I posted my translation of the outline of Juan Carlos Rois’s critique of the idea of war tax resistance as a human right. Today I’ll share my translation of the paper itself, and tomorrow, perhaps, some of my thoughts about it.
My disclaimers still apply: Some bits of this translation were tougher than others, and I’m not actually bilingual — I just know enough Spanish to get myself in trouble with it (something like this is good practice). I almost certainly missed some nuance, translated many things more awkwardly than necessary, and probably got a few things wholly wrong. I’d say “caveat emptor” but nobody’s paying for this (and I don’t know Latin either).
One thing to keep in mind is that the Spanish word “derecho” can mean “right” (as in “human rights”) or it can mean “law.” Rois uses the term in both senses, sometimes in the course of a single paragraph, and it wasn’t always clear to me which one would be the most appropriate translation. Be aware that when Rois talks about “rights” he very deliberately is using a term that implies “legal rights,” and not something like “natural rights” or “god-given rights” or anything that implies that the rights have some sort of existence that precedes the system that enforces them.
Rois’s paper is plagued with repetition. Its core arguments are few and could be summarized in as many paragraphs, but he adds a trellis of rhetoric on which he hangs these same points again and again, decorated with occasional examples and zoologies of arguments he is responding to. So before I give you my translation of his paper, I’ll give you my summary of it:
Efforts to enshrine a form of conscientious objection to military spending as a fundamental “human right” are largely confused and misguided. Attempts to find a justification for this right in existing international law (say as an outgrowth of freedom of conscience or religion) require incredible stretches (and why should we expect that the military governments who were the impetus behind these international treaties would have inadvertently legalized the mechanism of their own elimination?). Attempts to find such a justification in some sort of preexisting, Platonic natural law suffer from an ethnocentric reliance on the European liberal individualist tradition that prevent such a justification from having the universality that a fundamental human right requires.
In any case, either way, such efforts concede too much. They are willing to allow for the right of governments to spend society’s resources on war and preparation for war, to maintain armies, to go on military adventures, and so forth — they just want these governments to recognize certain conscientious peoples’ right to be personally aloof from such things. In effect, they countenance militarism in exchange for permitting some people to have the feeling of a clear conscience. Any measure that would legalize the right to personally conscientiously object to military spending would also enshrine as the default that everybody else would collaborate in military spending as their way of participating in this freedom of choice.
This has the effect of keeping militarism safely intact and converting the war tax resistance movement from being a group dissenting from government militarism into being one more interest group lobbying the government for special privileges. Instead, we should forthrightly assert that the whole militaristic leviathan is illegitimate and that it simply does not have the right to mine the world’s riches to inflict the sufferings of war on people.
War tax resistance is not a human right, but it may be one method of defending a human right — the fundamental human right to real, substantial peace and to be free of the malevolent parasite of militarism. But war tax resistance is a means to that end, and not an end in itself. Our primary goal should be the dismantling of militarism, and not personal aloofness from it (and certainly not the legalization of such aloofness).
This fundamental human right has plenty of precedent in international law and seems more likely to garner an international and multicultural consensus.
If people have a right to a peaceful world, it follows that people have a duty to make a peaceful world a reality — people themselves in an exercise of direct democracy, not states, since states (at least as they are currently constructed) cannot be trusted to advance peace. War tax resistance in this sense becomes something more like part of a universal duty to defend human rights against the threat of militarism than a particular privilege of the conscientious to turn their backs on it — part of a process of reimagining defense as something other than the maintenance (or expansion) of national borders by the military but instead as the defense of fundamental human rights (in some cases defense against the military) by people.
There is much that I find agreeable in this point of view, though I found the paper exasperating for a number of reasons. But anyway, now for my translation of the paper itself:
War Tax Resistance as a Human Right
Initial approach to the topic: Limitations, suspicions, and skepticism concerning war tax resistance and other related topics
Confusion and ambiguity at the outset: A human right to war tax resistance is vague and stuffed with paradoxes and contradictions.
The theoretical consideration of war tax resistance as a human right presents great difficulties. The very ambiguity and conceptual confusion of the various proposals made public by the groups and campaigns of various countries (“human right of war tax resistance”, “peace tax campaigns,” “taxes of conscience,” “legislation for peace,” and other terms by no means identical, but which are used interchangeably in some quarters) serve us as an example of the slippery terrain in which we work.
The lack of specific mention in international legal instruments
Certainly there exists no explicit mention of a human right to war tax resistance — nor of its substantial essence — in any international declaration or instrument in force today.
It does not even seem that one can derive the possibility from existing texts, for the simple reason that a supposed right of this nature never entered the minds of the “international lawmakers” of yesteryear
The current tendencies of human rights in the context of the new world order
Nor does the tendency of human rights run along this path, as nations continue to maintain a conception of the international legal order that privileges the role of armies, military research, and military spending in the ideology and tools of international security or — even more so — because now the decisions (universally) about self defense comport with the states and their military experts, and not with the will of the citizens, who are converted in these matters into mere “spectators” or “public servants,” long-trodden under by certain complex interests beyond the reach of a “citizen’s” hand.
It does not appear, from this, that nations have any intention to assert a generous right to war tax resistance that is directly enforceable by citizens: Such a possibility exceeds the limits of the practical prerogatives of power and implies a threat of dissolution, or at least of crisis, in the policies of military defense, which are tightly consolidated in our societies at the end of the century.
To put it another way, the conflict between disputable rights of nations and the (even more disputable) rights of citizens, is resolved in matters of security in favor of the first and to the detriment of the latter without any kind of excuses.
We also ought not to forget that today it is states (and the lobbies of what is euphemistically known as the military-industrial complex), and not communities, that are truly and uniquely the “defining legislators” of human rights in the new world order.
Is it possible that nations would voluntarily admit some type of limitation (in legal form) to military spending?
The most that one could strive for, in view of the current trend, is to accept proposals for control of military spending, of military technology and its dissemination, or of the war industry in general, by means of international legal instruments of limitation or the like, or by means of adding specific budget items for the promotion of peace or development, similar to the famous recommendation of applying 0.7% of GDP from rich nations to international development, or to the kind of right of certain citizens to “hypothecate” one’s taxes to ends of a civilian or military nature.
A common argument of possible efficacy would permit the more dynamic movement of our societies forward along the line of a “peace tax,” compatible with these institutional tendencies, allied to the political forces most interested in an opportunity for more control of military spending and the intelligent rationalization of the danger of military investment.
This presumed alliance may feel inviting, for obvious reasons, to other social groups and collectives of a rather fundamentalist or even nostalgic bent, found in a supposed moral golden era of mankind, sheltered by a very questionable moral revival; and even no insignificant part of liberal groups, in search of an agreement to maintain control of the technological-military “status quo” in force, or, simply, from affinity to the great ideals of rational modernity and its humanist proposals.
The controversy in legal doctrine: between radical refusal and partial & nuanced tolerance in a right to war tax resistance
In another sense, the doctrinal affirmation of a right to war tax resistance is a minority position, and is confused in its justifications, extent, and character.
You can count on the fingers of one hand those who take a position in favor of this perspective, and, of course, this position is not received sedately at all by the legal community in general.
Perhaps an effort of doctrinal development will permit me to characterize it as a form of conscientious objection in a wider sense, tacitly positioned as a form of exercise called freedom of conscience (whether in its ideological or religious dimension), or in any of the rights of individual autonomy known as liberal.
In my opinion both possibilities “of conventional bent” significantly reduce the extent of the characterization to individualistic terms or to a moral rigor today outdated and happily locked away in the trunk of mementos.
This right of a liberal-religious nature runs the risk of emphasizing, ultimately, its compatibility (as an exception) with its opposite (as a rule) or, what amounts to the same, to change continents in order not to change contents [un cambio de continente para que nada varíe en el contenido].
For that trip, perhaps, such luggage will not be needed.
It is naïve, one can see, to nurture high hopes of social transformation by claiming or supporting a supposed imperative of exemplary individual conscience.
A commitment of true resistance to wars must have some view of a political long-term goal far beyond this, which inevitably lies in understanding clearly where the limits of such objection may be found (its essential shortfalls in transforming into a world without armies, its simplistic view of a right reduced to a mere appeal to private conscience, its ethnocentric nature as a consequence of its consideration as an individual right, its unwillingness to confront the generalization or invitation to all of society to be incorporated in this action, the possibility of a shift in current policy so that what the law incorporates is compatible with a global system of military spending, its conversion of the peace movement into a group specializing in political/legislative lobbying, etc.), such as we are sketching out now.
A look at jurisprudential positions
The history of the defense of war tax resistance before the courts proves exemplary:
For example, in the U.S.A. several rulings have been made that discussed the legitimacy of war tax resistance as the exercise of an individual right (see: “Saying ‘No’ to War in the Technological Age: Conscientious Objection and the World Peace Tax Fund Act” De Paul Law Review. Vol 31, n° 3, , pp 498–507 or the ruling U.S. v. Lee, etc.) and the law has always responded negatively. In every case, the American campaigns have settled on a very particular form of advancing individual conscience as a weighty argument, not exclusively but with an almost complete silence about political demands and about erga omnes demilitarization proposals as war resisters.
