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On the Slogan “Taxation is Theft”

July 14th, 2014 · 179 Comments

So, I recently succumbed to an old collegiate vice (no, not that one…) and allowed myself to get sucked into a libertarian comments section debate.  This was, on the whole, about as edifying and productive an exercise as you might expect, but having already expended an hour or two in this questionable way, I figured I might as well reproduce a couple main points here in case anyone else finds this sort of thing interesting.

The slogan that “taxation is theft” used to be fairly popular among libertarians—particularly anarcho-capitalists, who reject the legitimacy of even taxation to support a minimal state—and apparently, in some circles, it continues to be.  Matt Zwolinski recently brought up a thoughtful old Loren Lomasky essay arguing that this is an unhelpful way for libertarians to talk, and promptly drew all sorts of fire from people who are fiercely committed to their slogan and, if anything, wish it would be chanted louder and with greater frequency.

So, first, a point so trivial I’d hope it wouldn’t need to be made, but which apparently does: Taken in a strict or literal sense, the claim that “taxation is theft” is just false.  Standard dictionary definitions  pretty uniformly include the idea that “theft” is a form of non-consensual property transfer that is “unlawful” or “felonious” or “without legal right.”  Obviously this is quite separate from the question of whether taxation (generally or in some specific instance) is morally justifiable: Just about everyone agrees that some types of taxation (poll taxes, say) are wrong without literally constituting “theft,” and most people will also recognize that there are at least occasionally instances of “theft” that are morally permissible, or even mandatory. I bother with this only because a depressing number of people seem to confusedly believe that, though the large majority of people use “theft” in a way that definitionally excludes taxation (or other lawfully authorized transfers) from its scope,  all those people are wrong about words.  Which is not really possible, of course: Over the long run, what words mean really just is a popularity contest. You can stipulate whatever sense of “theft” you like for the sake of a particular discussion—nothing  substantive turns on how we decide to use English terms—but these arguments so predictably collapse into vacuous verbal disputes that it seems simpler to cut to the chase and talk about why one thinks taxation is wrong.

Happily (as with the vegan slogan “meat is murder”) people mostly  understand well enough what the claim “taxation is theft” is meant to express: that we should all use “theft” in a way that encompasses “taxation” as just one more distinctive subcategory (like “embezzlement”), because coercive expropriation by states is illegitimate, and so taxation is morally on par with all those other transfers we currently describe as “theft.”  Bracketing the substantive plausibility of the underlying claim, that’s in principle a perfectly valid rhetorical strategy: “Marital rape” was an oxymoron until enough people insisted it shouldn’t be, and now, happily, it isn’t. Lomasky thinks this one, however, is counterproductive—and I’m inclined to agree.

For one, it’s a claim that anyone with a theory of just holdings could make about political systems that fail to satisfy their criteria, but we typically find it irritating when people with other political commitments make equivalent moves.   For someone who thinks justice requires equality of resources, or distribution according to the difference principle, or whatever, then failure to tax and redistribute could be characterized as “theft” by those with surplus holdings.  But framing the view that way just adds a dash of empty melodrama.  Every political viewpoint has some set of principles for determining what rights over resources people have—and, implicitly, is committed to the idea that the alternative ways of allocating resources are wrong. If you’re trying to seriously debate the alternatives, adding “Wrong!” in a louder voice after you’ve articulated yours isn’t really adding anything.

Which, I think, brings us back around to Lomasky’s sense that these kinds of slogans are symptomatic of a failure to take seriously the fact of political disagreement that is both thoughtful and sincere. One important component of “theft” as ordinary people use it (though I notice that not all of the dictionaries explicitly include it) is that it is intentional. “Theft” is not just taking what one has no right to, but what one knows or reasonably ought to know one has no right to. When someone grabs your coat  from a pile at a party, having mistaken it for theirs, then insofar as you’re persuaded they really  have made a good faith mistake, you try to convince them of the error without resorting to calling them “thief.”  (Especially if there’s some possibility that it will turn out you’re the one who’s mistaken.)

Not all disagreements, of course, are so easily resolved.  Even in anarcho-capitalist utopia, after all, there would be some kind of legal system providing for non-consensual transfers of property in the case of disputes.  When one person’s actions directly or indirectly harm another, there will often be disagreement about whether compensation is owed, and if so, what amount is reasonable.  There will be complex contractual disputes, or questions about whether a parcel of property has easements on it, or about whether the prima facie rightful owner’s claimed property boundaries are just right. Some of these disputes will actually be pretty complicated, and not easily resolved by recourse to simple moral first principles.  Invariably, either because the facts or the legal (quasi-legal?) rules are complex or ambiguous, whatever system is in place to resolve these disputes will sometimes get it wrong.

