Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tying Up Loose Ends

That which is begun deserves to be finished, I suppose, and so I give you this post. I blogged about The Right to Ignore the State before, and had every intention of making a multiple part series out of it. Enough other things compete for my time such that I'm condensing that all into this rather abbreviated post. Of course, I referenced the link in the post below (here 'tis, again) so you can read the whole thing in its entirety for your own benefit.

Spencer discusses the subordination of government authority; that governmental power comes from the people who grant it such power, and that the power of government is beholden to the power of the people. This is true of large things, and it is also true of small things. While rational persons would balk at the majority imposing slavery, tyranny or murder against the minority (because of the law of equal freedom), the same law applies to small matters (even "mundane" things such as taxation). The will of the majority cannot supersede morality; and no trespass against the rights of the minority is permissible. Spencer notes that there is no meaningful difference between the dictator who says “You shall do as I will, not as you will” and the rule of the few who say “You shall do as we will, not as you will.”

On taxation, Spencer quotes Blackstone: “no subject of England can be constrained to pay any aids or taxes even for the defense of the realm or the support of the government, but such as are imposed by his own consent, or that of his representative in Parliament.” If this is true, and we assert it is, then says Spencer:

In affirming that a man may not be taxed unless he has directly or indirectly given his consent, it affirms that he may refuse to be so taxed; and to refuse to be taxed, is to cut all connection with the state. Perhaps it will be said that this consent is not a specific, but a general one, and that the citizen is understood to have assented to every thing his representative may do [MT: I would agree with Spencer that this is a questionable argument], when he voted for him. But suppose he did not vote for him; and on the contrary did all in his power to get elected some one holding opposite views — what then? The reply will probably be that, by taking part in such an election, he tacitly agreed to abide by the decision of the majority. And how if he did not vote at all? Why then he cannot justly complain of any tax, seeing that he made no protest against its imposition. So, curiously enough, it seems that he gave his consent in whatever way he acted — whether he said yes, whether he said no, or whether he remained neuter! A rather awkward doctrine this. Here stands an unfortunate citizen who is asked if he will pay money for a certain proffered advantage; and whether he employs the only means of expressing his refusal or does not employ it, we are told that he practically agrees; if only the number of others who agree is greater than the number of those who dissent. And thus we are introduced to the novel principle that A's consent to a thing is not determined by what A says, but by what B may happen to say!

He then points out a curious inconsistency. Namely, we are quite accustomed to ignoring the state, but only in some respects:

For what is the meaning of Dissent? The time was when a man's faith and his mode of worship were as much determinable by law as his secular acts; and, according to provisions extant in our statute-book, are so still. Thanks to the growth of a Protestant spirit, however, we have ignored the state in this matter — wholly in theory, and partly in practice. But how have we done so? By assuming an attitude which, if consistently maintained, implies a right to ignore the state entirely. Observe the positions of the two parties. "This is your creed," says the legislator; "you must believe and openly profess what is here set down for you." "I shall not do any thing of the kind," answers the non-conformist, "I will go to prison rather." "Your religious ordinances," pursues the legislator, "shall be such as we have prescribed. You shall attend the churches we have endowed, and adopt the ceremonies used in them." "Nothing shall induce me to do so," is the reply; "I altogether deny your power to dictate to me in such matters, and mean to resist to the uttermost." "Lastly," adds the legislator, "we shall require you to pay such sums of money toward the support of these religious institutions, as we may see fit to ask." "Not a farthing will you have from me," exclaims our sturdy Independent: "even did I believe in the doctrines of your church (which I do not), I should still rebel against your interference; and if you take my property, it shall be by force and under protest."

Ah, the institutions we are forced to support! Were I to list them, this would be a much longer post!

Indeed, for some reason, we stand firm for our liberty on the basis of our right to worship God; yet, we cave into secular demands on our liberty when we know full well that the appropriation of our property will serve immoral ends. Says he:

No legislative injunction will make him adopt what he considers an erroneous belief; and, bearing in mind his duty toward his fellow-men, he refuses to help through the medium of his purse in disseminating this erroneous belief. The position is perfectly intelligible. But it is one which either commits its adherents to civil nonconformity also, or leaves them in a dilemma. For why do they refuse to be instrumental in spreading error? Because error is adverse to human happiness. And on what ground is any piece of secular legislation disapproved? For the same reason — because thought adverse to human happiness. How then can it be shown that the state ought to be resisted in the one case and not in the other? Will any one deliberately assert that if a government demands money from us to aid in teaching what we think will produce evil, we ought to refuse it; but that if the money is for the purpose of doing what we think will produce evil, we ought not to refuse it? Yet such is the hopeful proposition which those have to maintain who recognize the right to ignore the state in religious matters, but deny it in civil matters.

Spencer closes with a somewhat hopeful vision of a changing society: one where self-governing persons reject the need for external government. I share this vision, that one day, by applying the principles of balanced government, we will have a citizenry that is well-versed in the art of self-government, and properly hold external government to the areas it is intended to be assigned to. Balanced government begets self-government and, indeed, morality – defined by the virtues of self-sufficiency and self-restraint that are necessary components of self-goverrnment.

1 comment:

sharon said...

thanks for the link...

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