For its part, in Italy the Court of Cassation, in its ruling of , has come to consider not only the non-legality of war tax resistance but also its prosecutability in criminal proceedings. And this despite small, partial victories that have authorized a certain permissiveness or tolerance.
Equally, in Germany or in Spain (T.A.S. Bilbao on , Zaragoza on , or Madrid on , S.T.S. in ) the praise of the moral position by the judges has not prevented them from, in turn, declaring the illegality of war tax resistance that goes against the general purpose of tax contributions to common expenses, no equivalence of receipts/expenses, and injury to a greater legal good.
The reality is that in general, war tax resistance enjoys no legal or judicial protection anywhere, and, more interestingly, that the defenses that all the same are made in halls of justice are neither of one voice nor are they appropriate, because there is no clear characterization of the form of tax resistance beyond the same deeply moralizing and even doctrinaire “ethical” discourse.
The limits of war tax resistance as a stand-alone, not fundamental, right to redirection or exemption
One might consider that we are dealing with a mere autonomous right, not a fundamental one, characterized more-or-less as a right of tax redirection (the right to decide what parts to contribute to personally), or better as a right of exemption (the right to be excluded from certain parts of the budget that are incompatible with our personal ideas).
This possibility also is theoretically problematical and, of course, very much reduced to the ideological field of war resisters and not accompanied by other types of commitments in parallel.
Any such right of redirection would have serious technical difficulties, since the extension of such a right would entail significant collisions and conflicts of legal benefits as well as important considerations (as much or more than the legalizers of war tax resistance are willing to admit) in national systems, including consequences contrary to the promotion of the values of justice.
On the other hand if you allow an enduring compatibility between taxes for peace and taxes for war, this takes from war tax resistance its claims of social legitimacy through transformation and adds the institutionalization of a situation of “legal tables.”
As regards a possible right of exemption, rather than serving to protect some particular private conscience, it could be quite convenient also as an excuse to wash the good conscience of citizens who are unwilling to cooperate with the personal payment of military taxes but are well-disposed to allow that there be others in the same society who suffer in their place.
Do we need a right to self-righteous moral scruples like this claim of war resisters to tax resistance?
And finally, despite the different solutions that could be devised to solve these conflicts, they will remain possible, precisely because of its regulation as an autonomous right, not a fundamental one (whose essential substance cannot be limited or suspended at the whim of power), which makes it a variety of “gracious concession by power” of arbitrary limitations of its exercise or extent, because, ultimately, it would be the legislature that granted this kind of legal recognition.
The argument of war tax resistance as a human right
Another possibility of great reach would be to try to argue for the consideration of war tax resistance as a more fundamental human right (autonomous or as a form of exercise of an already-established human right).
However this possibility is not without its problems, which concern the nature of this autonomous right (right of conscience, individual liberty, gracious concession of political power, etc.), the determination of its essence, and the sphere that delimits it.
The justification at this level presents us with the same problems, paradoxes, and ambiguities with which human rights in general is confronted today (because the reality is that neither are rights in the strict sense, but ethical proposals with pretensions of validity that are not universal but Western).
- Because a human right to war tax resistance understood “Westernly” has the danger of reducing to the above individualist and liberal terms, which impedes its political demilitarizing potential.
- Because it can induce us to approaches that do not dialog with cultures (including legal ones) distinct from the West, where the concept of individual and subjective rights are not prevalent but those of solidarity, of respect or acknowledgement of the disadvantaged, of life above all, etc.
- A human right to conscientious objection in political subjects (a supposition, for example, included in the right of substantial peace, right of the future generations against the threat of the present, of solidarity etc.) or a development of this as the right to a new world order, etc., also implies positive difficulties and necessitates a theoretical structure that supports and properly argues its justifications, as the fact is that the positivization of a right of resistance as a historically realizable human right and the appeal to direct exercise of power by men and women does not enjoy a good reputation in the political cultures that be.
However such a characterization seems ultimately of greater depth and value to the war resisters who do not propose a right that is “compatible” with its opposite (a right of war) but the ameliorization of the condition of militarization.
The argument of war tax resistance as disobedience securing the exercise of human rights denied by militarization.
I move on, finally, to abandon the argument of war tax resistance as a human right and to move on to consider it as merely an appeal to a means of constructing a more just international order and to defend the use (of war tax resistance of course) as a tool for securing the possibility of exercising a right of peace more ethereal (but just as achievable and not holistic).
In this case, I will relate (as a sign of continuity and a break with positive human rights) the proclamation in the preamble of the declaration of human rights, which suggests the necessity of their survival and that of its paradigm in the political order, so as to keep men from resorting to the supreme (and possibly penultimate) recourse of rebellion against tyranny.
War tax resistance then appears not as a right, but as a guarantee of the exercise of the right, based on various reasons, in order to achieve a global coexistence based on respect for others (and not only on the Western dignity of the person), and able to speak to overcoming the paradigm of rights based on coercion, on violence, and on legally dogmatic criteria, as seen in our societies, that in reality negate all that they promise.
Differences of “character,” “extent,” and “context” between a human right or a disobedience in defense of human rights and a legislative proposal for a “peace tax”: Or, how not to confuse the collar for the dog
Finally, I want to make a further clarification that will help us to better orient ourselves with the aim of this paper, which should make clear that “war tax resistance” as a right or as a guarantor of rights is not the same as “taxes for peace” or some other similar proposition.
The distance between the one and the others is, as it were, similar to the distance between the objective that we set ourselves and the diverse tools (and we must ask ourselves whether they are the right tools for the job) with which we want to efficiently reach this objective.
A recap for those lost in the maze
In summary, it appears that as we announced at the beginning, the consideration of war tax resistance as a human right requires at least two tasks:
- to clarify and to discover the existing differences between the diverse proposals, which is to say, instruments with which the social movements and diverse groups have come to articulate their campaigns in favor of demilitarization; differentiating between the global long-term goals (“war tax resistance” as a human right or as a guarantor) of the different proposals in order to arrive at said goal.
- to justify, once that supposed global long-term goal is found, its relevance, scope, context, and alternatives.
The aspiration of the law as a liberator and the deception of the law as a golden cage: “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves”
The struggle for peace, like almost all searches for emancipation that we know of, is not without its simplifications and mythologies of success and of failure, its anecdotes, and its significant and necessary moments of renewal and evocation.
What I am interested in analyzing is a continuation, of which we can say that there have existed four great myths with which men and women have tried to arrive at world peace:
- peace can come by means of war (logically to such reasoning I will not comment at all for the obviousness of its falsehood)
- peace will come by means of law
- peace will come by the conversion of individuals
- peace comes through education
I will not try to depreciate the substance that diverse cultural traditions have incorporated in these perspectives, nor ignore the portion of truth and its inestimable wealth.
I want, however, to raise an alert about the necessity of applying a suspicious skepticism unilaterally about how we can “believe” that “the law” (or “conversion” or “education”) is capable of arriving at the desired peace (and not at a mere simulacrum of peace), either alone or in combination.
And in particular, to point out that, effectively — and without losing sight of the healthy potential that the law might contribute to the struggle for peace — it does not stop being an instrument that, on countless occasions, has demonstrated its efficiency as an element of domination.
We are still far from considering war and preparation for war as the antithesis of the law (as demonstrated, for example, by the current positive tendency in the international sphere, or the infinity of legal norms that we call “jus in bellum” today more than ever in force) and yet, jurists of all stripes do not stop alerting us of the ease with which power utilizes the tools of the law to refuse recognizing the heralded rights, trivializing their scope and immunizing them against their liberatory aims (for example, the “westernizing” freedoms of expression and or choice have become propaganda and manipulation in the service of power, choice or participation in consumption or submission, the civil liberties in policing and surveillance, etc.).
And with all that I want to move forward — because I consider the best interest of the case — to argue that if, effectively, we want to make the law a strategic instrument of demilitarization, we must sever all claim of relying too much on these last possibilities. Our long-term goal is not a human right that we justify, but a process of demilitarization, where legal achievements also open new paths.
We may consider our role as mere political operators in competition with others of different designations (with aims not always pure). This supposes a struggle to change the structures and the law, in place of confidence in human nature, in its magical ability, or in the possibilities of a royal decree or of a change in the conduct of human beings.
With all this I want to stop, precisely, at the consideration of law as an instrument, certainly not a weak one, that our strategic reason must learn to employ (without turning it against us) to actively introduce greater limits on militarism today.
Now from there it is said to be an intelligent, strategic reason for us, “wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” to be more able to influence demilitarization in the political context than in the formal legal landscape, determined not to drop our guard and to maintain a nonconformist tension before the eternal claims of the law.
Or, more directly, to propose as an aim of law proposals to the limit of legal tolerance, not in the form of “we consecrate” any unalterable and eternal “right,” but rather, of our proposals “for right” we make educational bridges and roads with which to go forward “without pause” towards higher levels of gradual demilitarization.
In regard to this I want to show distrust for all consecration of these supposed human rights as limits on our action. And this for a variety of reasons:
- For behind human rights (today in the global imagination) hides a crude ideology that we must make explicit in order that it does not become the “petitio principii” that justifies anything “according to taste.”
- Because I still cannot respond in a convincing way to the following question: If after the efforts and energies expended by us in order to get a proclamation of some type of human right to war tax resistance They respond with a “no,” does this detract from the reasons for our commitment to demilitarization? Are you not interested in continuing working without the cobble of human rights stuck to your shoe?