We can stipulate language evolving however we like in an imaginary anarcho-capitalist utopia, but it seems most natural to imagine the denizens of AnCapistan distinguishing between these kinds of inevitable good-faith errors and plain old theft.  And it seems natural because there is a morally salient difference between simply taking what you like without regard for whether you have a right to it, and adhering to some process designed to adjudicate and enforce rights claims, even when that process will necessarily yield an unjust outcome in some cases.

Saying “taxation is theft,” then, doesn’t just entail that the speaker thinks taxation is no more morally justifiable than theft.  It implies that this ought to be so self-evident to any reasonable person that those who disagree are (at best) just engaged in some kind of transparent rationalization for disregarding the rights of others.  That seems both clearly wrong and unfair, even if anarchists are ultimately right about the illegitimacy of taxation.  Why bother arguing at all if you believe that justifications for taxation are merely pretextual, and the great majority who regard it as legitimate (whether voters or agents of the state) do not really care whether it violates people’s rights?  One might, I suppose, try to awaken a mugger’s dormant conscience by reminding them “you have no right to do this to me!”—but that would be an attempt at shaming, not persuasion: The mugger’s problem is not that he doesn’t know, but that he doesn’t care.

Lomasky’s point—beyond the rhetorical utility of this particular slogan—is that libertarian rhetoric (and, to be sure, the rhetoric of some more intemperate progressives, but that’s their problem) sometimes treats good faith disagreement about what is right as equivalent to amoral indifference to what is right.  Very occasionally, that may be an effective rhetorical posture even when it’s somewhat unfair.  Usually, though, it seems to be neither fair nor effective—except, perhaps, at delivering whatever psychological satisfaction people obtain from imagining themselves among the righteous few in a sea of thugs and moral imbeciles.  When one is politically impotent, I guess, one takes what consolation prizes one can.

One additional theoretical consideration that’s largely independent of Lomasky’s (and Zwolinsky’s) main point.  The slogan that “taxation is theft” is ambiguous: We can read it to mean, as the anarchist typically does, that taxation per se is categorically illegitimate, but also as a more specific claim that actually-existing taxation involves depriving people of specific holdings to which they are entitled.  The second claim, it seems to me, is indefensible even if we suppose the anarchists are right as a matter of ideal theory.  If we take that theory to be some variant of neo-Lockean/Rothbardian/Nozickian/whatever account of initial appropriation and transfer, almost nobody residing in any actually-existing state can justify their present holdings by reference to an appropriately untainted provenance running back to the State of Nature.

Serious theorists tend to acknowledge this at least in passing, but it’s one of those elephants in the room that anarchist and minarchist libertarian thinkers alike have tended to give conspicuously short shrift.  In Nozick it’s basically relegated to an unsatisfying footnote to the effect that, yes, maybe we need a one-time carnival of patterned redistribution. (This is the political philosophy equivalent of Richard Dawkins tweeting “j/k: God did it up to amoebas, but THEN evolution.”) In other writers, it rates a few (equally unsatisfying) pages of hand-waving about homesteading and adverse possession.

If there’s a libertarian theorist who’s grappled with this at the length it merits, I haven’t seen it. I would love to be able to point to a few serious book-length efforts, but the Year Zero approach that just takes current holdings as given and proposes Entitlement Theory Starting Tomorrow have always struck me as the sort of ad hoccery that makes caricatures of libertarianism as an elaborate rationalization for privilege more plausible than they ought to be.  So an independent reason to shy away from “taxation is theft” as a slogan is that it can be interpreted as an unreflective endorsement of distributional patterns riddled with profound historical injustices.  Libertarians, anarchist and minarchist alike, still lack a theory of remediation serious and robust enough to meet the demands of their own priors.  When we have one and it’s implemented, then the anarchist camp will be in a better position to chant their slogan.

