Joel Bowman

Freedom has a thousand charms to show,
That slaves, howe’er contented, never know.

— William Cowper, Table Talk

Emblazoned across the lucre-basted exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington DC, reads one of the most intellectually polluted quotes any free mind is ever likely to encounter:

“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

Its effortlessly officious author, associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., could scarcely have been more wrong in his (albeit paraphrased) assertion. Unless, that is, the mustachioed Rooseveltian meant to define “civilized society” as an arrangement that favors and promotes rule by brute force and violence, rather than one of free and voluntary association.

If, indeed, that was Justice Holmes’ idea of “civilized,” we shudder to think what he regards as uncivilized. But shudder we will…

Let us consider, by way of illustration, the concept of the caveman, that apocryphal amalgam of prehistoric humans so often used to epitomize the unwashed, uncivilized elements of mankind’s past. To what does this boorish troglodyte resort when it comes to resolving complex matters of dispute? What is his go-to instrument for dealing with the problem posed by, say, the natural scarcity of goods? With what tool does he arbitrate over issues involving titles, rights and claims?

Like Justice Holmes, Captain Caveman’s preferred instrument of justice is…a club. Force, in other words. “It’s my way…or (insert oafish, baboon-like noises here) me club you to death.”

There is no opt-out here. No choice. And therefore, it must be said, no freedom. As the author Salman Rushdie (a man who spent a good deal of his life under threat of force and violence from a particularly hysterical clutch of our fellow primates) once remarked, “Freedom to reject is the only freedom.”

Justice Holmes may have liked paying taxes. (He may have liked being flogged with a club, too. Who are we to say?) But by mandating that others do likewise, by employing the force of the state to ensure that they do, by denying them the freedom to reject the state’s claim on their property and to defend themselves against it, he is wielding the club — dangerously disguised as a gavel — of a decidedly uncivilized version of “justice.”

There are, of course, those questionless minds among us who take false refuge in such meaningless platitudes as, “But…but…but it’s the law!” To which we reply, “What kind of law is yours that seeks to endorse violence rather than to protect us from it?”

“The purpose of the law,” observed classical liberal theorist, Frederic Bastiat, “is to prevent injustice from reigning.” It is not to cause justice, in other words, but to shield us from its opposing force. And how are we to know when a law has fallen into the service of evil? The Frenchman offers this simple Litmus test:

See if the law take from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what that citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

And if we find the state of affairs to be as such? Bastiat urges us to “abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals.”

For Holmes and his wretched ilk, the difference between “them” and “us,” between savage and civilized, is not to be found in the distance between war and peace, between force and voluntarism, between slavery and freedom. His is a civilization measured in degrees according to the size and efficacy of the agent of force…and the sickening pleasure its beggarly subjects derive in forever dwelling on the harsh receiving end of it.

Of course, the liberty-minded recognize immediately, almost instinctively, that no amount of initiated force is ever tolerable in a truly just and civilized society. Indeed, this is the core tenet of the Non-Aggression Principle. Writes noted free market economist, Walter Block, on the subject:

The non-aggression axiom is the lynchpin of the philosophy of libertarianism. It states, simply, that it shall be legal for anyone to do anything he wants, provided only that he not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another.

In stark contrast to this fundamental bedrock of freedom, Justice Holmes not only implicitly advocates the use of force…but explicitly revels in it as a kind of privilege for which to be eternally thankful.

Wherever this core principle is endorsed, it betrays in its proponents a profound disgust for the human species, a disgust so visceral that it compels, urges, lusts even, for their ownership over and enslavement of others…all for the slaves’ own good, of course.

The impulse to own and to be owned is rooted in a foul and reprehensible sociopathy, one forged from a deep self-loathing, at once slavish and brutal. As such, it stands in special need of constant and public denunciation, of fierce, unapologetic and uncompromising resistance by all who strive to further the cause of liberty.

Joel Bowman
for The Daily Reckoning

Joel Bowman

Joel Bowman is a contributor to The Daily Reckoning. After completing his degree in media communications and journalism in his home country of Australia, Joel moved to Baltimore to join the Agora Financial team. His keen interest in travel and macroeconomics first took him to New York where he regularly reported from Wall Street, and he now writes from and lives all over the world.