- Because, at this level of fascination for human rights, we can fall victim to a paradox that will not escape us, as those who justify armies as instruments of defense of nations may consider it necessary to introduce some “human right” of their own to arm militarily to avoid being attacked by others (si vis pacem para bellum is a maxim that enjoys health and recognition in the cultural and scientific fields).
These types of reasons must realistically qualify the phantom of human rights and the importance of obtaining recognition of a human right to war tax resistance. It is something that may have an interesting tactical and educational value, but in no case is it “the long-term goal” of the war resisters: the fact of achieving such recognition does not guarantee social demilitarization because there is no immediate or automatic mechanism that moves from “right” to “demilitarization.”
An attempt at classification, biased but hopefully also valid
Having made this foray into cautiousness of which I think we should not lose sight, we now take a further step in the direction of the healthy skepticism which we must wisely practice in order not to get fooled (or to fool ourselves).
The various proposals that I know about concerning military spending are represented in our eyes as a kind of jumble where sometimes we entangle ourselves with the best intentions.
It would be interesting then to find some criteria for classifying some of these that would serve to discern what we are speaking of when we speak of certain things.
Thus, in an absolutely debatable form (as with any typology of this sort) we can classify the different, hypothetically predictable proposals with respect to objection to military taxation as: Proposals with an institutional focus, proposals with a reformist focus, and proposals with an “alternative” focus.
Proposals with an institutional focus
First, “institutional” (national, supranational, international) proposals assume certain features in relation to control of military spending. They will form various supranational accords (and some may already exist) concerning arms control, military spending, transfers of technology and dual-use material, cooperation for the development, control, and registration of military exports, arms embargoes, etc..
We will also find some policies and guidelines given by national institutions (renouncing the manufacture of certain types of armaments, declaring a non-offensive military posture, controlling the sale of arms or of dual-use technology to certain countries, etc.).
This hypothesis also covers other types of institutional assumptions of laws and policies that allocate certain budget items for the purpose of peace (where “peace” is understood almost always as the maintenance of the status quo) or for the development of supportive relationships, either by allocating certain percentages of the budget to these purposes, assuming a certain right of redirection or exemption for those citizens who avail themselves of it, and so forth.
The condition under which these types of proposal can be admitted, even in their most innovative aspects, is the possibility that they can be adopted and legislated by the relevant institutional bodies without creating too many problems for the existing defense policies in military terms, as all of these proposals are characterized by the institutional acceptance of commitments of control within a general framework of choosing armed defense and the status quo insomuch as security and defense are part of these institutions.
These favor, therefore, the maintenance of a general policy of security and defense based on armies and on the military spending necessary for their maintenance.
And such things aim to integrate, unproblematically, a certain weak dissent joined with strong obedience, permitting an option of personal redirection as the exception to the general rule.
The institutional proposals, by themselves, can hardly be offered as an alternative to the actual panorama of forces arrayed worldwide.
We will not make an easy or superficial criticism of such proposals, since our aim is nothing but to differentiate the tax resistance of war resisters, whose general long-term goal is, precisely, and with great effectiveness, gradual and irreversible demilitarization, from this institutional option, noting simply the difference between the first and the second: one thing is a tax resistance with long-term goals and the other consists of the institutional proposals (even when these may be a type of “peace tax”).
At certain moments there may exist certain similarities between the two, but also differences, as the first aims to surpass the second.
From the perspective of war resisters, a certain precaution is warranted with respect to institutional proposals, which makes us wonder sometimes about the consistency of the support, in a proactive and naïve form, that we provide to promote laws that could well be used for purposes comparatively distinct from our own, since they could be like tools that increase our practical support for global systems of military security.
Might it not be the case that our war tax resistance is devalued in its long-term goals to being a mere form of personal exemption to economic contributions to a military system that, however, we fully provide for by means of the rest of the taxpayers? Might it be considered as a certain self-righteousness, more-or-less considered as a path for evading the payment of those periodic military taxes for all (except us)?
Proposals with a reformist focus
We classify as such those proposals that seek significant reforms in order to construct a gradual and peaceful path toward a goal of demilitarization.
These “reformist” aims are considered in the classic sense of the term, since beyond the compatibility with the existing status quo, they aim to introduce small “wedges” that modify some structures in a deep way.
As such, in principle, they are not expressly assimilated by the institutions without introducing a certain change (reform) in their logic, so that it is to be supposed that “reformist” proposals necessitate certain political alliances in order to overcome the inertia and resistance of vested interests and to bring about change.
The attraction of reformist proposals is based on the belief in transformation by means of reform as a sort of historical law that hypothetically guarantees the march of progress towards greater achievements.
However, history does not permit us a blind optimism with respect to reform, since, as has often been exposed, history itself is discontinuous and there are many examples in which nothing changes but there is constant superficial change — what in the common refrain of my grandmother was known as “the same dogs with different collars.”
Nothing guarantees that some “reformist” measures are more disposed to global and continual change than to a superficial change that essentially strengthens the interests of the military-industrial complex (but now with a certain additional badge of legitimacy).
And with this we do not want to deprecate the reformist proposals of various stripes that may occur to us, but simply to encourage that in the strategy of the social movements we will hone our wisdom in order to achieve our goals rather than playing the game in the interests of others.
In my opinion, as they are specified today, social and religious groups’ proposals concerning “peace taxes” or “peace laws,” as well as other types of figures who claim some variety of tax determination (redirection or exemption) based on motives of conscience or some such, are “reformist” proposals in the sense of seeking a partial reform of the general defense framework, which at least allows in principle for the opinion of the citizenry in the selection of what to defend and how.
As such, it deserves a weighty appraisal, for certainly reform in this case introduces the possibility of further advances (at the same time that it forces a retreat, even if it is a slight one, of the unilateral militarism of today), but keep in mind also that reform ends up being a closed door if one is not sufficiently careful to take other steps later.
And this requires a sincere reappraisal of much of our work so as not to put the cart before the horse, since in the logic of certain reformist proposals, the long-term goal of demilitarism is nowhere to be found, nor are there further tactical steps that invite the general public to exercise their sovereign power in the face of defense issues.
In this sense, again, I believe it is important not to confuse the peace tax proposals with the tax resistance “human right” proposals, since while the first are a reformist change (as we said) for obtaining other goals, the second have a long-term goal in a stronger sense of securing the right of all “here and now” (although this “now” won’t be any time soon) to end military spending and militarism completely.
Proposals with an “alternative” focus
Of course by so labelling the proposals that we now designate as “alternatives” we are demanding a sympathetic hearing for them, since the “alternative” enjoys good press in certain circles.
It is therefore also necessary to use this gimmick, since we don’t want to have to hunt for sympathy with our point of view here, but to contribute to criticism and the truth.
There are alternative proposals that introduce absolutely new factors from those undertaken unproblematically by institutions.
The alternative proposals intend to strike “at the root” of the war/military problem: it is not necessary to control/cut war spending, it is not necessary to harmonize it with the private choice of some citizens, but the profound necessity “here and now” is an irreversible process towards the abolishment of armies and of military spending, an economic/industrial and trade conversion, by appealing to the public to refuse all collaboration with war, its causes, and its preparation.
There may be various religious approaches that would go along these lines, among which war tax resistance may have a predominant role, and, to some extent, and with some nuance, some of the proposals for peace and peace tax legislation as well.
However, we assert again the substantial difference that clearly exists between war tax resistance as a human right and “peace taxes” or similar issues.
In this regard, I want to refer to two possibilities that I consider more alternative or radical with respect to the problem of military spending:
- conscientious objection as the specification of a broad human right to substantial peace (a war tax resistance human right)
- war tax resistance in the form of civil disobedience as a tool to enforce a right to substantial peace
Either one, as we see, comes to the root of the problem, and demands a right of humanity in general to liberate themselves from one of the worst monsters to emerge from humanity: the military.
Certainly, however, the alternative variety of proposals that I mention also have their weak points, and there are well-known examples of this to suit any taste (from those that openly failed, to those that were easily manipulated by the powerful, to those that became mere reformism without the possibility of greater momentum, etc.).
Along with its alternative potential, other risks of these proposals must also be noted: because the character of disobedience which involves the necessity of motivating large segments of the population in carrying them out, their “lawless” or merely future-oriented side — their intrinsic utopianism — make these proposals a difficult road to the future.
Nevertheless, the present work intends to argue that war tax resistance as a “human right”/“defensive disobedience” is an alternative proposal, unlike the peace tax or others that, however, may be intermediate steps.
- that one accommodates arguing for war tax resistance as a human right, provided we move beyond the traditional way this is understood
- that one must then discard, by reducing to its essence, any proposal for war tax resistance merely as a “conscientious imperative”
- that one must also rule out as a human right to war tax resistance the peace tax proposal, which is neither tax resistance nor is of the nature of a human right
- that one must deeply consider, beyond the consideration of war tax resistance as a human right, the dissident and disobedient characteristics of war tax resistance as a plausible defense and struggle to obtain politically a human right to substantial peace, whose boundary is set by social demilitarization
War tax resistance as a human right: What is not and what can be a human right to war tax resistance from the perspective of war resisters
From the foregoing considerations, we note that the right to war tax resistance, ultimately, cannot and must not be confused with various campaigns of refusal or denunciation of military spending
The distance between one and the other is similar to that which exists between, for instance, the human right to a new international legal order (article 28 of the declaration of human rights) and the implementation of legal norms of free trade of the GATT variety, to give an illuminating example.
