No, Plato Did Not Think Taxes Were Some Sort of Permitted Theft

It was refusal to contribute to public expenses that for him was clearly a crime:

"But as regards attendance at choruses or processions or other shows, and as regards public services, whether the celebration of sacrifice in peace, or the payment of contributions in war-in all these cases, first comes the necessity of providing remedy for the loss; and by those who will not obey, there shall be security given to the officers whom the city and the law empower to exact the sum due; and if they forfeit their security, let the goods which they have pledged be, and the money given to the city; but if they ought to pay a larger sum, the several magistrates shall impose upon the disobedient a suitable penalty, and bring them before the court, until they are willing to do what they are ordered." -- The Laws, Book XII

By the way, the point of this post is not to prove or even argue that any or all governments can justifiably collect taxes: that is a separate argument. No, what I am doing is illustrating the fatuousness of the common libertarian charge that claims "Statists think that theft is okay when the government does it."

No, what "statists" generally think is that all citizens of a polity have an obligation to contribute to public expenses (whether or not they ever "contracted" to do so), and that the failure to fulfill that obligation invites legal remedy.

15 comments:

  1. +1

    I do get tired of this trope. I even see it from smart guys like Steven E Landsburg. They also elide differences between rule by a thug and reasonably legitimate governments that have broad based support.

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  2. Wasn't Plato somewhat of a totalitarian?

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    1. He was. But that just reinforces Gene's point. Plato would not concede taxing was theft, he would argue refusing to pay taxes was.

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    2. He was, but that just reinforces Gene's point. Plato didn't see taxes as any kind of theft. He saw refusal to pay them as theft.

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  3. The clear meaning of what Plato wrote is exactly the opposite of your headline.

    Every advocate of theft for his favored street gang, aka "government," bloviates about "the payment of contributions." And every advocate of such theft betrays the fact that that's exactly what he's advocating when he follows up the rhetoric about "contributions" with a clear warning that if you don't "contribute," "the several magistrates shall impose upon the disobedient a suitable penalty, and bring them before the court, until they are willing to do what they are ordered."

    If I think that you and I should both have pizza, and I take the money for "your share" whether you want to buy pizza or not, at gunpoint or at threat of gunpoint, I'm stealing from you. Even if I call myself a "magistrate" and weary a fancy chapeau.

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    1. Every idiot who advocates shirking by chanting "taxes are theft" bloviates as to how they have no obligation to contribute to the common good from which they benefit.

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    2. Knappster has missed your point entirely. Plato did not concede he was an advocate of theft. He thinks quite the reverse, the would be freeloader is the thieving miscreant.
      The point is important because Libertarians take the "you KNOW I'm right but won't admit it" tack. As Genes says, nossir not a bit of it.

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    3. If someone forces a child to come with them in a car, they are a kidnapper, even if they call themselves a "parent." If someone knocks down a house they are a vandal, even if they call themselves an "owner."

      Anarchism really involves some willful stupidity, doesn't it?

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    4. Which part of the pizza don't you want? The public highways? The sewers and sanitation? The enforcement of laws protecting your property and person?

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  4. I've recently been wondering what political philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke would have to say if we could ressurrect them. What do you think they'd say about libertarianism?

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  5. Hobbes would snicker. "You didn't think I was SUGGESTING that?"

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  6. Mr Callahan,
    Why so do many anarchists read this blog, obliging you to write so many posts refuting their arguments? There can't be so many of these crackpots, can there? I am slightly worried...

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    1. Didn't Gene used to BE one? That likely has something to do with it.

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  7. I can't speak for Gene, but I suspect Hobbes and the rest would point out that anarcho-libertarians haven't solved or even addressed the problems of power and government, they've merely mythologized them away with fanciful notions of private defense agencies. The great political thinkers ultimately try to relate theoretical constructs to real-ish concepts of the state. Hobbes and Locke don't stop with the fanciful state of nature. AnCaps do the opposite, abstracting what they like about the existing state-filled world (free markets and individualism) and then saying all that would still exist, only more of it, in a world in which violence is organized on radically new grounds. But you can't argue with a fantasy.

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    1. Unfortunately, a good deal of them seem to have worldviews that are rather reductionist, dividing the world up into "government" and "the free market". I imagine it would be hard for them to have discussion with, say, a person who wants poaching elephants in the Serengeti to be illegal.

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