  • Deft

    Well we’re paying a heck of a lot in taxes and that video of a guy getting mugged and looted in Baltimore a couple weeks ago shows you how civilized our society is. Bastiat was prescient in predicting that a some legal plunder would grow into a system. So the patient has cancer. Now what is the cure?

  • Ben the layabout

    I admire a devil’s advocate. Mr. Bowman is one for anarchy or something akin. I do favor less government, but doubt if any civilization ever did completely without. Yes, initiatory force. If for no other reason, how do “we” enforce the terms of a voluntary contract you and I entered into?

  • DoesNotMatter

    Sorry Joel. You are always free. When the caveman is about to stamp on your head, you are free to retaliate. Freedom is such a priceless quality simply because it cannot be taken away unless you consent to it. A truly free man always retaliates against tyranny. He fights his own battles. He does not asks others to fight for his rights. Asking others to fight for your rights is akin to asking others to eat and breathe for you.

  • gman

    “Emblazoned across the lucre-basted exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington DC, reads one of the most intellectually polluted quotes any free mind is ever likely to encounter:

    “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.””

    you would think that a blogger who advocates economic responsibility would recognize that nothing is free and everything must be paid for.

    you don’t like taxes? there are plenty of places you could go live and not pay anything at all. let us know how that works out for you.

  • Taxman

    The Libertarian crowd will always have Somalia, should they tire of paying taxes.

    You would have to go back to 1950 to find a year when taxes were lower in the USA than they are today.

  • gman
  • DoesNotMatter

    @taxman, I’m all for taxes. It’s just that I want you to pay me, instead of vice-versa

  • ken

    It always amazes me how many covet armed robbery in the name of taxes. Of course most always seem to be on the receiving end…

  • gman

    “It always amazes me how many covet armed robbery in the name of taxes. Of course most always seem to be on the receiving end…”

    entirely true. and soon you will find out just how much you have been receiving, when it stops coming. are you ready?

  • Thomas Paine

    We have two choices as humans: (1) a system based on government; (2) a system based on anarchy. The history of human civilization has been one of evolving from anarchy (“every man for himself”) to effective government. Would you really prefer a system where your only recourse if somebody shoots you…or breaks a contract…is to hunt them down yourself? Civilization is based (by definition) on “socialized” services (i.e., services funded and delivered in common for everyone). This includes traditional “conservative” (and necessary) bastions such as police protection, fire fighting, and the military. The fundamental need for government services (if you’re interested in civilization at all) cannot seriously be challenged. The real issue should rather be is your government truly representative. That is what the founders of every modern democratic society were fighting for, that we, as citizens, have a real say in ensuring that the force of government is used for the good of all and not just for those in power.

  • Hey You

    As I commented to a sales person just today, “i’d sure like to get into some of this government business so that I could get a cut of that bill”, referring to the added sales tax.

    Just think! A cut from every purchase made! Makes the lottery seem like small change.

  • There There

    @Hey You: If you’re a voter, you’re already a part of that “government business”. Congratulations! 😉

  • Tommy Jefferson

    Somalia is not a White Libertarian state, it is a black anarchist state.

    The Constitution outlines the function of government in this nation. The sooner we return to it the sooner we return to sanity.

  • Iddiklu

    I like the Irish take on this: ‘To obey the law is unpatriotic’.

  • Mike Bryan

    Um. Sorry, but you DO have the power to not pay taxes. Renounce your citizenship and leave the country. Now you have truly rejected the compact that is a national society and you are under no obligation to pay to maintain it, as you are no longer profiting from it in any way. Take your childish anti-tax justifications and hang out in a country like Somalia where you can truly be ‘free’.

  • Al Thompson

    Well, the internal revenue laws were repealed in 1939.

    Of course the problem is that the tax is enforce with violence.