Diatribe against a reductionist approach to the subject-matter and to the justifications for a “human” right to war tax resistance
As we have said above, we run the risk of a reductionist conception of human rights and, in particular, of war tax resistance as a human right.
Reductionism from my point of view can be approached from two perspectives:
- in terms of content, if war tax resistance were limited to permission to a “right of exemption” (right to be exempted from personally contributing to national military expenses) or of redirection
- in foundational terms, if it were limited to an outgrowth of the right to freedom of conscience or religion
The aims of war resisters are greater and different than a right to war tax resistance — to open the way to a radical and complete demilitarization, which is a long-term, though distant goal of a world without armies or military expenditures — and so such a right, at least in the intentions of the groups who promote these things, cannot diminish these aims.
Some considerations about the very concept of human rights will permit us to clarify our position.
(First) criticize the traditional concept of human rights
The traditional concept of human rights is inherited from a concrete historical and territorial ideology (the modern ideology that stems from the enlightenment and from the French and American revolutions in the late 18th century). Needless to say, a correct understanding of this subject would lead us to delve, also, into religious and philosophical traditions, past and contemporary, but this is not the place for such a digression.
The current configuration of the various existing catalogs of human rights emerged — we know also — from a world view that grew out of World War Ⅱ and its protagonists.
Which is to say, it stems from the interests and from the representations of reality of the diverse peoples of the so-called West.
Its most elemental assumptions are based on the conceptions of modernity concerning such ideas as the “individual,” “human dignity,” the concepts of “human nature,” “subject,” and “conscience,” etc. — all markedly Western forms of representations of reality, but not necessarily shared by other cultures.
This means that their primary points (universality, inalienability, absoluteness, etc.) have been filtered through Western standards and concepts of reality, with an ignorance very relevant to the interests, world views, and realities of non-westernized worlds (I’m thinking of the Arab world, Hindu or Chinese culture, the reality of the peoples of the so-called “third world,” etc.).
In this sense, a concept of human rights that wants to serve the cause of global demilitarization would have to rise above the ethnocentric, Western concepts of human rights and to become, to put it mildly, more ecumenical.
It is greatly discouraging, at least to your humble author, to see how the various defenses heard thusfar of war tax resistance as a human right are based almost exclusively on Western worldviews, Western interests, Western preoccupations, and, what is worse, on Western ideologies of private conscience, the individual, the Western god, etc. So it is no surprise that those who do not belong to our world of values are wary of a right like this that reduces the world to the West.
It is necessary to ask our brainy fellow-travellers (that is, Quakers, motley anarchists, liberals, or conscientious objectors of various flavors) to stop navel-gazing when putting forward their claims, if we don’t want to run the risk of saying what is irrelevant to cultures with as much right as ours (or more) to demand, here and now, tools of demilitarization and substantial peace.
Criticize (secondly) the reductionist concept of human rights as individual rights
Following on what I explain above, human rights, from the point of view of war resisters, cannot be understood as individual rights in the classic Western sense, since such a conception — even recognizing the historical importance it has played — would be out of place for countless peoples (I’m thinking of the Arab world, the peoples of Latin America, or in India, for example, and we can say by extension all of the so-called “third world” but also people with their own identity in Europe like perhaps those Gypsies not yet poisoned by propaganda and television) for whom the individual and the subject, as concepts and ideas, are alien, culturally and legally speaking.
The individual does not exist except as an ideological representation, as a sociological invocation, or as a political hypothesis. The real world is not composed of individuals. Rights, for this reason, are not “for individuals,” which are conventional constructs but are no more visible than phantoms.
We must, therefore, expand the term from the individual to the communities, to the peoples, to the security of life on the planet, to the future generations, so that they would be the owners of those rights and not the Western abstraction of the supposed “individual” or other things of that sort.
And in this sense, beyond the concept of the individual as the “owner” of human rights to war tax resistance is an opening of possibilities, because, and this is basic, it is not that “I” have a right to excuse myself from participation in military spending, but “we,” insomuch as the collective have a responsibility to life and to future generations and, so to speak, a right as a community to a substantial peace, which implies that the right to war tax resistance is a right of all against the aggressions of militarism and (above all) the present international order in which nations impose the obligation to contribute to military spending.
The categories of subject and of the rights of individuals insofar as they are limits confronting state action must give way to visions of human rights that contemplate more clearly the ideas of “community responsibility,” “duties and responsibilities” toward life on the planet, “duties” to the community, rights of communities and of future generations in the face of the armament policies of nations, “others” (as opposed to the traditional personal dignity), “duty of brotherhood,” etc.
The fact that we can consider it a right of global society against the states, as we shall see, and against the present international order that inhibits the development of human rights, permits making very few concessions to a supposed right for peace taxes determined by the states themselves and compatible with military spending in general.
Criticize (however vaunted) the fundamentals of conscience based in ethico-religious imperatives
Insofar as we intend that the theme of universality in human rights consists in the extension of its exercise to diverse peoples and cultures, we must be very eager not to offer unilateral rationales based on imperatives of conscience (whether they be ideologically, religiously, or ethically motivated) or that under examination are too essentialist.
We’re going to set down three points through which what we want to say in this respect can be explained:
clarifications concerning the religious foundation: a human right to war tax resistance must overcome an account of itself based on religious freedom, because this invocation implies an unseemly reductionism
This does not imply undervaluing the richness of cultural or religious traditions which in a very clear manner have taken the lead in the struggle for peace and the testimony of nonviolence, but, recognizing their important value and respecting their dignified aspirations, we must focus our rationales in a sound ethical relativism, seeking to meet on a common ground a universal ethical baseline among all traditions and cultures.
For example, an appeal to the ultimate foundation of objection as a requirement of duties supposedly imposed by the Christian god, could not be valid for this human right, for the simple reason that, for example, this Christian god creates suspicion in different worlds.
And this does mean to say, of course, that a faithful Christian inspiration is not laudable or a determined ethical impulse for members of diverse communities to work for this cause, but the motives that lead us to assume responsibilities for others and for life on the planet are one thing, but it is something else entirely from that which will serve as an “ethical consensus” or a rationale that is the basis for a concept of human rights.
And in this sense, we’ll see further on, we must make a clear distinction between motivations and legal foundations, since although while it is true that in the sphere of motivations any strong appeal to values appears obvious, in the order of legal foundations these same appeals may not furnish any effect, since they do not appear to be legal reasons nor arguments sharable by anyone as an “ethico-legal” consensus.
clarifications concerning the ethical foundations in the strong sense or idealistic ethics beyond a “baseline consensus” in universal pluralism
On the other hand, it does not seem convenient either to justify the right to war tax resistance by appeals to a supposed ethics (secular or religious) subject to the state, a preexisting and superior (Platonic) scheme of values, or a conception of the ideal or ideological man based on a supposed (and false) human nature.
To insist on ethical first principles or on a hypothetical initial state of nature will not serve us as war resisters for our war tax resistance proposal, since these appeals to “duties in the strong sense” serve only to reduce human rights to mere ahistorical ideologies and to sow serious doubts in these times of pluralism and relativism about moral concepts.
Reinforcements of the moral component in the strong sense imply a patent reactionary risk and a nostalgia for a lost, premodern moral golden age, but they are not a sufficient basis for the liberatory expectation that wants to be an option for war resisters.
We cannot reduce the human rights that we have been considering to a mere “moral right” of a holistic or decontextualized sort. And this is because the fact of our moral justification of such a right would be legally ineffective, speaking as though it remained a sort of “imperative” (or discourse on how many angels can fit on a pinhead) without the “normative” and “historical” marks of law.
Or what is the same, war tax resistance would be a human right in the respect of its enjoyment of regulations and guarantees of its exercise, recognition and international respect, etc., but not because of its supposed ethereal moral nature that, because of its excellence, nations must tolerate at the price of being considered immoral.
Furthermore there is no moral nor anthropological unanimity concerning that which is considered the moral director of men — humanity, good or any other adjective to use.
The ethical aspect of human rights, therefore, should be considered from a perspective beyond these reductionisms.
The ethical appeal to right that we analyze must aim, in short:
- to establish a dialog (a multiethnic and multicultural dialog where there are no “superiors” nor “inferiors”) with those “different” societies concerning the basic needs and aspirations of the communities and of life on the planet, based on data and multidisciplinary analysis that considers, above all, that militarization (in this case military spending) is detrimental to the possibilities of life on the planet.
- to propose as well the advisability of guaranteeing certain friendly behaviors with these as claims of right. Which is to say, it is to transform our proposals (and yes, with its cargo of critical morality) into a dialog with other claims and choices, urging that the communities themselves assume certain initiatives and convert them, by means of practice and ascent, into “human rights” with normative validity.
And this requires (in the step that goes from the proposal until its enactment) preferring disclosure/dissemination of our proposals and participation in them by the people over a proposed lobbying effort toward the political elites.
clarifications concerning the character of a human right of war tax resistance as a form of freedom of conscience
To sum up what I have been preaching so far, war tax resistance that purports to be a human right of global significance and resistance to war must overcome the reductionism of the classic imperative of conscience: the war tax resistance “human right” is not for war resisters a specification of the freedom of conscience or religion (or is not so principally).
