Emily Greene Balch and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon on Tax Resistance

A couple of tax-resistance-related quotes I hadn’t seen before:

The first was pointed out by Larry Rosenwald and comes from the speech that Emily Greene Balch gave after sharing the Nobel Prize for peace in . She is speaking of two varieties of peace movement work: the individual moral stand of conscientious objection, and the organized political work of trying to change national policy in a peaceful direction (which, to her, meant the strengthening of international institutions as a way of subduing tensions between nations). Her aside, after discussing conscientious objection by conscripted young men:

I feel it rather surprising also that refusal of war has never taken the form, on any large scale, of refusal to pay taxes for military use, a refusal which would have involved not only young men but (and mainly) older men and women, holders of property.

The second quote comes from a translation/summary of a portion of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s Confessions of a Revolutionist that Shawn P. Wilbur shared at In the Libertarian Labyrinth. Proudhon is speaking of his recollections of the French revolutions of :

The right of insurrection can only exist under an absolute government, where the people have no voice in the constitution; but in the present case, universal suffrage remaining to us, our only legitimate mode of defeating our adversaries was by legal resistance; and the plan proposed by Le Peuple, namely, an organized refusal to pay the taxes all over the country, would have been a most effectual instrument. Since the , however, this is no longer practicable or necessary; my proposition was received with distrust by the radicals: if the people refuse to pay taxes once, said these slavish advocates of government, they will refuse them altogether, and then government will be impossible: and my reward was a fine of 10,000 francs and ten years’ imprisonment.

Section twelve of the first book of The Nicomachean Ethics is an interesting tangent, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

It seems to be a further meditation on to what extent eudaimonia is the product of luck or virtue.

Aristotle asks whether having eudaimonia is a praiseworthy thing or a fortunate thing. Oddly, given his tendency when confronted with choices between extremes to try to choose some compromise somewhere in the middle, he says eudaimonia is “prized” or fortunate.

It seems to me that just as he said that eudaimonia is partially a result of virtue and partially a result of luck, its possession ought to be in equal proportion worthy of praise and of mere congratulations. Or maybe he means that the praise is really only due to the virtue itself, while the eudaimonia is just a by-product that is only loosely correlated with anything praiseworthy. You don’t praise the winning runner for having such a beautiful gold medal, but for winning the race.

I think in part, Aristotle is reminding us that eudaimonia is supposed to be the ultimate end, the big good, the “prize” our actions should be aiming towards. Thus, eudaimonia is a “prized” thing, a desirable thing, and not the sort of thing that you praise someone for pursuing or attaining in spite of it not being desirable.

Index to the Nicomachean Ethics series

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics