Taxation is Theft?

That “taxation is theft” is a common statement of anarcho-capitalists.  And while, from a certain perspective, that has an appeal, in the real world it doesn’t work so well.  A complete lack of government (defined here as some form of organization with the license to use, and initiate, force) simply does not last.  We have seen many governments break down throughout history and in no case has anything resembling the lack of system that extreme anarcho-capitalists dream of come from it.  When existing governments break down you almost immediately end up with a collection of rival “warlords”–each one being a despotism.  Some “strong man” imposes his will on those around him.  He gathers followers willing to be loyal to the “strong man” in return for the privilege of lording it over the others (basically license to steal, kill, and rape within whatever generally broad limits the warlord/despot sets).   What you end up with is pretty much the exact opposite of what the anarcho-capitalists propose.

Complete anarchy is simply too unstable to exist “in the wild” for more than a fleeting instant.  People are people and some of them are venal, grasping individuals who upset the applecart as it were.

But then government, any government, also tends toward totalitarianism.  Any government will seek to aggregate to itself more and more power until, left unchecked (we’ll get to this shortly) it will itself become a despotism wielding absolute power over the people within its reach.

Some people will say establish a limited government in order to preserve liberty but once established such government immediately begins to push at the limits, to seek avenues past them, and to grow beyond the original bounds.  Depending on the limits initially established and the checks placed against them, the process may be slowed, but it cannot be stopped.  All “limited” governments eventually, if not forcibly stopped, break past their limits and head toward despotism.

Anarchists look at this and say “see, any government eventually ends in despotism.  There is no government where the rights of the people are safe.”

Others look at where governments collapse and invariably turn into collections of despotisms and say “see, getting rid of government ends in despotism so only with government are the rights of the people safe.”

They are both right.  And they are both wrong.

Neither philosophy leads to liberty as both end in despotism.  It is only in the conflict between the two that liberty is found:  the interplay between those seeking to tear down government and those seeking to expand it.  This interplay is not stable.  You rarely get the two forces in balance, and never for long.  In short order, one obtains ascendance and government moves in the direction of that “side”.  Historically, the side to obtain ascendance has almost always been that of the “government growth.” There have been exceptions but that has been the general trend.

So, the wise man who wishes to have and benefit from a free society must look both at where we stand and where we are going.  Once one has made the determination of which direction society and government need to go, look for those who are going the same way and make common cause with them.  It matters less whether you agree with how far one should, or should not go, only that they are going in the “right” direction.

It’s like the game on the computer where you try to “balance a ball” by using the right and left arrow keys.  You have to keep watch of not just where the ball is but which way it’s moving and try to move it back toward the center without going too far or so fast that you cannot recover before it goes off the other end.  Perilous, difficult, requiring constant attention.  And you can never rest.

One might almost say “Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty.”

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