The foundation of war tax resistance as liberty of conscience implies an obvious regression that leads us to a justification as a right of mere tolerance, compatible (as an exception, though of an indubitable testimonial value) with the maintenance of a certain “right” of nations to maintain a level of military spending demanded from all those who “do not show” such high morals as to personally oppose contributing to the charges imposed by the state.
On the contrary, we think that the justification of war tax resistance as a right must assume a narrative form and one of ethical rationalism that advocates for a claim to universal validity and enforceability of the commitment to demilitarization. It is not for us a problem of personal conscience, but of collective political responsibility in the face of militarism in its network of institutional and financial support.
Therefore, our aim of establishing a legitimation of war tax resistance in the legal world cannot resolve itself by appealing to the narrow foundation of liberty of conscience because, in the current trend of the age, such an approach implies a clear reductionism and, just as clearly, an elitist and false privilege of we who “have conscience” as opposed to ordinary “unconscious” citizens [in Spanish, conciencia means both “conscience” and “consciousness” so this opposition between having a conscience and being unconscious makes more sense] who could not be urged to enforce a human right not to participate in military spending because they would not adopt the precise variety of pose of some superogatory moral duty of conscience.
The freedom of conscience implies, in any case, the freedom of all to participate responsibly in the construction of society, but it is no justification for the universalization of a right to war tax resistance because this goes beyond the limit of private actors to come to be a right/duty of the community against militarism and its interwoven collaborations.
(And finally) criticize the traditional record of human rights and the claim that all social needs must be called human rights
We will try, since we already see that the section under review is well-answered, to be brief in this respect.
It has traditionally come to be said that human rights are the historical concrescence of the demands for free and equal dignity (or nature) of human beings, considered in the abstract, that must be protected, and protected by the legal system.
For this reason it is recommended that the catalog of human rights (precisely so as not to become a trivialization in which everything ends up being a human right thanks to the boldness of determined political lobbies or societies introducing their claims in a sort of smorgasbord) sticks to those that are most fundamental, thereby proposing that four categories of rights be considered as human rights:
- Right to life (a right that will thus imply a series of measures and tools of a political-legal nature aiming to guarantee life to its maximum extent)
- Right to integrity/health (which will then result in measures and tools appropriate to guarantee this generic right)
- Freedom of self-determination
- Rights for “respect for nature or for peace.”
Indeed with respect to the problem of the extension of the catalog to an infinity of proposals, we encounter a significant problem, since it is not desirable for human rights to become an interminable list of stories, supposing that one gathers a catalog of principles with claims of normative validity that serve to advance the establishment of a new, just legal order.
It is perhaps this one additional reason not to argue so much for the express recognition of this human resistance-right in its specificity, as to contribute to the justification of this mechanism as a tool that “would guarantee” the realization/achievement of a right to substantial peace (which implies a zealous right to respect of life, which needs the full protection of health and integrity, which is articulated as political freedom and appears, basically, as a right toward nature and towards future generations).
On the other hand, and leaving for another time the sophistry of whether we find war tax resistance in the light of a true human right or of an instrument of rebellion in defense of a human right to peace, we must analyze, in order to clarify them, the three basic notes that have been sounded in turn concerning human rights (universality, absoluteness, and inalienability) such that, in view of present circumstances, only in a weak sense can one talk of the occurrence of such notes with respect to our structure of war tax resistance.
The note of universality
Because universality, handed down from the most pure Kantism, has declined as a characteristic of human rights and has developed a double meaning, inasmuch as the “universal subject” has been torn into pieces (because there are human rights that affect only certain holders and not “all men”) and because the protection order also obliges us to speak of a relative universality. With respect to war tax resistance, only in a weak sense can we speak of universality, since there are only certain categories of people (and not in the same way) who can claim ownership of the exercise of this right.
In the active sense we refer to those (peoples, cultures, persons) aggrieved by militarization, who exercise their disobedient responsibilities as a human right, which requires from others as passive subjects (states, the military-industrial complex, defense and revenue policies) a duty to the first group and to the maintenance of peace (a duty that imposes a change to the current policy, such as refraining from behaving in a certain way — raising funds to prepare for war, etc.) and that asserts a claim that is to be defended by non-collaboration.
The universality of this right does not require a uniform conduct by all, but respect for a diversity of conduct, enforceable as a right at last to guarantee that demilitarization “becomes universal” as a rule to accomplish here and now.
The note of absoluteness
We find ourselves again facing an excessive claim, in the sense that there cannot be absolute rights, as all of them are found limited in one way or another so as not to convert the rule of law into an impossible mechanism, spangled with paradoxes.
An absolute right, for example the freedom of thought, would lead us to consider justified as a human right the opponent’s political crime. We can extend the list of paradoxes.
For this reason we must explore the meaning of absoluteness for the human right that we are intending to define. In this sense we understand that we must substitute the term “absolute” with that of “prima facie,” a Latinism that means, more-or-less, that it is a right that, in principle, and unless any exception justifies its demotion, must prevail over other claims that enter into conflict with it.
Thus, we find the so-called limit to this right, that we alone can locate after much pondering, in that which most preserves substantive peace. The extent of this limit, for example, implies that the right of war tax resistance cannot be understood as a right to refuse collaboration with any type of taxes, but only with those that truly attack the peace, like for example military taxation.
The limit of this objection appears in consequence of the injury to real welfare of the community. When the exercise of this type of disobedience gravely damages this, the “strong” character of this right must fall away. But only in such a case.
The note of inalienability
This note has disintegrated completely, since inalienable implies something like “never prescribed,” “that one may never renounce,” etc.
In reality no right is inalienable in this strong sense. The evidence of this fact forces us to facially reject without going further the right under discussion.
Consequently, when we talk about a human right to war tax resistance, we refer to it by considering it as a right of a fundamental nature (though not absolutely), that is, as a right with a relative, gradual, historical character, that builds on a strategy in conflict with militarization and on techniques of disobediences that defend the respect for the right to peace, as a “resistant” right but one that can cede (since we do not think of it as some variety of idealist essentialism) to conflicting goods in order to better defend peace.
A resistance right that does not admit exceptions or preemptions (e.g. its neutralization or as a right of exemption or redirection) but is flexible and compatible with other historical strategies for obtaining a peaceful world.
A rest stop along the road
With respect to what remains, I say I have with gusto disposed of what I consider to be a reductionist character of a human right to war tax resistance (if indeed such a right exists).
I believe therefore to have highlighted as signifying narcissism those aspects that, in general, I find magnified in the claims for validity of a right to war tax resistance.
The papers, the dogmatic and scientific reasonings (and also the better part of the proceedings of other international conferences) read to make this work all abuse from good faith (not without, at times of ignorance, indifference and — less frequently — ethnocentric contempt) and reduce/devalue the concept of war tax resistance that one would prefer to be “resistance to war” in a broader sense, something more than and distinct from a mere individual action from an imperative of conscience.
The main claim is that we are not the sort who plant the field of narrow valleys that serve us to justify campaigns — interesting ones — but ones that are limited in their aims.
War resisters cannot settle for people “allowing” us to evade our contribution to military spending by means of legalizing some penalty-free permission.
The excuse that it is difficult to attract people to our disobedience proposals implies a sort of mental laziness that merits no more response than that which comes from the unending testimony of the victims of our history — do they deserve liberation less than we deserve safety?
A human right to war tax resistance does not reduce to an expression as miserly as that which we criticize, because it would a caricature, and history teaches us much of past mistakes. For example, conscientious objectors meant with the legalization of a substitute for military service in the form of a provision for civil service to be for “demilitarizing” society and not — as it turned out, for the purpose of depoliticizing the demilitarized character of the choice of conscientious objectors.
From this point of view we have, in this example, a result that ought to shine light on the ambitions of our proposal of war tax resistance.
I continue below to narrow in on war tax resistance in the form that we assert.
Make a tentative search of the elements of war tax resistance that want to be a human right or guaranteed by a human right.
We now find ourselves among some characteristics that we cannot set aside in the difficult search for the articulation of a plausible legal/political justification for war tax resistance as a human right.
We will highlight some of the “seed” aspects of the tree we are planting, and in time inquire into some justifications that validate such a claim in economic, political, and other fields of analysis.
The realistic and multidisciplinary vision as reasonable discourse around which to make our “ethical” structure with a normative claim.
Thus, data drawn from diverse fields and analysis concerning the “military expenditures” factor and the effects of it concerning the respect for life on the planet require, in some sense, fundamentals with which we can overcome the “recognition test” of our prospects of making war tax resistance a human right.
In this sense, we find that our claim of “war tax resistance” is a candidate for recognition as a human right of the third generation.
We consider next that we must eventually expose our reasons to the international community (understood not only as the combination of peoples and prevailing worldviews but through dialog and respect for the aforementioned universal perspective) in order to (as was said) “pass the test,” since nothing guarantees in advance the credibility of our proposal nor of the success of our struggle, but we must, as I have said, make ourselves credible and get that recognition “in the battlefield of ideas.”