  • shawn disney

    This article is very confused. “Cavemen” were a small, unubsidized group; it is very unlikely that every argument was settled by clubs; cooperation (politics)is much more likely. It is not likely that there was much talk about “ownership” or what’s “mine”; Sort of like in the Army, it’s not really an issue. Additionally, it’s true that even animals seem to have a sense of “fairness”, but it takes a human society to come up with ideas like “Justice”, much less, specific organizations as to how to achieve it. And it would seem that they are all based on larger societies made up of strangers: i.e. a larger -than -clan bunch, trying to live a civilized life in which it is not necessary for everyone to carry weapons all the time. Since taxes are not fun, unless you are Elvis Presley, a certain amount of persuasion is necessary to keep the system going. ( I gather the Greeks, right now, are suffering from NOT doing that in the recent past). But it is a self correcting mechanism if there is a wide perception that the scheme is turning into some kind of racket for a few. “Anarchism” only works for small groups, where everyone knows each other.

  • shawn disney

    Another thing: what makes you say “there is no choice”?! The caveman is always free to leave, or maybe even take over the group, if he wants the responsibility.

  • XENO777777777

    The US is constrained by the Politically Correct John D. Rockefeller-John Dewey Neo-Platonist System of Education, whic is based on Bullying and Cultural Denial of all the Cultural Values of the Last 5000 years of Civilization, starting with the Denial of Phonetics! This is why US Citizens cannot do mathematics, science, nor Engineering! This is why so many US Citizens turn to Illegal Drug’s! This is why the US had to get an Ethnic Chinese (from Taiwan) to Head Up its Nuclear Weapon Program, who promptly turned over the plans for all US Nuclear Weapons to Mainland (Red) China, including the Neutron Bomb! Should not David Rockefeller and Senator John D. Rockefeller, get 150 years for this, in a cell next to that of Bernard Madoff?

  • Carl W. Goss

    Interesting POV. Unfortunately, at the end of this obscurantist nonsense, taxes really are the price we pay for a civlized society.

    Nothing you said changes that reality.

  • almarc13

    Who decides the ownership of any property — land, house, car, etc.?

  • Nunya

    Most of you speak of taxes/tyranny as if it were manna. Are you people so blinded that you do not see that govt has become tyranny and control of our persons beyond what should be palatable?

  • Sean B

    Wow. First off, I’ve never heard of the IRS hitting anyone with a club. Garnishing wages is not nice, paying taxes is no fun, but neither of these comes close to the actual brutality of system like medieval serfdom, or Argentina’s Dirty War, or Pinochet’s Chile, when people were “disappeared” or just summarily taken to stadiums and shot, respectively. That is actual violence. What we have here in the States is an actual social contract. And its because of this social contract that we have thrived over the past hundred years. Prior to that, we had raw capitalism in the late 1800’s, and ended up with Robber Baron monopolies and market crashes that wiped out the economy about every 6 years. There is a balance of regulation necessary to keep the bankers & brokers from gaming the system and wrecking it (see 1929, 2008) or from power becoming too concentrated in the hands of too many. By the same token, I am for the free market doing whatever it can and keeping the government transparent and responsible. But you must remember, as conservative economist Milton Friedman stated, THE MARKET HAS NO MORALITY, and so if we have no regulations, no taxes to enforce them, then its not rule of law, its just rule by force, as in, gangs, big companies that can pollute as they please, and bankers that can sell whatever funny paper they want without any responsibility to deliver. As for anyone that doesn’t think that they have any choice, I will point out that as a U.S citizen it is relatively easy to travel and live elsewhere in the world (much harder if you are from a poorer country like Mexico, ). Put your money where your mouth is and go to different country and see how it is. I did, for three years and it was a great learning experience. If you really don’t like regulation, try a nice underdeveloped nation, like Senegal in West Africa, which is democratic and fairly stable. Of course, consistent electricity, or well paved roads are not always available, but hey, taxes are low! Until you’ve lived some place else, you’ll never know what you’ve got here. We’ve had it so good, so long, we don’t even know it anymore.

  • Lazlo Toth

    Oh, eat a dick, you spoiled twats. Sometimes eloquence is called for, and sometimes people just need to be called what they are, even if that something is obscene.

  • Arthur

    Another look at the flawed belief system that a social based educational system (late 60’s to present)has instilled in what would otherwise be an intelligent, and critically thinking country of adults.

    Feeling that you, or we as a group, need to be taken care of is a NEW concept in America; we are seeing it from both sides of the isle.

  • Islander

    @Arthur: Which “isle”?

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