The folks at The Voluntaryist have put a complete PDF version of their book I Must Speak Out: The Best of The Voluntaryist on-line. It contains a lot of good food for thought, with authors ranging from lefties like Ramsey Clark and Noam Chomsky to pacifists like Karl Meyer to conservatives like Alexander Solzhenitsyn to libertarians and anarchists like Murray Rothbard, Wendy McElroy, Robert LeFevre, and Harry Browne.
Voluntaryism, in short, “consistently upholds individualist anarchism (by which we mean self-government), rejection of electoral politics, and the advocacy of non-violent means to achieve social change.”
The Voluntaryists are advocates of non-political strategies to achieve a free society. We reject electoral politics, in theory and in practice, as incompatible with libertarian principles. Governments must cloak their actions in an aura of moral legitimacy in order to sustain their power, and political methods invariably strengthen that legitimacy. Voluntaryists seek instead to delegitimize the State through education, and we advocate withdrawal of the cooperation and tacit consent on which State power ultimately depends.
Here’s a sample article from the compilation: “Voluntary” Contributions to the National Treasury: Where Does One Draw the Line? by Carl Watner:
Although people were arrested or imprisoned for non-payment of taxes prior to , such episodes were relatively few and far between because there were no significant governmental levies against property or income. However, as a result of the passage of the income tax amendment, anyone working for his living, today, is supposed to “contribute” 20 to 25% or more of his income to pay federal, state, and local taxes. If one does not “voluntarily” pay his income taxes, he could be criminally indicted for willful failure to file and pay; his person and property could be subject to seizure and confiscation. Such actions can only be predicated on the premise that both one’s body and income belong to the State. If convicted, one could face a lengthy jail term, as well as a hefty monetary fine.
Is the person who does not or will not file or pay his income taxes really a criminal? Probably not. Generally, his income has been honestly earned by providing a product or service for those who choose to trade with him. Only a federal or state prosecutor would dare to come forward with a criminal indictment (the State having been deprived of much-needed obeisance and funds). In short, he must accuse the would-be criminal of committing a victimless crime, because there is no individual whom he has physically harmed, or whose property he has trespassed against.
We have grown up in an atmosphere of State control over our lives, and to knowingly refuse to file and pay taxes is to court great danger. The psychological aspect of tax refusal is to wonder when the long arm of the law will descend upon the “refuser.” Intimate business associates become shy in dealing with such person because they perceive his actions may snare them in vicious net, even if their activities are legitimate from the point of view of the law, so-called. The objectors family becomes wary of strangers, who might be nosy IRS agents, and his wife wonders what might become of her children, herself, and her home in the event her husband is prosecuted. The State, through its direction of schooling, its use of media propaganda, and its impact on the culture around us, wages psychological warfare against those who refuse to kowtow to its image of control and authority.
Despite the relentless campaign to obtain voluntary compliance with the tax laws of the State, some people have chosen to become conscientious objectors against taxation, and in particular, against income taxation. This latter is where some “draw the line.” It appears to them to be totally contrary to an ethic of life-survival to support one’s enemy voluntarily. By conscientious objection, such people refer to the awareness that taxation is theft, and therefore a wrong committed against them. Like one who, when called upon in time of war to fight for his country, refuses to do so because of conscientious moral or religious scruples, these people are the ones who, when called upon to contribute their “fair” share of income taxes, refuse to do so out of knowledge of the evil of the State and the wrongness of taxation.
The conscientious objector rejects the State and the income tax for two reasons. First, he objects to their compulsory nature, and secondly, to the odious uses to which the State employs the money so collected. Government employees are the only group of people in society that regularly and “legally” use physical force, or its threat, to collect funds to sustain themselves. Whether the money is spent on ends of which the conscientious objector approves or whether the money is spent on ends of which he disapproves, the main point is that the money has been stolen, and therefore becomes tainted. It should be returned to its owners. Much as many people would like to think otherwise, the ends (whatever Congress decides to spend it on) do not justify the means (the coercive collection of funds).
Here are three ready measures of oppression in human societies. First, to what extent do government employees confiscate or collect property from individuals? This question has already been answered, by pointing out that most people “contribute” 20%, or often significantly more, of their income to various levels of government. Second, to what extent does one become a criminal by minding one’s own business? In a society where the State has first claim to one’s income, one becomes a criminal by refusing to contribute to the State’s upkeep, and by refusing to supply the State with the information which it requires in order to calculate the share which you allegedly owe it. Those who in times past have refused to bear witness against themselves, and supply personal financial data, have been found in contempt of court and imprisoned for their obstinance. The measure of social injustice now existing in our society is reflected in the fact that the criminal penalties for income tax refusal are as great, if not greater, than the penalties for assault, rape, or murder. The third measure of oppression: to what extent does one have to ask permission to do as one pleases with one’s own person and property? Witness the fact that, in the most “free” country in the world, one must have a government license or permit to engage in many occupations and professions, build a house with one’s own money on one’s own property, drive a vehicle on a road, travel abroad, or to operate almost any kind of business. These are all signs that we live under a domineering State that is intent on controlling and regimenting us in every conceivable way.
