"By pursuing his own interest [every individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good." ~ Adam Smith
Our Moral Duty to Pay Taxes
Column by Jake Roundtree.
Exclusive to STR
The view of the government as the savior of mankind, the organizer of society and the progenitor of morality, is in present times “profoundly integrated into the depths of our consciousness” (Ellul, 216). Keen observers, since Nietzsche, have recognized the overwhelming degree to which citizens of the West are afflicted with what we can call a “political mentality.” This disorder dulls the mind, immobilizes the spirit and narrows the vision of its host. Effectively, it makes men into submissive creatures, ignorant of even the possibility of alternatives to a politicized life. Every issue, no matter how personal, is raised to the level of politics. Today in the West we find that the state has succeeded in its total conquering of man by infiltrating every aspect of his character. Rousseau famously recognized that if the state is to ascend to ultimate authority, it must train its subjects from an early age to “consider their individual selves only in relation to the body of the state, and to see their own existence only as a part of its existence” and only then “may they finally come to identify themselves . . . with the greater whole” (Social Contract, 2.7: 163). In our age, public education, mass media, public intellectuals and government officials function as the shapers of the minds of citizens.
Nevertheless, many men in the West are not merely passive political subjects; they are impassioned defenders of state power; they religiously believe that the state is the ultimate source of all justice and that it is an omnipotent force capable of cleanly transforming society into a Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. If the state is tasked by its faithful to “immanentize the eschaton,” then it must be reflexively believed by nearly everyone that providing the state with its means of existence is a moral imperative. This translates to the belief that everyone who earns an income or has some level of wealth is obligated to pay taxes unless the state beneficently grants him an exception. Such a widespread belief is the legitimating source of the state’s power to viciously punish and morally condemn tax evaders. In fact, the masses, fully imbued with the spirit of equality, are thoroughly convinced that anyone who deviates from the uniform code of ethics founded on equality is an enemy of justice and is deserving of harsh treatment.
The mass-man, blinded by the mystical vision of the state, believes that civilization is a gift from the state and thus taxes are what all citizens owe in exchange. For the mass-man, people who refuse to pay taxes are refusing to sacrifice for the public good, are challenging the very essence of the mass-man’s world-vision, and are leveling an assault on the social order. It is even claimed by many that tax evasion is tantamount to stealing from the public.
In the masses’ equalitarian vision of the world, there is no room for individuality; the individual is denigrated as a pariah, which can be seen in the vitriolic attacks the masses and their leaders regularly make on profits, wealth and capitalism. The individual is deemed the most immoral character in our society, because he is unwilling to develop the highly exalted virtue of obedience; instead he follows his own conscience and will. The envious hatred of individuals is so strong that those who commit the crime of benefiting financially from improving the human condition are regularly sacrificed on the altar of the state in a process called “progressive taxation.”
These beliefs concerning the moral imperative of paying taxes are so widespread that even those few who do not believe in either the myth that “the state is god” or that the state is necessary are too terrified to openly defy the state. Those who do evade taxes do so in a very clandestine manner, in order to ensure that they are not punished by the full force of public opinion, as embodied in the state.