Update: Kevin Williamson, who I can only infer thinks I am very dim indeed, quotes my trivial semantic observation above as though it were meant to be some kind of substantive argument, and responds that I am “studiously ignoring the point.”  As I had hoped would be clear from the rest of the post, though, I understand the point perfectly well. I had merely meant to note, as a preface to the actual argument, that someone who denies “taxation is theft” is not grammatically wrong or confused in any strictly literal sense, and it’s silly to get mired in purely verbal disputes about the ideal Platonic definition of  “theft.”  As I acknowledged right after the sentences Williamson quotes, this anthropological factoid about contemporary usage has no real bearing on the upshot of the slogan, which is that taxation is morally equivalent to theft. Substantive moral questions can’t be resolved by dictionaries. That said, it’s my own fault for spending too many words on a silly and trivial point, so I’ve made some edits in hopes of leaving it a little clearer what I’m trying to do here.

Just in case though: This is not a post about whether taxation is categorically wrong (though I don’t happen to think so). Rather, this is a post about why, even assuming arguendo that taxation is illegitimate, slogans like “taxation is theft” are not a helpful way to express that claim, because they equate a good faith disagreement about what rights people have with malicious disregard for those rights. I find it morally outrageous that we imprison people for selling drugs to willing adult buyers; such imprisonment is always unjust.  But framing this as the claim that “drug prohibition is kidnapping” is not, in most cases, a useful thing to say to someone who disagrees about the underlying point, for basically the same reasons that equating opposition to single-payer with a desire to watch the poor suffer rarely leads to any kind of interesting conversation.

Tags: Libertarian Theory


       

 

179 responses so far ↓

  • 1 bob dob // Jul 21, 2014 at 3:42 am

    Julian Sanchez: “And to think, philosophers have wasted centuries doing political theory when the answers were right there in Websters all along.”
    🙂

    412libertarian: You miss the part in Bruenig’s argument that involves self-ownership.

    Second, you write: “You have to prove that the original owner is somehow illegitimate”

    No. Remember that by “original owner” you only here mean “the person who at some point in time physically controlled a particular resource”. So after that sentence we are still in a situation were no “legitimate ownership” (a distinct moral concept that has to be settled through argument) has been established, neither for first, second, third … N-th owner (again, only meaning someone temporarily in physical control over a thing).

    It is you that aspire to make a further moral claim about who should be granted moral control over what in the world, namely that that first person should be granted a near absolute moral right over that resource and a right to use violence against the bodies of any of billions of other people if they also later on start to use i.e. own that resource. I see no reason to accept that moral claim. Sure some soft property rules will be useful, but absolute property, that doesn’t have good consequences.

    We should specify “legitimate ownership” by evaluating different institutional possibilities in terms of their welfare consequences for the people. The evidence then points to northern european welfare state institutions. People there own cars and other stuff in a soft sense that is specified by soft property rules that are compatible with things like taxation. As I’ve pointed out those institutions bring better health care, better child care, less poverty, lower child mortality, fewer violent crimes, more social mobility, more social trust, more happiness. Most people think all the things on that list are very important goals. What is your view on them?

    Keep also in mind that for most physical resources we don’t know who the first owner (in the descriptive sense, first to physically control) was since that fact is lost in history. People currently controlling a resource X may be the 456th owner (in the descriptive sense of having physically control). For example a person doing a night shift of cleaning the floors of a mall is the 976th owner of the mall floor.

  • 2 412libertarian // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:21 am

    No. Remember that by “original owner” you only here mean “the person who at some point in time physically controlled a particular resource”.

    ___

    Nope. By original owner I mean the first (aka original) person who possessed something, or controlled it.

    It’s not a moral argument. Again, it’s literally right there in the dictionary. You want me so bad to change the subject but until you just admit that the word owner means whoever possesses something, we will just go in circles and you’ll continue to spin around and around and embarrass yourself.

    Once we agree on that point, your entire worldview collapses. So keep on clinging to it, disregarding the English language all along. Makes for fun times.

    My argument is that whoever first possesses something is the original owner. Yours is that that constitutes illegitimate ownership, or worse yet, that it doesn’t even constitute ownership at all, even though, again (sigh), the dictionary agrees with me, and not you.

    With your worldview, there literally can never be a legitimate owner, at least without embracing coercive violence.

    I don’t see anything coercive about homesteading, but somehow “excluding other people” constitutes some sort of threat to you people. There is no threat unless *someone else initiates action* to invade another person’s private property. You don’t think that’s self defense either lolz

  • 3 Spill_Erix // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:23 am

    Possession and ownership are not identical, although popular use sometimes conflates the two.