Like so, as we will explain further on, our proposal of “war tax resistance as a right” cannot emerge from the supposed essential character of some moral rights or from some preexisting and inalterable universal values, but from the most objective analysis possible of militarism and military spending; analysis to which we must bring diverse perspectives and approaches of what the effects are of militarism on the political, economic, ecological, social, and other planes; their impacts on the aspirations of a new world order, for the actual survival of human rights and of an order based on these, for the “rights of future generations,” etc.
And this for one obvious reason: we must convince those who do not share our beliefs nor our values and for that it is necessary to base what we say in flexible and realistic arguments, beyond positions about values, beliefs, etc.
It will be fundamentally an extensive and flexible justification, superior to the reductionisms and the unilateralism of the approaches criticized above, which, in our view, can be reasonably expounded and consented to as a human right.
Consequently, our analysis and structure are dialogical, reasonable aims, mere searches for critico-legal legitimization of this option.
There are reasons to be pondered in the battle of ideas and of political and social proposals.
There are, more accurately, reasons for action in favor of this right to demilitarization so often repeated.
The “additive” character of dissent as a constructor of new human rights
Along with this, as much as we have been emphasizing in this long (if not profound) text, we must highlight a theme that has been constant in the process of positivization of human rights, which is the non-consensual character of the de novum claims of new rights in the face of those enshrined (and also neutralized by the authorities).
Human rights, whether they be positive or those that claim their inclusion as such, imply a political structure and decisively affect policy-making in general.
Therefore the resistants in this long process for the positivization of a right to war tax resistance have to produce — both in the sphere of public discussion and, even more, in practical action.
As many times has happened before with other rights, the positivization of a human right with demilitarizing claims implies strategies of dissent and disobedience with the aim of forcing political responses of another sort and of breaking inertia. Therefore also our misgiving that covered with lambskin (in this case the lamb of war tax resistance) is the wolf of the so-called “peace tax” that implies zero-dissent in the face of the interests maintaining the status quo.
Therefore we must stress the political character of the dissent that human rights must incorporate in the sense in which human rights have historically constituted claims of certain groups or people in light of earlier situations secured by power.
With this we want to influence the political aspect of our struggle and the necessity to understand (but not only) human rights as limits to power or “rights against the state” and that, precisely for this reason, they must be articulated in a very convincing form and, if you hurry, a disobedient one, without excessive concern for obedience to power, because, as we know, what today is law tomorrow may be a crime (if all goes well).
But we must consider that in the present circumstances in which the states appear as a rather obvious reality, human rights must be understood also as basic, urgent needs for protection and defense against the powerful.
The evident dialectic functions in this sense and what is interesting to consider is: human rights are limits on the state and on power, rationalizing elements of these, while at the same time power appears to be the basis of the validity of rights and we must reclaim and demand of it a sufficient guarantee of said rights.
Hence, our role will be to provoke dissent but, also, to demand an ever greater defense of our claims.
Rights of the “first,” “second,” and “third” generation
The process of the positivization of the different human rights has led to talk of rights of the “first generation” that would come to coincide with the individual rights resulting from the liberal thought of the late 18th to early 19th centuries, rights of the “second generation” which would be approximately the fruit of the positivization of the social and cultural rights under the socialist flowering, and rights of the “third generation” that would come to be the fruit of the new laws after the charter of Human Rights of the United Nations and that would come linked to the aspirations of decolonized peoples and the new sensibility and planetary emergencies (rights of solidarity, of ecology, and of peace, etc.).
The classification provided is somewhat superficial, but, with respect to our aims, I suppose it serves to frame war tax resistance within the claims to validity that have emerged in recent times as the result of new planetary emergencies in relation to peace and demilitarization.
Therefore we situate this figure of war tax resistance as (aspiration or right) as integral to a (broad) human right to peace. So we find ourselves more accurately confronting the true reasons (ethical, legal, political, etc.) and aims (demilitarization, struggle by civil society against taxes for military spending on national policies, etc.) for the war tax resistance of the war resisters.
On the other hand, the connections clearly emerge with the rights already enshrined in the U.N. charter, such as, principally, the right to life in a broad sense, the right to a just international order, and the very right to popular sovereignty.
The class of resistance to war as an imperative class (the Russell paradigm)
[Rois calls it “the Einstein paradigm” hereafter; perhaps he referred to Bertrand Russell in an earlier draft and then changed his mind?]
Following with our “tentative” search for the proper elements of this form of war tax resistance “human right,” we must highlight the essential element of “war resistance.”
“Non-resistant to war” tax resistance has no reason to be characterized as this right.
The concern with articulating a political commitment to refusing participation in armed conflicts is today an important legacy to humanity.
With no intention of depreciating other important traditions that animated war refusal over the centuries, we want to fix on that which we might call, improperly, the “Einstein paradigm,” to see the significance it may have to our approach.
In an era in which the antimilitarist structure has a very elaborate discourse concerning the meaning of wars and of armies, and investigating proposals for noncollaborations with such instruments, professor Albert Einstein formulated, in a letter sent to the War Resisters League, a reflection that today we can find at the root of our claims for legalization of the war tax resistance of which we speak.
Einstein considers that armies and militarism are the worst monsters that have emerged from the human race and that we must protest for their complete disappearance.
But don’t stop there: realize what is possible if the citizenry, “by means of effective acts” show their governments and and those who direct the plans of the military state their veto against participating in these and collaborating in their diverse preparatory measures (that is, both recruitment, as well as military industry, etc.).
This thereby asserts the power of civil society as the immediate agent of demilitarization, by means it puts forth (public declarations, conscientious objection, etc.) to refuse and its decision not to participate in such vile acts.
It appeals to the actual commitment to undermine support, through noncooperation, of the sustenance of the armies and the wars, in a sort of tenet of “tax resistance to war, its preparation, and its causes.”
Einstein understood that the military-industrial complex is the fruit of obscure interests that only decisive action of the people can expose.
The influence of these positions on important later reflections of conscientious objectors to military service is undeniable.
However, following the reflection of Einstein in his letter to the War Resisters League, this essential action of refusal would have to be accompanied by the realization of some type of educational undertaking by which governments should see that the people, indeed, want to stand up for other things.
It was as a tactical measure with which to be able to find allies on the path, at the time of constructing an alternative conception of defense of human rights and not of borders.
In this sense, war tax resistance can satisfy the function of incorporating the role and the responsibilities of society in the refusal of the arms race, and for making the states see the unwillingness of the people to maintain a huge war machine.
In this path, the fact that individual citizens can divert their taxes from “war resisters” aims to those for peace that openly serve the cause of demilitarization is, obviously, a tactical move of deep interest.
However one must distinguish between the possibility (realized in the form of a proposal from the civil society) to divert these taxes to peaceful ends and the “obligatoriness” built in to the legalization of this right to perform whatever type of diversion.
In this sense we can observe how the proposal “from society” to perform an educational action in defense of other things, has been converted by the states in the case of conscientious objection to military service, into a “misrepresented” obligation of the own “war resister” grade of this form.
I will explain myself: the known laws have converted Einstein’s good device into a legal obligation to “substitute” for military service other (generally more arduous) “extraordinary” service to the nation, and that, to some extent, secures its own overall kind of military service (that is imposed without reference to those nonobjectors). With this, the dissident possibilities and those of noncollaboration with armies are depleted in a kind of exchange of obligations for the maintenance of conscription. In this light, if we were to make an assessment of the current momentum of conscientious objection to military service in the world, it has not served, or only minimally, to reduce the size and the political legitimacy of armies.
And this, from the proper design of law, if we were to consider war tax resistance as a human right, confronts us with an important legal paradox: Does the content of human right consist of performing a legal obligation? Can a human right in search of higher doses of demilitarization consist of substituting (but allowing for others) the persistence of military spending?
Therefore, in order to vindicate a human right to war tax resistance, it is necessary to do so it from the fullness of one’s war resister spirit, because our objective, far from considering a personal exclusion from participation in military spending sufficient, instead seeks a model and a call to the values shared by the community, incorporating as an argument of law its own sovereignty, in order to oblige nations to give respect to the noncollaboration undertaken, and the form of these policies might vary.
The choice of peace and the search for a new world order
This way of treating the subject will sketch a sort of epistemology of war tax resistance, in its scope and aims, that we can summarize in the following way:
- It has a normative claim as a third generation right
- based on objective reasons and on multidisciplinary analysis concerning what military spending involves
- that pursues service in the cause of social demilitarization
- fostering a dissident dynamic and incorporating the role of noncollaboration in its essence and its tactical proposals
- and that therefore resists being incorporated into limits “compatible” with a right of exemption or redirection, in order to aim to be, better yet, a legitimization of alternative proposals of legitimate civil disobedience from the standpoint of human rights.
However, it is interesting to note how this proposal provides, in principle, an obvious choice for the construction of a new paradigm of politics, in whose framework is definitively installed the claims of justice and of peace for our planet.
By this I mean to say that war tax resistance would appear as a strategy with claims of right that intends to serve the work of substantial peace.
From this point of view it is evident that it ties in two of the rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in that it draws upon them in a decisive form:
- right to a new international economic and social order based on just relations (article 28 of the Declaration of Human Rights but also “Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order” in Resolution 3201 of ; “Programme of Action on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order” Resolution 3202 of ; “Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States” Resolution 3281 of , etc.)
- right to rebel against an order that does not protect human rights (preamble to the Declaration of Human Rights of , Resolution of UNESCO 20/c/3/1.1./1 and its last meeting in Freetown of , various international conferences, etc.)