The “burden of proof” argument demonstrates how the government oppresses “its” citizenry. It wants you to prove that you don’t owe any taxes, rather then having to positively prove that you do. It is their position that the burden is on you to either file and pay, or to prove why that is unnecessary. In either case, all the collection agents have to do is sit back and wait for their obedient slaves to fill their coffers. If this doesn’t happen, then the State which fails to inculcate such obedience is faced with a fundamental challenge to its existence. Its agents must either initiate coercion to collect revenue, or the State must begin the process of ‘withering away’, which would ultimately bankrupt a private group of people. When faced with this threat of shriveling up from loss of revenue or using coercion and its threat to sustain their income, the State has always historically flexed its muscles and jailed resisters — to demonstrate, first, that it means business, and second, to bully the majority into subservience by demonstrating what happens to those who chose to resist.
The State is a criminal and anti-social institution because its agents must initiate violence against peaceful people, and confiscate their property, and/or place them in jail for refusal to acknowledge its jurisdiction. The difference between private groups of people and the State is that no matter how influential or wealthy the former become, they never have the legal right to require you to deal with them. Those who see no gain from dealing in the market place, refrain from doing so, and are left alone. It is no crime to be a hermit. State power, however, is of different character. As “citizens” we find ourselves living in geographic area where defense services (police, army, and courts), and some social services (for example, first-class mail delivery, monetary legal tender laws) are coercively monopolized by the government. Whether or not we wish to be bound by its laws or patronize its monopoly services, we are forced to do so. There is no “right to ignore the State,” as Herbert Spencer so eloquently argued.
The case for conscientious objection to the State rests on the basic moral premise that it is wrong for anyone to engage in aggression against non-aggressors. People, so long as they harm no one else, should be left alone. The State, and its agents, must always violate this precept, or else cease being a State. Since there are only two ways of inter-relating with other people in society — either voluntarily or coercively — State agents and people who support the State are faced with a dilemma. Do they act as accessories to the crimes of coercion, extortion, and theft, or do they distance themselves from the State; the former — by resigning their official positions, and the latter by refusing to pay taxes? Conscientious objectors to taxation, like Henry David Thoreau, have already answered this question. They will not be compelled, even under the direct threat or use of force, to bear witness against themselves, or to acquiesce in payment of their taxes, so-called. They do not wish to be accused of complicity in government crimes, whether against themselves or others.
The first three centuries of the Christian church’s existence, when Christians were opposed to war and other forms of violence, illustrate the origins of conscientious objection to State power. The Christian opposition to war expanded into denial of the rightness of all coercive action on the part of the civil power, and thus arose that form of conscientious objection which is being discussed here. It may be identified as voluntaryist in nature, characterized by political non-participation, objection to the State, and taxation. Its manifestations are the refusal to serve or deal with the government in any way: the refusal to vote, to hold political office, volunteer information, pay taxes, etc.
Another historical form of conscientious objection was exhibited during the era of State-imposed religions. Those whose beliefs differed from the State’s orthodoxy had to go underground, flee the country, or convert (at least cosmetically) in order to survive. The history of the Society of Friends (the Quakers) from its origins in seventeenth century England is an example of a people persecuted for conscience’s sake, yet who ultimately prevailed. , the Quakers were subject to almost continuous persecution. It was not until , that they were no longer imprisoned for nonpayment of taxes to the Anglican church and that their complete religious freedom was recognized.
The spirit of truth which inspires the conscientious objector demands a unity of means and ends. Conscientious itself is means objection oriented to taxation of is its derived from for voluntaryism, which itself is means oriented because of its concern for non-coercion. What the voluntaryist objects to about the State is the means it uses (its ultimate resort to violence and coercion). Although certain government goods and services may be essential, it is by no means necessary that they be provided by the State. The objection is against the means, against the methods of State power, regardless of what ends State power is used for.
Like the abolitionists of Thoreau’s time, the conscientious objector realizes that even the most arduous journey begins with a single step. In their struggle to help the slave (often a violation of the federal Fugitive Slave Laws), statist laws and constitutions were nothing to the abolitionists. The old Puritan idea of duty was their ideal: quick in thought, prompt in action, stern love for the right, and the most unflinching advocacy of what one believes to be so, even though the whole world shall oppose. As Wendell Phillips once said, there is nothing higher than the individual’s conscience. “We must each learn to feel, in determining a moral question, as if there was no one else in the Universe but God and ourselves.”
Once satisfied that both taxation and support of the State are moral wrongs, the conscientious objector can only appeal to the consciences of other members of society — for it is their opinion which ultimately supports government and enforces all law. Unless the laws accord with the moral feelings and usages of the people at large, they will be inoperative and powerless. Freedom grows out of custom and tradition — not out of legislation or State edicts.
The conscientious objector sees a personal duty not to cooperate with evil. This entails performing one’s duty regardless of the consequences; otherwise one becomes party to what one realizes is wrong. This means, that like the Russian dissidents of , conscientious objectors must act whether or not they think their actions will be practical and influential in molding public opinion. Certainly, Vladimir Bukovsky, one of those Russian dissidents, had no way of realizing the cumulative impact of the dissident movement, but he must have implicitly realized that if one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself — for he wrote in To Build a Castle () that, we must grasp the great truth
that it was not rifles, not tanks, not atom bombs, that created power, nor upon them that power rested. Power depended upon public obedience, upon a willingness to submit. Therefore each individual who refused to submit to force reduced that force by one 250 millionth of its sum.
And, as he added,
We weren’t playing politics, we didn’t compose programs for the liberation of the people, we didn’t found unions.… Our sole weapon was publicity, so that no one could say afterward, I didn’t know. The rest depended on each individual’s conscience. Neither did we expect victory — there wasn’t the slightest hope of achieving it. But each of us craved the right to say to our descendants: “I did all that I could.… I never went against my conscience.”