    You can possess things without owning them.

    You can own things without possessing them.

  • 4 412libertarian // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:25 am

    Just picture how your worldview actually plays out in real life for some laughs. Have fun trying to argue with someone that you have a “right” to use their farm, even though you’ve never met them before that moment. I can only imagine the reaction. Are you fuckin kidding me?

  • 5 412libertarian // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:28 am

    Owner. Noun
    1. a person who owns; possessor; proprietor

    One statist’s “popular use” is another man’s dictionary meaning. Literally copy pasted straight from dictionary.com the very first definition. Pretty standard Maybe if I copy paste straight from dictionary.com enough times, people will finally realize it? Nah probably not. Idiot statists.

  • 6 412libertarian // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:30 am

    This is literally what I’m arguing right now.

    Does possession = ownership? Statists say no. Dictionary.com says

    Owner. Noun
    1. a person who owns; ***********possessor;**********************proprietor.

    Maybe if I isolate it you’ll acknowledge it? Eh. Probably not. Lol

  • 7 412libertarian // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:31 am

    In before the subject is changed from “here’s how we figure out who owns something” to “bbbbbbut that’s not legitimate ownership!”

  • 8 412libertarian // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:34 am

    One last try

    Spill_Erix // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:23 am

    Possession and ownership are not identical,

    Spill_Erix // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:23 am

    Possession and ownership are not identical,

    Spill_Erix // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:23 am

    Possession and ownership are not identical,

    Spill_Erix // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:23 am

    Possession and ownership are not identical,

    Dictionary.com
    owner[ oh-ner ]
    noun
    1. a person who owns; *******possessor;**********proprietor

    Dictionary.com
    owner[ oh-ner ]
    noun
    1. a person who owns; *******possessor;**********proprietor

    Dictionary.com
    owner[ oh-ner ]
    noun
    1. a person who owns; *******possessor;**********proprietor

    Weeeeeeeeeee

  • 9 412libertarian // Jul 21, 2014 at 4:45 am

    The evidence then points to northern european welfare state institutions. People there own cars and other stuff in a soft sense that is specified by soft property rules that are compatible with things like taxation. As I’ve pointed out those institutions bring better health care, better child care, less poverty, lower child mortality, fewer violent crimes, more social mobility, more social trust, more happiness. Most people think all the things on that list are very important goals. What is your view on them?

    _____

    My view on them is that you’re wrong, again.

    Answer me this. How much is gasoline per gallon in northern Europe? Such a success!!! God you’re clueless. It really is amazing.

    How the hell do you even define social trust? You’re just a paid government shill in all likelihood. Sad that my taxes fund such nonsense.

  • 10 bob dob // Jul 21, 2014 at 6:06 am

    “By original owner I mean the first (aka original) person who possessed something, or controlled it.”
    That matches what I wrote in the part you quoted. So we can proceed discussion using that definition.

    “Again, it’s literally right there in the dictionary. You want me so bad to change the subject but until you just admit that the word owner means whoever possesses something, we will just go in circles and you’ll continue to spin around and around and embarrass yourself.”

    Again, I see no big harm with using the term “owner” in that strictly descriptive sense. I said so already. To remind you that I said so here is my first two paragraphs from #127 again:

    Yes, definitions aren’t moral arguments. The issue at stake is one about who should have control over real natural resources for what reasons. If you want to make a claim about that you have to give moral arguments, not dictionary lookups. The terms “possessor” and “owner” can be used in several different senses. If we set retoric aside there is no problem with using the term in the way you want but it also will not help you in any way to argue towards the conclusion you want to establish. On your preferred use of the term, to say that X “owns” a car then only means that X “currently has physical control over” the car or something like that . I think that deviates from everday usage in some cases. For example imagine a person calling the cops and saying “a person jumped into the car while I was refueling and drove off, could you help me locate where the current owner of the car took the car?”. In a lot of everyday talk we people use owner in the stricter sense of “legal ownership”. But of course if we use the term “owner” as a purely descriptive term the way you want then what the caller only intend to say in the above sentence is “a person jumped into the car while I was refueling and drove off, could you help me locate where the person who currently has the car took it?”. That leaves it completely open whether the action of driving off with the vehicle was right or wrong. So no moral ground is gained by using the term in that sense. No direct harm is done either, as long as we make sure not to fallaciously equivocate between “own” and “legitimately own”.

