Karl Hess on Tax Rebellion

The Ludwig von Mises Institute has put on-line a essay by tax resister Karl Hess: The Lawless State: A Libertarian View of the Status of Liberty. Here are some excerpts in which he addresses tax resistance as a tactic for the liberty-loving:

This is not to say, of course, that totalitarianism is right around the corner or that we have already passed the corner. That particular corner is one of the most difficult of all political landmarks to recognize. History strongly suggests, as a matter of fact, that the time when most persons recognize it is precisely the time when it is too late to do anything about avoiding it.

For that reason, among others, it strikes some that it would be better to stand up and appear even ridiculous and alarmist right here and now than to be calm, cool, and collected, properly docile, and politically acceptable — while it became too late to do anything else!

The Tax Rebellion

Direct resistance may be the course others will select. Taking every available legal course to harass or even halt government programs is one avenue. Forcing the government to take, in its turn, legal action to compel the individual to comply with a government rule, rather than just voluntarily going along, is another course. Along such lines, of course, for those able to afford it, may lie many useful tests of the legality of government actions, particularly in the high-handed area of executive orders and regulatory law.

Ultimately, of course, every American holds in his hands the most explosive weapon that possibly could be turned against such a government as that of the United States as it has developed. That weapon is the sword of tax refusal.

It is clearly illegal, of course, to defy the government in regard to the payment of taxes. But prior to the clearly illegal areas of tax refusal there are many steps close to the borderline.

In this area, the unbounded imagination of Americans already has given the revenuers a massive migraine headache. Tax resistance is a fact. It is a growing reality. It worries the government. Their concern shows most evidently, as they take harsher and hastier action to dampen the flames of this honest, grassroots revolt.

Many will be frightened off by the toughness and the ruthlessness of the revenuers. Understandably. Yet, there is ample evidence to show that the spirit of resistance overall is rising, despite the repressive and retaliatory lashings of the revenuers.

Part of that spirit may feed on the earthy American feeling that “they can’t put everybody in jail!” Or, in short, there is safety in numbers when it comes to fighting City Hall, or the White House itself.

In the seventh section of the sixth book of The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle covers the last of the five capacities people have for attaining true knowledge: Philosophy.

Whereas Art is the skill needed to create things in a particular discipline, and a good artist knows the philosophy of that art; Philosophy here concerns the whole kit and caboodle — not just knowledge of some particular discipline, but of all there is to know.

Aristotle says that this comes from being good at both Intuition and Science — that is, having the ability to intuit true first principles, and having the skill to logically manipulate facts, starting from those first principles, to derive new facts that are demonstrably true. Indeed Philosophy is hardly a capacity of its own so much as it is a combination of Intuition and Science.

However, Philosophy as Aristotle is using it is only a subset of where Intuition and Science combine. He restricts the term so that it covers understanding not of day-to-day practical things like politics or medicine (these things are covered by simple Wisdom), but of “the things that are highest by nature… things that are remarkable, admirable, difficult, and divine, but useless.”

Someone who is good at Philosophy is not necessarily very good at practical things (think of the absent-minded professor stereotype — someone who can describe in detail for you what the universe was like a fraction of a second after the big bang, but can’t remember that class schedules are different during Finals Week).

Your take-away here is that Philosophy is the capacity (and desire, I suppose) to combine true first principles derived from Intuition with the sensible logical method of Science in order to gain knowledge about The Big Questions — fascinating, uncanny, grandiose, and utterly impractical knowledge.

That’s the last of the five means by which the mind is capable of arriving at truth about the truth or falsehood of things, so let’s review:

facultydescriptionscopevariety of truth
Sciencethe ability to get at the truth using a demonstrable logical process starting from other truthsinvariable/eternal things (scientific)abstract methods
Artthe ability to create new things that would not exist but for the artist’s creationvariable things (deliberative)productive
Wisdomthe ability to deliberate about what acts would be beneficial and expedient in leading a virtuous lifevariable things (deliberative)practical
Intuitionthe ability to discover true first principles that can be used to bootstrap Scienceinvariable/eternal things (scientific)abstract principles
Philosophythe ability to use Intuition and Science to gain knowledge about the highest (though impractical) thingsinvariable/eternal things (scientific)abstract

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

War tax resister Ed Hedemann and a pseudonymous pro-life/anti-war tax resister are among the activists featured in a new book: Crimes of Dissent: Civil Disobedience, Criminal Justice, and the Politics of Conscience by Jarret S. Lovell. Excerpt:

[W]ith a permanent military budget, war tax resistance need not occur solely during times of open or “hot” warfare. On the contrary, it can take place annually through small but nonetheless direct measures that impede the collection of revenue, as Ed Hedemann explained:

Being a war tax resister — despite the myths about this — does not require a change in one’s life. You could refuse to pay a dollar of your income tax, and there’s no sacrifice in that, although it’s a dollar or ten dollars that the government is not going to ignore. You send a letter along with it. It doesn’t require anything excessive on your part or a change in lifestyle. So what if they seize a dollar plus interest in penalties?

At the same time, when carried out to the fullest, tax resistance can require major sacrifices in one’s life, as Hedemann explained:

I refuse to pay any of my federal income tax because I just don’t want to have any part of [my income] willingly going over to the government. Now, this does require some sacrifice. For example, if I take a salary job, the chances are that the IRS will eventually find out who I work for and seize the money from my paycheck. So I’ve been avoiding salary jobs. I work as an independent contractor for a variety of nonprofit groups.… I can’t have a bank account with a Social Security number on it.… So I have my money in somebody else’s Social Security number in an account in another state. I also can’t own a house or a car because I don’t want that seized. So I’ve rearranged my life to some degree because I’m so determined to go the extra mile and not allow the government to [pay for war].

War, however, is not the only motivation for tax resistance. Recall that in the previous chapter we met “Bob,” whose tax resistance centered in part on the issue of abortion. When he returned from his tour in Vietnam, he made a decision never to lend his support to a policy that allows for killing, which for him simply meant war. “I wrote letters to the secretary of the Treasury, the IRS, the Department of Defense outlining my opposition, telling them that I’m not part of the game anymore.” It was around that time that Bob found out that his pregnant girlfriend was seeking an abortion and that the U.S. Supreme Court was reviewing Harris v. McRae, a case that questioned the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment, which placed restrictions on the federal funding of abortions through Medicaid.

For a time, Bob worked with Operation Rescue obstructing access to abortion clinics, but he quickly felt that the organization attracted elements that betrayed his stance on nonviolence. Eventually, the confluence of his experience in Vietnam, the national debate over the funding of abortion, and the discovery of his girlfriend’s pregnancy all led to his move toward tax resistance, which for him was the most direct and nonviolent means of intervening in the carrying out of policy. So he began making life arrangements that allowed him to earn less than the taxable income while being able to continue speaking out about the “voluntary nature of taxes.” As Bob sees it, it matters not whether the issue is war, abortion, or any other government program:

If people continue to fund the monster, the monster is going to continue to grow and do its evil deeds. It’s gotten to the point where the number, depth, and quality of the evil deeds have gotten so huge that we need to defund it. That’s how we can really make this thing turn around: defund it.