Thusly, the declaration at Freetown clarified that
“the right to resist oppression is found at the center of the struggle of people for the recognition of their rights and is inspired by political philosophies based on democratic principles.”
Outline of a peace with substance and the role of war tax resistance in this ensemble.
a right to peace beyond the panoply of declarations?
For its part, it is clear that war tax resistance aims to be part of the essence of a right to substantial peace, a right still not sufficiently formed but that appears in the outlook and in the aspirations of our planet. The right to peace, reduced in the international purview to a mere declaration of good will, must gain befitting heft in the process of legal construction of the new worldwide society.
The strength of civil societies and NGOs in the conquest of achievements of peace, for that matter, also affects the legal approaches and presently opens diverse paths of thought concerning the wisdom of understanding peace as a fundamental pillar of the new construction of the worldwide society.
Wars, violence, and, as a consequence of this, armies, begin to lose all reason to feel accommodated in the structure of human rights and of rights in general.
The right-to-peace points outlined in our framework, are by assumption translated into legal categories of nonviolent action and also in its ethics, by means of a structure (also legal/political) of active pacifism, and thus a rethinking of such things as authority, coercion, the use of force, the instruments of general and particular prevention, the concept of legal subject, respect for difference, the inclusion of solidarity and development in legal contents, or the role of disobedience in the system of law, among others more obvious, as well as an unconditional and radical rejection of various elements so far unquestioned as tools of international law, principally meaning arms and armies, that will be replaced by other alternatives of conflict resolution, as it is nothing less than contributing to the realization of a right and a political order to promote substantial peace.
We speak then of a right to “substantial peace” not only as a universal ethical consensus, but as a right in its own sense and very different from the traditional jus in belli or jus ad bello, and configured as a true system of safeguards “against war,” as a type of active pacifism translated into the normative categories of law.
It is a right that appeals to its effective guarantee of the promotion of the so-called human rights, with respect to human dignity and the transformation of the sociopolitical structures into a new, just international order.
This right would fall under the rubric of an essential provision, of last resort, of a certain appeal to “resistance” against those practices (including legal ones) that would deny this legal choice of active pacifism. And this is where, again, tax resistance makes sense in the gradual struggle for the right to peace.
It is not, in our framework, that war tax resistance would be essentially a human right, but, better yet, one of the current inevitable defenses “of legitimate dissent” for making progress towards a right to peace.
A right to peace that, at least on paper, aims at gradual standards of social demilitarization and that, even as a voluntary declaration, begins to be reflected in international instruments of broad significance whether it be demilitarizing or encouraging of alternative values and education.
In this sense there are already people who have advanced some novel elements, among which we highlight the “constituent assemblies” of Colombia, that produced a constitutional proclamation of the right to peace (articles 16 and 22), to ecology (articles 58.2 and 79), to cultural and ethnic diversity (articles 7 and 8), to education for peace and human rights (articles 41, 64, and 95), and prohibiting the making and importation of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (article 81), or of Paraguay, for those that prohibited torture and genocide (article 5), empower ecology (articles 7 and 8), of conscientious objection (article 37), ethnic diversity (articles 62 and 63), education for peace and cooperation (article 73) — or of the achievement of an international order of respect for human rights (article 145). One could mention other examples of constitutional law in which the efforts for peace begin to organize themselves likewise in legal formulas.
justification of war tax resistance as a “defense of a right” from various international legal instruments
Reviewing various international instruments of human rights, we may discover points in favor of the legitimation of an international warrant for war tax resistance:
Said articles stated that the primary aim of this organization, the true parent of the UN, was to bring about the disarmament of the member states.
This reference is interesting because it shows how the law has historically specified proposals in favor of social demilitarization, up to the point of this becoming the raison d’être of the first attempts at world government (a reason that reappears in the current context of rethinking the United Nations).
But it is also interesting to know this fact because said aim and said League of Nations failed in its voluntary attempts.
In my opinion the reason is obvious: the failure must have been due to having entrusted the states with the power of bringing about this disarmament and not having articulated measures that would appeal to civil societies in such an undertaking.
It follows that war tax resistance would provide a social commitment, beyond that of the states, to follow the path of demilitarization, and for this reason it must be incorporated as a mechanism of the construction of international law.
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (resolution 2200 of )
Its preamble resolves that
…the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights…
the obligation of States under the Charter of the United Nations to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms
And article 1 establishes that all peoples exercise the right to free self-determination and of development
may freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources
Article 2 of this covenant provides that
Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take steps with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.
The principles and the articles of this declaration, in general, make possible the construction of a likely theory of demilitarization and the end of military spending, as ensuring the survival and respect for human rights.
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (resolution 2220 of )
A reasonable justification for war tax resistance could also equally be deduced from this, since (article 20) says that propaganda for war and its preparation should be prohibited by law.
- The Declaration on Social Progress and Development of the General Assembly of the U.N., Resolution 2542 of
the urgency of devoting to works of peace and social progress resources being expended on armaments and wasted on conflict and destruction
And shows us that
- international peace and security on the one hand, and social progress and economic development on the other, are closely interdependent
Armies are found among the causes of the interruption in social progress and international cooperation, of which
- it is urgent to devote to works of peace and social progress resources being expended on armaments and wasted on armed conflicts
And for this
- the primary task of all states and international organizations is to eliminate from the life of society all evils and obstacles to social progress, particularly such evils as inequality, exploitation, war, colonialism, racism…
- The Declaration of Principles of International Cultural Cooperation (resolution of the General Assembly of UNESCO of )
Recalling the above, this adds (Article Ⅳ) to the aims of international cultural cooperation:
2. to develop peaceful relations and friendship among the peoples
5. to raise the level of the spiritual and material life of man in all parts of the world.
And in Article Ⅶ
- In cultural cooperation, stress shall be laid on ideas and values conducive to the creation of a climate of friendship and peace…
- Declaration on the promotion among youth of the ideals of peace, mutual respect, and understanding between peoples (U.N., Resolution 2037 of .
In the same line it reaffirms the central role of youth in the promotion of peace and the power that education can have in this on the ideals of peace and demilitarization.
In this regard we could reference other, more modern legal texts that speak of the relationship between military spending and an unjust international order, of the necessity of progress along the lines of demilitarization, of providing economic resources wasted on belligerence to the promotion of a new world order and to development, and to the role of societies in achieving these objectives. At the moment those specified will serve as a reference. In any case, we want to point out that the methodical pronouncements of various international instruments give notice of an international ethical and legal consensus about the need to drastically reduce military spending and to advance towards demilitarization.
And from my point of view these declared objectives are an important starting point in our proposal for war tax resistance, for the reason that far from situating ourselves on a metaphysical plane, we can proceed on the basis of these to discover globally shared ideas and to allow a dialog of new proposals.
In any case we must open in this paragraph the question of whether war tax resistance, consisting of the dissident refusal to participate in military spending that is performed with the object of appealing to the values of society and of mobilizing consciences to change the militaristic policies of the nations and to obtain higher levels of demilitarization, is conceivable as a human right or whether it is preferable to consider it as disobedience “in defense” of a human right.
Legal/political justifications of war tax resistance
From the legal/political viewpoint there are various arguments from which to justify this choice:
The purpose of the law is to build peace.
Any theory of law justifies it as a technique of guaranteeing peace, either because it aims to incorporate the essence of social justice, or to resolve social conflicts in a reasonable way, or because it offers an indubitable framework of collective security.
From this aim of the law, and making an analysis of society at the end of the century, it seems appropriate to say that the law should make participation as a normative instrument in social demilitarization one of its medium-term objectives
There are many scientific fields (economic, ecological, etc.) from which the necessity of demilitarization is obvious.
The law itself is questioned nowadays as strategies of conflict resolution which some theories have characterized as a “legal option for nonviolence” as a precondition of the future.
Human rights are incompatible with the arms race
This is a consideration that has legal significance of the first order, since the objective of the law is nothing less than to be the basis of a political structure that justifies the political communities themselves.
For this reason nations cannot legitimately impose burdens that hinder human rights, rather, they must remove obstacles to their full effectiveness.
War tax resistance forms a part, at least via prevention, of the human right of peace and a just and mutual world order
This is an argument that I consider sufficiently explained.
I consider that peace must not be left in the hands of politicians and of state interests, but that it must overrun this narrow border, incorporating mechanisms of “dissenting” participation from the communities themselves.
This ensures, in my opinion, a deepening of substantial peace beyond the panoply of declarations in use.
This treats this right as that of a peace directly enforceable by citizens, without the necessity of recognition or of a prior legislative development by the state.
The theory of sovereignty and the justification of disobedience
War tax resistance is a form of direct exercise of power on the part of the citizenry, when the law and the states, faced with the problems of militarism, show themselves incapable of solving them.
Logically, the exercise of civil disobedience is the possession and exercise of sovereignty by its owner and it forms part of the democratic culture in two senses:
- Because it appeals to one’s society in order to provoke a debate and a real consensus on issues “sequestered” from public opinion and from participation (and decided by elites for the interests of a few).
- Because it entails the exercise of a direct democracy that cannot be ignored by governments, on pain of being denied one of the basic conditions of a democratic structure.