    I’ll go with your preferred wide and purely descripte definition of “own” for now. Then the real issue in our debate will instead be about what should count as “legitimate ownership”.

    “Once we agree on that point, your entire worldview collapses.”

    Not quite. Once we switch to that descriptive use of “owner” or “original owner” the real substantive topic under discussion turns to criteria for the distinctly moral concept “legitimate ownership”. We should specify “legitimate ownership” by evaluating different institutional possibilities in terms of their welfare consequences for the people. The evidence then points to northern european welfare state institutions. People there own cars and other stuff in a soft sense that is specified by soft property rules that are compatible with things like taxation. “As I’ve pointed out those institutions bring better health care, better child care, less poverty, lower child mortality, fewer violent crimes, more social mobility, more social trust, more happiness. Most people think all the things on that list are very important goals. What is your view on them?”

    “My view on them is that you’re wrong [about benefits with northern european welfare states]”

    Good that you now are prepared to look into those arguments. But I need much more details from you. Which of the listed goals do you now say that I’m “wrong” about? And what is your evidence for thinking so?

    “How much is gasoline per gallon in northern Europe?”
    It is significantly higher than currently in the US. In general consumer goods are higher in price in countries with higher taxes, that is a flip side of paying less up from for public services like health care. However the goods on the list above are much, much more important for peoples welfare than low gasoline prices. Fewer violent crimes is much more important than low gas prices, for example.

    “How the hell do you even define social trust?”
    Here is a starting point to get you going in your reading up on the concept: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trust_%28social_sciences%29

  • 11 Spill_Erix // Jul 21, 2014 at 6:51 am

    You could at least have looked at a legal dictionary, that could have given you a hint that you are wrong:

    “Possession versus Ownership

    Although the two terms are often confused, possession is not the same as ownership. No legal rule states that ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law,’ but this phrase is often used to suggest that someone who possesses an object is most likely its owner. Likewise, people often speak of the things they own, such as clothes and dishes, as their possessions. However, the owner of an object may not always possess the object. For example, an owner of a car could lend it to someone else to drive. That driver would then possess the car. However, the owner does not give up ownership simply by lending the car to someone else.

    The myriad distinctions between possession and ownership, and the many nuances of possession, are complicated even for attorneys and judges. To avoid confusion over exactly what is meant by possession, the word is frequently modified by adding a term describing the type of possession. For example, possession may be actual, adverse, conscious, constructive, exclusive, illegal, joint, legal, physical, sole, superficial, or any one of several other types. Many times these modifiers are combined, as in ‘joint constructive possession.’ All these different kinds of possession, however, originate from what the law calls ‘actual possession.’ ”

    Indeed, “[a]nd to think, philosophers have wasted centuries doing political theory when the answers were right there in Websters all along.”

  • 12 Julian Sanchez // Jul 21, 2014 at 7:08 am

    This discussion fairly clearly hit a Dunning-Kruger limit a while ago, and is becoming actually painful to watch. I will gently suggest that everyone consider backing away and picking up a good novel or something.

  • 13 bob dob // Jul 21, 2014 at 8:40 am

    @Julian
    Hard to argue with that. And the opportunity costs of going on is also quite high given the great weather around here. A Richard Ford novel in the shade it is then. Cheers all.

  • 14 412libertarian // Jul 21, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Although the two terms are often confused, possession is not the same as ownership. No legal rule states that ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law,’ but this phrase is often used to suggest that someone who possesses an object is most likely its owner. Likewise, people often speak of the things they own, such as clothes and dishes, as their possessions. However, the owner of an object may not always possess the object. For example, an owner of a car could lend it to someone else to drive. That driver would then possess the car. However, the owner does not give up ownership simply by lending the car to someone else.

    The myriad distinctions between possession and ownership, and the many nuances of possession, are complicated even for attorneys and judges. To avoid confusion over exactly what is meant by possession, the word is frequently modified by adding a term describing the type of possession. For example, possession may be actual, adverse, conscious, constructive, exclusive, illegal, joint, legal, physical, sole, superficial, or any one of several other types. Many times these modifiers are combined, as in ‘joint constructive possession.’ All these different kinds of possession, however, originate from what the law calls ‘actual possession.’ ”

    ___

    Sure, under this current legal system, right on. That’s the same legal system that defines taxes as “not theft because the Supreme Court says so,” but hey no circular reasoning here!

