Taxes and the Modern State
April 10, 2001

by Joe Sobran

     Now that it's tax time again, we should ask a 
few questions that are all too rarely posed.

     Why do people who clamor for "fairness" in the 
tax code always want to raise taxes? Why aren't tax 
reductions "fair"? Is there a point beyond which 
taxes would be "unfair" even to billionaires? If 
so, what would that point be? Put otherwise: at 
what point does taxation become slavery?

     These questions occur to me because a friend 
of mine recently pointed out an interesting fact: 
when the federal income tax was first imposed, 
John D. Rockefeller paid taxes at a lower rate than 
today's burger-flipping, mop-wielding minimum-wage 
earners. Steady increases in income tax rates have 
put poor people in a higher tax bracket than the 
tycoons of yore. "And," my friend remarks, "this 
doesn't seem to bother the liberals who are always 
wailing about the poor."

     Doggone right. Liberals preen themselves on 
their "compassion," but what they really want is 
compulsion -- more state power over every aspect of 
our lives. For them, taxes can never be too high. 
At first they attack the rich, appealing to the 
envy of others; but in the end, they do to everyone 
what they had threatened to do to the rich. And if 
you complain about being deprived of your earnings, 
you are "greedy" and "selfish" -- words liberals 
never apply to the state. Or to themselves.

     Why should there be taxes at all? Why isn't 
forcing people to give up their property, on pain 
of imprisonment, inherently "unfair"? And isn't 
this unfairness compounded when the money is used, 
not only for purposes that may be plausibly called 
"the common good," but for special interests and 
frivolous purposes that don't benefit the taxpayer 

     Most, if not all, services now supplied by the 
state could be paid for through voluntary 
arrangements. That would indeed be "fair." Why? 
Because freedom is supremely fair.

     "All right," someone may say. "But there are 
certain essential functions that can't be performed 
without the state, and in order to perform them the 
state must have the power to tax."

     Let's stipulate that for the moment. But if 
it's true, then the state should be strictly 
confined to those essential functions. It shouldn't 
be able to keep increasing the number of 
inessential things it can force us to pay for.

     A voluntary organization has the right to 
require its members to do anything it pleases, 
because they can always quit. But you can't quit 
the state. The state by its nature is a compulsory 
organization with a captive membership. It ought to 
have the modesty not to impose undue burdens on its 
subjects. A decent state will be reluctant to tax 
its subjects beyond necessity.

     Does this describe the state today? Hardly. 
The modern state takes advantage of its subjects' 
inability to escape its power by continually 
increasing its powers and their burdens. There is 
no limit except the practical constraints of 
politics and a few residual constitutional 

     Do our rulers ever conscientiously ask whether 
they already have too much power? Do they ever 
hesitate to claim more? Do they ever try to define 
the proper limits of power in principle? Do they 
ever worry that they may be exercising tyranny over 
us? Are they at all troubled by the disparity 
between the limited range of state power in earlier 
times and its limitless range today? Do they even 
recognize the possibility of an illegitimate state 

     Not that I know of. They take for granted what 
might be called the autonomous state -- a boundless 
entity that decides what its own powers are, and 
even claims the sole authority to interpret the 
Constitution so as to aggrandize itself.

     Though the autonomous state is still, as I 
say, slightly inhibited by certain features of the 
Constitution (those features which it has been so 
far unable to whittle away), it adds nothing to our 
constitutional protections. Its inherent tendency 
is to expand, at the expense of all traditional 

     Yet most Americans don't recognize that the 
autonomous state is diametrically opposed to the 
principle of constitutional government. This in 
itself represents a great achievement of statist 
propaganda. As Orwell saw, the modern mind itself 
is a product of the modern state.


Sobran's column -- Me and My Family and China (print version)

Me and My Family and China
April 3, 2001

by Joe Sobran

     The Chinese government, which has been 
displaying unusual belligerence lately, has 
committed another provocation against the U.S. 
Government by disabling an American spy plane over 
international waters, then detaining the crew 
incommunicado when they were forced to land on a 
Chinese island. Whether the Chinese fighter jet 
deliberately struck the propeller-driven American 
plane is unclear -- the jet was lost, its pilot 
apparently killed -- but the jet was certainly 
risking a collision in order to harass the American 

     The incident is being described as "the first 
major foreign policy test of the Bush 
administration." We are also hearing the usual 
phrases -- "improved relations," "cooperation," 
"firm response." The case may be resolved by the 
time you read this, or, if the Chinese rulers have 
decided to play hardball with the United States, it 
could "escalate" into an "international crisis."

     What is the reactionary utopian position on 
this situation (which, however the present case 
turns out, is likely to recur)? Speaking only for 
myself, as the only avowed reactionary utopian I 
know of, I appeal to the sensible question of Don 
Corleone: "What is the interest for me and my 
family?" And as Sonny Corleone adds: "Your country 
ain't your blood." More precisely, your government 
ain't your family.

     In fact, your government is your natural 
enemy. That's why we have so many safeguards 
against it, though (as the Senate's passage of the 
McCain-Feingold "campaign reform" bill shows) they 
are being gradually removed. More and more, the 
government demands that we trust it, especially in 
secrecy-laden military affairs. (It's fitting that 
John McCain exhibits a military-style 

     Governments begin with crime and conquest. 
They may be somewhat humanized over time, with 
bills of rights and other measures to protect 
subjects from rulers, but they generally revert to 
crime and conquest eventually. The U.S. Government 
is an enormous parasite on the productive sector of 
the American people, as the imminence of April 15 
should remind us.

     The interests of the government are at odds 
with those of its subjects. This fundamental fact 
is disguised by democratic rhetoric, which may lull 
us into thinking that whatever is good for the 
rulers is also good for the ruled. Nowhere is this 
truer than in military matters: intervention abroad 
is always advertised as the defense of freedom.

     War with China is not in the interest of me 
and my family. But the enormous U.S. presence in 
Asia is likely to lead to war sooner or later. The 
Chinese and American governments are vying for 
supremacy in the region like two rival gangs. 
Thanks, but I want no part of it. Dominating Asia 
is not in the interest of me and my family, even if 
it could be done without bloodshed. Military 
conquest does nothing to advance our freedom and 
often has the opposite result.

     In the present case, the American government 
may be in the right, just as the Corleones may be 
in the right when ambushed by the Tattaglias. It 
remains true that the interest of me and my family 
is to stay out of any such conflict. The last time 
members of my family went to war, my father was 
nearly killed and our ancestral country, Ruthenia, 
wound up in Joe Stalin's duffel bag. President 
Franklin Roosevelt assured us that we were fighting 
for "freedom."

     Am I positing "moral equivalence" between the 
United States and China? Not exactly. I much prefer 
life under the U.S. Government to life under the 
brutal Chinese regime, because many of our freedoms 
have, after all, survived the U.S. Government's 
efforts to whittle them away.

     But this is not to say that we owe those 
freedoms to our government, whose character has 
become increasingly lawless and criminal. And there 
is no reason for us to root our current rulers on 
in their power rivalry with the Chinese rulers. 
It's imbecilic to equate our current rulers with 
the precious principles of liberty and the rule of 
law. But the lazy (and wholly irrational) equation 
of the government's interests with the people's 
freedom has become a bad habit.

     This was not always so. In the days when 
American rulers had some genuine concern for 
freedom, they warned against foreign wars and 
entangling alliances. Does anyone remember?


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