The phrase “taxation is theft” can be a meme, or a serious political position, depending on who you ask. While it’s easy to dismiss the idea as the deranged babbling of an adamant free marketeer, I’d like to explain the underlying politics that the phrase rests on and defend the idea that taxation is state-sponsored theft. To reach such a conclusion, there are only two premises you must accept: The Non-Aggression Principle is valid, and all laws are ultimately only enforceable by violence. Let’s examine both assumptions.
The Non-Aggression Principle, or “NAP,” is the cornerstone of libertarian political philosophy. Its exact meaning varies slightly depending on who is defining it, but for the sake of discussion, let’s adopt the following meaning: The use of violence, coercion or intimidation to accomplish social or political goals is immoral, and the only acceptable use of violence is in defending one’s life, liberty or property.
Without the NAP, there is no Libertarian Party, Ron Paul or Gary Johnson hijacking a third party he’s ideologically at odds with and running a severely underwhelming presidential campaign. The NAP is a value statement. Either you believe in using violence to accomplish your goals, or you do not.
The second premise is different in that it’s an observation based on the reality of governance. For any government to accomplish its goals or enforce its laws, it needs the ability to use violence. Laws put in place by a government without any tangible power are not laws but instead suggestions, and law enforcement officials become mere finger-wagging bureaucrats unable to act in any meaningful way. This is why we give the government a monopoly on violence. No other entity can lawfully arrest, detain, interrogate or kill those that oppose it, but we grant these powers to the state with the misguided hope that it will have both the desire and ability to protect our fundamental rights from whatever forces threaten them.
If the NAP is valid and governments require violence to enforce their laws, the conclusion that taxation is theft should be obvious. Governments tax their citizens without the consent of the individuals being taxed. If these citizens refuse to pay, measures will be taken to ensure their compliance. These measures will initially be less severe but will ultimately culminate with either direct confiscation of wealth by force, imprisonment or both.
The same line of reasoning can be used to understand every stance political Libertarians take on a variety of issues. Libertarians are opposed to taxes because they take wealth from the taxed without their consent. Libertarians are in favor of free speech because laws restricting expression require fines or imprisonment to be adequately enforced. Libertarians even oppose prohibiting destructive vices like prostitution and drugs on the basis that a utopian society isn’t worth betraying their ideology of nonviolence.
During my time as a member of the Libertarian Party of Florida, I’ve had many opportunities to meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some of them have been devout Christians. One was an Imam who gave a talk on Islam. Another was a homeless anarchist transgender prostitute. I think it’s fair to say that these individuals’ ideas of what an ideal society looks like are significantly different. They’re all Libertarians, and the only thing they have in common is that they seek to change the world peacefully and not through the might of the state.
Cameron White is a UF computer science senior.