    If an owner of a car lends it to someone, first we have to assume and actually define what constitutes ownership, which you still have failed to do. That’s also totally voluntary and fine. Someone can hold rights to control something (own) and lease or give them for free. Ever heard of someone renting an apartment they own? Renting it out in no way makes them less of an owner.

    Attorneys are involved because the state makes things intentionally gray when it should be black and white.

    To Julian :

    What discussion, exactly? Your minions won’t even concede that possession = ownership, even though it’s right there in the dictionary. Scary to see people argue with the English language to the death. There was no discussion because your friends wouldn’t grant me the most basic of points, the one that instantly sinks their and your worldview and reduces it to a smoking pile of garbage.

    So yes direct them to throw in the towel before everyone wakes up and realizes you’re full of it

  • 15 412libertarian // Jul 21, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Bob,

    In before the subject is changed from “here’s how we figure out who owns something” to “bbbbbbut that’s not legitimate ownership!”

    Looks like I was just a few hours ahead of ya. Moving the goal posts, how does it work

  • 16 412libertarian // Jul 21, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    So, first, a point so trivial I’d hope it wouldn’t need to be made, but which apparently does: Taken in a strict or literal sense, the claim that “taxation is theft” is just false. Standard dictionary definitions pretty uniformly include the idea that “theft” is a form of non-consensual property transfer that is “unlawful” or “felonious” or “without legal right.”

    _____

    That’s from Julian’ post.

    So Julian is “for” strict, standard dictionary definitions when they support his points, but “against” them when they contradict his points. Pretty amazing stuff. Pick a side, loser.

  • 17 Julian Sanchez // Jul 21, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I won’t pretend to be surprised that you don’t grasp the difference, but unlike some of these patient souls, I feel no particular compulsion to conduct remedial philosophy lessons for the benefit of randoms clogging up my comments, and rude ones still less so. So, thanks ever so much for stopping by.

  • 18 Murphasaur // Jul 26, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Julian, I agree that elevated rhetoric and poorly-worded slogans are unhelpful. You may find that this is somewhat pertinent:

    http://oklahomalp.org/1/post/2013/12/the-stamp-act-reconsidered.html

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  • 20 Josh Wieder // Sep 26, 2014 at 8:31 am

    I strongly disagree with your reliance on “standard dictionary definitions” of theft. You describe theft as ‘a form of non-consensual property transfer that is ‘unlawful’ or ‘felonious’ or ‘without legal right.'” Using your definition, when the Nazi’s forcibly took property from Jews, what they did was not theft. Similarly, let us imagine that the government passed a law saying that anyone may break into Julian Sanchez’ home and take all of your things. Should people then take advantage of this new law, their actions would not be “theft” using your definition. Essentially your point of view is the classic legal defense of totalitarianism: crimes are only what the government says are crimes. Or, as Nixon put it, “If the President Does It, That Means It’s Not Illegal”. Libertarianism diverges completely and immediately from this point of view by asserting that human rights are inalienable and removed from any government edict. Indeed, this view was foundational for both the American Revolution that baldly asserted that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” and the modern view of human rights which finds it reasonable to internationally prosecute members of government for behavior that was not illegal in their country of origin. Mr Sanchez, I realize that you have spent no small amount of time fighting for human rights that I also value – privacy, for example. I completely respect and support your efforts. Nevertheless, I find your appeal to statist ideology here all the more dismaying, given how starkly it contrasts with a worldview that obviously hopes to hold your government accountable for its misdeeds. The libertarian assertion that you so critique is this: My birth within the make-believe borders of the United States was not a contractually binding agreement in any sensical meaning of the term. Citizenship was foisted upon me, and for a variety of complex reasons outside of my control relinquishing my citizenship is not, at least for the time being, possible. Despite this, a group of individuals whom I have never met inform me through threatening letters that I must provide regular “protection” payments. If I fail to meet their schedule for these protection payments willingly they will kidnap me and take all of my money and my property. If I try to defend myself using force they will murder me. Libertarians call such an arrangement theft; and that they do euphemistically. I agree with them.

  • 21 Bruce Majors // Sep 30, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Perhaps you should think of the slogan as a rhetorical and pedagogical device used to make the many people who never stop and think about the fact that what is legal is not identical to and may even contradict what is moral or just stop and think about that.

    And then think about whether a immoral law can be legitimate. And if illegitimate, whether it is law, or simply an oppressive edict.

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