Recently I got involved an interesting philosophical discussion on Facebook (where else!) concerning taxation and the proposition that if you don’t pay your taxes men with guns will come and take you to jail or kill you (all true). One participant brought some focus to the conversation by distilling down the core argument to one of a) should we have government (b) how shall we pay for it (c) constitutions are like contracts. All good points, however embedded in each one is either a false choice or a fallacious assumption. So below I will reproduce his post and then my follow up as I address some of the main fallacies. 

here is the quoted content from the post I will be responding to:

This conversation, and every conversation about the scope of govt comes back to the same place. The first division is you are either an anarchist or you want some kind of law. The moment you say you want some kind of law, you are agreeing that at some point in the process of enforcing the law, a dude from the govt with a gun will come take you away. And I am okay with that – no point in pretending we have laws if they are not going to be enforced.I am willing to listen to discussion, but anarchy is probably not for me, or most of us. So then it’s like the old joke about the prostitute – we’ve already established what you are (pro-govt of some kind), now we’re just haggling over price. Where is the line in the sand as far as your philosophy of the proper scope of the law?I would suggest that the only useful argument by a libertarian about government is that it ought only exist to prevent one adult from using force or fraud to gain from another adult – whether that gain is via money or to forward an agenda. Situations involving children and the mentally impaired are naturally given to tighter governance.So to me, the idea that we’re arguing over whether or not you must / ought pay federal taxes so the govt can fund its activities is a little pointless. The only real argument for strict Constitutionalists or libertarians ought to be about the USE of the money, not the government’s right to take it. The law of tooth and claw was used to appropriate the land upon which I sit and afterward to create the govt that exists here – the RIGHT is almost irrelevant. Were I to be successful in dissolving this (formerly) useful govt, it is most likely a worse govt would take its place. There is no perfect freedom on this side of heaven, so the notion that no entity can curb my inclinations or bind my freedom is almost childish.We can get into a lot of philosophical discussions about man being created free and whatnot, but the fact is that there will be some govt, and we enter into “contracts” (the Constitution, say) with other free people to create these govts that will enforce our individual rights to property and to secure freedom from invasion, etc. With our ancestors having agreed to some form of these contracts, and most of us agreeing that they ought to exist in one form or another, we should be focused on the quality of the contracts, not the terms of enforcement.

Here is my response:

Your points I think have helped to focus the discussion, however the underlying assumptions simply reinforce the false dichotomous choice that is beaten into us from day one (by our educators, our literature and the state media) – namely that one has a choice of either being ruled by others (in the form of this thing we call government) OR absolute and total chaos with no laws or order whatsoever. Obviously with a choice like that who would pick the latter? And to an extent I think part of the failure for the proper alternative being made understood falls at the feat of us libertarians – we (or some of us) throw the word “anarchy” around and do not explain at all what is intended by the use of that phrase. I personally prefer “voluntaryism” – it’s enough of a neologism that it carries none of the associated emotional baggage of “anarchy”. We want the freedom of choice. Not the freedom to state our choice and have it vetoed by a “majority”, but to actually be allowed to execute our choice.

When we libertarians speak of “freedom from government” we do not intend a lawless, chaotic, anything goes sort of wild west world. Far from it. We want government. We want order. It’s just that we want to pick our own government to associate with. And we do not believe that simply because I happen to live next door to you and you want to associate with a government that establishes rules that promote Ideology A and I want to associate with one that promotes Ideology B, your choice should have any bearing on my choice. 

Think about it for a minute. I’m proposing something no more controversial than what we currently practice today – freedom of religion. If I’m Catholic and I live in a town full of Baptists it would seem ludicrous to anyone to suggest that “well since a majority of people who live here are Baptist, well, you have to be Baptist too, or at the least you have to do all the things the Baptists require” – and that if I didn’t comply I would be throw in jail. That’s insane – and rightly so, and everyone would agree that that would be insane. And so it is no different with government. This type of governance is not unknown. It is sometimes referred to as a “clan” system. In more “primitive” stateless societies families had a self-interest in protecting each other. They came to each other’s defense and helped each other in times of need. In time it became customary for non-family members to join a family or clan for such protection purposes (voluntarily paying or contributing something in return – i.e. truly voluntary “taxation”). However all members of the clan were responsible for the behavior of its members. If one member injured someone in another clan then all members must make restitution. They then obviously had a self-interest in preventing such behavior from those they knew to be the most troublesome. Eventually if a member behaved badly enough consistently enough they were thrown out of the clan and thus had no protection of any kind from any group. They were an “outlaw” – which meant that anyone could kill them, rob them whatever without any consequence whatsoever. That’s a pretty big incentive to not become an outlaw and behave as directed by the customs and laws of your clan. (For a brief discussion of this system in Ireland please see this interview with Gerard Casey by Tom Woods ). In order for all clans to get along they tended to adopt the same basic “common laws” against violence, theft, rape, etc. So in this way we can see how “law” can exist without an over arching state. Everybody is against rape and murder. But not everyone might be for space exploration, or green energy, etc. Essentially each clan is a government, the only difference being they did not have specific geographical boundaries. Members of multiple clans could all live in the same city and get along just fine. There is no reason such a system could not operate today on a larger scale, one where entities very similar to insurance carriers took the place of the role of government in dispute resolution, restitution, crime mitigation (less crime, less to pay out in losses). If such an entity does not provide what people want, they will go elsewhere. Without a barrier to entry imposed by outside regulations no one could ever “take over” such an industry, the market would always be providing those that could do it better, faster, cheaper, etc.

This has gotten a lot longer than I intended, but let me just touch on another point you made. The one of contracts is germane, however you again accept the “party line” that the fact that our ancestors freely entered into a contract (the Constitution) somehow morally binds us to that same contractual obligation in perpetuity. How can it? Are we bound by the contracts our parents sign? If your parents had a huge amount of debt and then died would you want to suddenly be saddled with that? What if I could vote myself out of the contract, but my siblings wanted to remain party to it, and thus I was then bound by their vote – why should I be bound by their choice? There really is no difference between that and the idea that we are all still adhering (or pretending to adhere) to a contractual document signed by people that have all been dead for nearly 200 years. I talk about this idea of contractual slavery more here