Thomas Bushnell, BSG (thomb) wrote,
Thomas Bushnell, BSG

tax resistance (blush)

moorlock has provided some extremely helpful points on other entries, especially pointing out some possible views that I hadn’t taken into account. Likewise, both he and dpolicar are appropriately bothered by my continuing insistance on the valuelessness of money. The second of these requires more thought, because it balloons into many different issues all at once, and as soon as you peek under the surface, there they are, like teeming ants: what does it mean to value something? What is the difference between subjective and objective value? Is there such a thing as objective value? So I’ll simply shirk the complexities and say that I have given them some thought, but not enough yet to really spell out in an organized way what the view is I’m groping towards.

The former discussion exposed some distinct points, and some views I had ignored, but should not have. Let me start by saying that I think there are four different kinds of views one can have about tax resistance. Each of these of course has many sub-views. First, we have the Ammon Hennecy sort, who opposes all taxation, and so pays no tax (whether by arranging life so that none is owed, or by disobedience). Second, we have the Quaker/Thoreau sort, who thinks that some kinds of taxation is ok, but other kinds are bad (generally based upon what the tax is to be spent for), and therefore counsels payment of some taxes, but not others. Third, we have the obedient sort, who grants the legitimacy of (at least some) governments, and pays the whole tax. And fourth, we have the view I’m groping towards, inspired by Jacques Ellul and Vernard Eller, which is part of what they and I label Christian Anarchism.

To the first, I have very little to say, actually. The question asked Jesus was whether it was permitted to pay the tax, and if one is called not to pay any tax, I do not have any objection to make. Because I do not grant the legitimacy of the state, I regard the question of whether to pursue a legal or illegal avoidance strategy as one to be made on prudential grounds, as being in itself of no moral importance.

To the third, I say that the state has no claim on my obedience, that I am a citizen of another kingdom, and that I do not recognize the right of the state to compel my behavior.

So to the second, what then? moorlock was upset, I think, at the implication I was making before that paying some taxes but not others amounts to an attempt to govern (or control the government). I may have not quite understood what he was upset about there, but indeed, whether this fits him or not, it is quite expected that Quaker/Thoreau type tax objectors might well disdain this suggestion. It seems to me that perhaps it is wrong to attribute the motives I described to every Quaker or Thoreauvian, but to say rather that to the “Jesus person,” only motives such as those could warrant the Quaker/Thoreauvian strategy. To the non-Jesus-person, talk about being responsible for the world in every action I take is sensible talk, and licenses the discriminations which the Quaker/Thoreauvian wants to make, without implying any of the perhaps unpleasant-sounding motives I described.

But I ask the question, what sanctions the treatment of the two taxes (say, the war tax and the prison tax) differently? Why is the war tax bad, while the prison tax is good? For the Quakers and Thoreau, I believe the answer was simple: police and prisons aren’t bad in themselves, but war is. But the Christian Anarchist is upset with police and prisons and war, and for the same reasons. In other words, from the Christian Anarchist perspective, all taxes go to support an unjust and coercive system. If payment of the war tax constitutes collusion and participation in the war, then, says the Christian Anarchist (along with Hennecy!), payment of the police tax and the prison tax constitutes collusion and participation in their violence too.

The Christian Anarchist thus ends up, in conversation with the Quaker or Thoreauvian, pushing for the Hennecy sort of view: the outright and strict objection to all taxation. We agree with him, then, that all taxation is of a piece, and that you cannot make a discrimination between one and the other tax.

So now, what do we say to Hennecy when he objects to our voluntary payment of tax? First, we say that we respect and value his witness, and that we do not object to it. We believe it is not the witness we are called to make, but we do not believe it is unfaithful or ill-advised, and we admire it.

And then, I ask Jesus, “is it permitted to pay the tax, or is Hennecy right that I should not pay it?” and I hear, “whose name is written on the coin?” My reflections on the lack of value in money is an attempt to make sense of just this statement of Jesus’, indeed, which I take at face value as authoritative. This certainly does not mean that there is some vast domain of “what belongs to Caesar”; it is only because money is not meaningful in the strict sense, that it is Caesar’s: the things in Caesar’s pile are all worthless, and the things in God’s pile are all valuable. In God’s pile then are love, and virtue, and decency, and respect, and non-violence, and compassion, and human beings. In Caesar’s pile are trinkets taken from God’s creation, and stamped with Caesar’s picture in an attempt by Caesar to make things of value like the things in God’s pile. But the attempt, as all idolatry, fails.

I think here of Paul’s consideration of meat sacrificed to idols. There are those who believe that the meat is really sacrificed to idols, and that this is right and proper and good, and that idolatry is fine. These are like those who think that taxation is a legitimate order from a legitimate government, which we should obey.

Then there are those who think that meat sacrificed to really big idols, or really publicly, is forbidden, because idolatry is horrible, but that meat sacrificed only to little idols or more privately is ok, because, well, what? These are like those who think that taxation is sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing, depending.

Then there are those who think that eating meat sacrificed to idols implicates you in the idolatry, and that idols are powerful and dangerous forces which a Christian must oppose. These are like those who think that all taxation must be resisted, Hennecy-style.

And then the Christian Anarchist says, “no, idols aren’t real at all”; what gives idols their power is purely what humans add, under the illusion that idols actually matter at all. One can therefore eat freely from the market, without worry, provided one gives thanks to the true God over your meal. And to those who do not want to eat any of the meat, you owe respect and should not flaunt your freedom, but respect the different call to a different witness against the idol.

A final note: some Thoreauvian type objectors might note that money is fungible, and so they really only oppose the war tax, but they are led to oppose all taxes because the government will simply move the money around. You can’t, in fact, pay only the non-war parts of the tax. Well, Thoreau could, but the public fisc is maintained on different principles now. These look superficially like the absolute tax-resisters, but they are conceptionally not, because they would be fine with a violence-promoting tax if it were really possible for it to be removed from war.
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