains helpful and informative today, but changes in the tax laws have made some of the other information out-of-date or incomplete.

The pamphlet covers the advantages and challenges of voluntary simplicity, and the difficulties and opportunities for low-income tax resisters in their interactions with the tax code. I hope to expand it to include sections on Health Savings Accounts, tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and some of the deductions and credits available to low-income folk, as well as sections on avoiding excise and social insurance taxes, and on how a surprisingly large number of people avoid the income tax today.

If you have suggestions for what sort of information would be useful in a pamphlet like this, or of questions you would like to see such a pamphlet answer — or if you would like to help write or edit the pamphlet, please drop me a line.

An excerpt from Moral Responsibility under Totalitarian Dictatorships by Hannah Arendt, which seems to me a good counterpoint to some of the attitudes that Robert McGee found in his surveys (see ’s entry):

…there was the horror that it had been quite easy to still the conscience of a whole people — except a numerically small minority. … Was it really possible to change the morals of a whole people like table manners? There were however the minority of non-participants — we are not concerned with heroes or saints — but with everybody. Who were the participants, who were the others? …

Those who did not participate were neither people who were old-fashioned enough not to accept new standards nor were they in possession of better ones. Their conscience did not function in this mechanical way — where you have a law and then subsume all particular cases under it. They were arrogant enough to judge by themselves. And their criterion, I’d suggest, was Socratic: Socrates said not only: Better to suffer than to do wrong, but he explained it: It is better to be at odds with the whole world than being one to be at odds with yourself. They asked themselves if they would still be able to live with themselves after having done certain deeds. And they decided not to participate, not because the world would be better (not because of political responsibility) and not because they were worried about the salvation of their soul, but because they wanted to go on living with themselves. They refused to murder not so much because they still held fast to the command Thou Shalt not Kill but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer.

…The presupposition for this kind of judging is the habit of examining and living together with yourself. We call that silent dialogue in which you speak with yourself Thinking, but it is not technical, not the privilege of the educated and sophisticated.…

We have a tendency to think of people who are in the habit of examining basic propositions and standards as destructive. We have every reason to change our minds on this subject. Doubters and skeptics are more reliable, not because doubting is wholesome or skepticism good but because such people are used to make up their own minds — to live together with themselves.

This attitude of non-participation, of not doing certain things quite irrespective of the world, is politically a marginal situation. It is irresponsible, and such irresponsibility is justified when you are completely impotent. Hence it is the right attitude in extreme situations, and it can also be the right attitude for those who have made Thinking a way of life — the philosopher, or whoever claims freedom from politics…

Against this attitude, the current claim was: Every citizen has a duty to obey the laws. He cannot examine the laws and then decide whether or not they are good laws; such conduct would undermine every body politic. No government can survive without this obedience. This is a fallacy, and it resides in the word obedience. Only a child obeys. An adult actually supports the laws or the authority that claims obedience. No action is possible without support and help from others. The one who starts action needs the support from others to see the matter through… Without such “obedience,” a leader is helpless — whereas in the nursery the child is helpless…

If I obey the laws of the land, I actually support its constitution, and every revolution starts when this tacit consent is withdrawn.

In political terms, the non-participants to the extent that they came in conflict with the laws of the land did not claim freedom from politics but withdrew their consent, refused to support by shunning such places of responsibility where such support under the name of obedience was required, or by paying with their lives for non-obedience.

…And though there may be many people who don’t live with themselves — and that means who, strictly speaking, have no conscience — for me life would not be worth living if I lost myself.…

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