War tax resistance therefore appears as a means of direct, democratic participation in tax policy.
War tax resistance considered as a form of democratic participation in the determination of defense policy
It is commonly considered that the right/duty of defense rests with all of society.
Based on the ideas of human rights, we must consider that defense consists of the defense of human rights.
To a great extent states deprive citizens of the right of defense since states do not permit citizens to chime in about what to defend, or the how and who, but citizens are used for the purposes of the military defense interests (as soldiers, as civilian resources, as contributors to military spending).
War tax resistance contributes to a definition of the right of defense of societies, and entails a positioning of these concerning:
- The what of defense (human rights instead of militarism and the preparation for war)
- The how of defense (cooperation, social spending, nonviolence, popular participation, instead of arms and military spending)
- The who of defense (society, instead of the elite)
War tax resistance considered as an invocation of personal responsibility in the legal and political process that enriches the law
In this sense war resisters’ tax resistance in defense of a right to peace forms part of a principle of responsibility and of conscience that recovers a genuine sense of the right of conscientious objection.
We have made at another point in this paper a critique of the principle of the freedom of conscience as the ultimate foundation of war tax resistance inasmuch as it trivializes the genuine “war resister” sense of conscientious objection it could have in its more classical approach.
However, conscientious objection considered from a political understanding, and conscientiously disobedient with an aim of resisting war, adds significant content to the right itself that, one might say, “becomes sensitive to the convictions and precepts” in a pacifist sense.
On the other hand, the appeal to personal responsibility in complying with the law tells us that the majority of the political community does not “comply” with the external law out of fear or convenience (quite ugly motives in any case) but that it is able to respect the freedom to reject it from altruistic ideals of respect for others.
There is no duty to contribute to military spending, but only a legal obligation in a weak sense
By this we want to prevent the central argument of states concerning the contribution of everybody to the maintenance of armies.
They tell us that this is a duty, thereby confusing the matter, trying to “elevate” the strict meaning of the military contribution (a legal obligation) to the category of a duty, speaking of a duty to contribute that is based on two types of arguments:
- the duty of everyone to contribute to defense
- the duty of everyone to contribute to communal expenses
Such a strategy aims to justify military spending as unquestionable.
Certainly between duties and obligations there are basic differences that we must not lose sight of:
Because duties exist independently of the power that determines them or not.
Because duties affect everyone, at all times.
Because duties are based in a fundamental right.
Obligations, on the other hand, are determined by acts of power and before such acts occur they do not exist. Furthermore they affect certain classes of subjects, and, finally, they are not justified by principles and fundamental rights but by reasons of convenience or some such.
From our point of view the obligation to sustain military spending is a clear example of a legal tax obligation for the convenience of the few, but it cannot appeal to a right of defense (when the defense is defense of human rights) and certainly not by a means as antagonistic to these principles as is the preparation for war.
A duty to defense would be one thing, but another thing entirely is the obligation to military spending.
In turn, it does not appear that military spending has as its basis a fundamental right or a principal of solidarity or the like. It is important to note its lack of consistency with (and its antagonism to) such appeals.
So the lack of democratic justification for the maintenance of armies and the costly expense of preparation for war means that they cannot hold a candle to a higher principle like the authentic right to peace, which in a generic sense has a superior legal standing.
Invoking the duty of defense, this is precisely to say that people can perform war tax resistance, since war taxes represent a legal obligation that, unjustifiably, restricts political, social, and economic freedoms of peoples and impedes the defense of peace.
The comparison of the legal obligation to contribute to military spending with the human responsibility to exercise the right of peace demands that we raise the justification of tax resistance to the level of a duty.
Towards a legal characterization of war tax resistance
It remains to us now to attempt to respond to the choice between a human right or a defensive technique, to which we referred before.
The answer to this question is of relative significance, insomuch as in reality it is difficult to determine the border between one and the other aspect.
I think that we may speak in a conciliatory way of a disobedience that aims at legalization of substantial peace as a human right, but that in turn is treated as a right in itself (or as disobedience with a legal justification), albeit of a provisional nature.
This would then consider the existence of a human right to peace, within which tax resistance would be justified as an example of its exercise.
This perspective permits in turn not to speak of expanding the catalog of proclaimed human rights with such specific cases that it ends up reading more like case law than like a small set of bedrock principles.
War tax resistance will enjoy recognition as a right — not a human right as such, but as a manifestation of the right to substantial peace, compatible with the cast of human rights which this right touches (the right to life, etc.).
My preference for accenting “resistance to war” and disobedience as this option
I believe in principle that tax resistance is a certain form of resistance to established law, seeking further demilitarization, enmeshed in the form of legal prohibitions, that answers better to the character of a disobedience justified “in defense and in the name of a right to substantial peace.”
On the other hand, the fact that it is not a human right does not deprive it of a legal character, for “the law” is composed not only of “laws” and positive human rights, but also of principles, rules of conflict resolution among legal goods, legal and political decisions, etc.
In this sense, that there is no such human right does not imply that it has no participation in human rights, but simply requires a change in its positive statements.
War tax resistance in my opinion is a form of disobedience legitimated by the appeal to human rights, one that joins in their justifications a list of rights to which it intends to give voice:
- the right to life in a broad sense
- the right to peace and a just international order
- the right to solidarity and development
- the right to political participation
- the right/duty of defense
- the freedom of war resister ideology
- the right of contribution to the economic expenses of the people
It is a form of disobedience that has some support in proper human rights which, along with disobedience, aim to be effective against the threat of military spending, and it is perfectly justified from the point of view of the ends of the political community and from the principles of democratic participation since it seeks the fulfillment of the promises of democracy itself.
I understand war tax resistance to be a defense of the right to peace with two aspects:
- in demilitarization strategy, that is, that which is set fundamentally on the aim of removing power from the military
- in the construction of a peaceful alternative, which emphasizes not only removing power, but at the same time constructing a sort of cultural relations that is peaceful in the broadest sense
The legal legitimization of this disobedience has a wide scope for obvious reasons:
- because it invites popular participation and the incorporation “by contagion” of many people who are jealous or fearful of exercising their freedoms when they enter into conflict with power
- because it enriches the constitutional process of the people, incorporating ethical aims for peace into their decrees
- because it assumes a commitment to struggle for the respect of human rights and for basic necessities of communities, peoples, human beings, and life on the planet
- because it permits the reduction of the field of militarism by means of effective actions of noncollaboration with them
The legitimization of this disobedience, in time, can lead to the adoption by some nations of diverse, more-or-less demilitarizing legal norms, which might be peace taxes or others.
In this sense war tax resistance should not lower its guard, while disobedience “guarantees” the right to peace in this dual role already referenced:
- because it must be followed-up with some sort of disobedience (or if you prefer, of conscientious objection in the genuine war-resister sense) confronting chronic legislative intentions to merely rearrange militarism without permitting new demilitarizing advances (for example, significant reductions in the military budget or the reorganization of the military to be smaller and more efficient would not be sufficient, but instead we must continue working for complete disarmament)
- because it must continue deepening its alternative character and not allowing some substitution of military spending for any other expenses, instead choosing a more effective demilitarization and the building of an authentic peace (for example, it is not sufficient to replace the military budget with other budget items that encourage consumption, health, or charity, but such things should be sought in the more efficient use economic resources made possible by demilitarization, in the promotion of free NGOs of other peoples, in building peaceful international relations etc.)
In this sense it is outside of its scope to reduce war tax resistance to:
- a right of exemption, since it does not claim the exemption from paying of certain budget items, but rather aims for the disappearance of those items and their replacement by others profitable for peace
- a right of redirection, since it does not consider a claim to choose between military or civilian budget items, but rather the requirement to participate in the defense of peace and society, demanding the global dismantling of military spending and seeking the overcoming of defense policies that are based on the preparation for war
A human right to war tax resistance
While war tax resistance cannot be considered a human right in its own sense, it may merit an explicit mention in the declared catalog as part of the human right to peace.
In this sense, I consider that it is a provisional form (since the time of demilitarization has not arrived) that could appear as the legitimate expression of the objection to contribute to military taxes of all kinds.
In fact the complete elaboration of the right to peace could include a legitimate mention of tax resistance, in the form of something like a declaration that allows that those who submit their refusal to collaborate with military spending will be respected by the states in their objection, in order to sustain the states in their ongoing obligation to reduce their military spending by an annual percentage that involves war tax resistance, and requiring them to allocate the amount of the reduction to peaceful ends.
A mention of this sort would enshrine the legitimacy of tax resistance in the right to peace and would fix the limit of its admission: precisely the demilitarizing will, or what is the same, the political order of human rights.
To introduce the choice in conflict with this must be to reject such objection.
This tax resistance implies the non-interchangeability of taxes, which is to say, it does not mean substituting the challenged obligation with analogous others, but rather to withdraw support from militarism by means of the redirection of military spending on civilian expenses.
In this sense, the “peace tax” options incorporate a package of measures distinct from war tax resistance, ones that have their roots in the same sacred right to peace, but that in no case are interchangeable with it.
One peace tax strategy that would not be a mere replacement incorporates strategic possibilities from the position above for a peace movement, provided your purpose is not the mere rationalization of military forces.
But, we repeat once again, beyond peace taxes may be found a goal of war tax resistance as legitimate disobedience and as the exercise of a right to substantial peace.