I have set forth in this post to demonstrate the preference for Anarchy from the Scriptures by exegesis. I am an anarchist who was, until recently, a minarchist because I could not “get around” Romans 13. But in recent months I have come to accept anarchy through careful study of Romans 13.
In a recent casual debate, I was accused of begging the question. My “opponent” claimed that I could not prove any of my positions (that taxation is theft, primarily) without first presupposing anarchy. In short, he accused me of eisegesis, though he didn’t put it in such terms.
So this post has the main goal of showing my work, to demonstrate how my exegesis of Romans 13 leads me to anarchy. I do this to answer my critic and to explain my new position to my faithful readers who know that I was once a minarchist.
I Do Have Presuppositions
But first, I must deal with the idea of presuppositions. I believe that the real test of whether my position has merit should come from the exegesis of Scripture. So I take the accusation of eisegesis quite seriously. But all exegesis will inescapably be evaluated through lens of presuppositions. So I must lay my cards on the table. I do have presuppositions. I have two key ones that will influence this debate.
- The Unity of Scripture. That is, I believe that the Scriptures are the work of One Mind (God’s) from Genesis to Revelation and that as his Inerrant and Infallible revelation, it forms a single cohesive whole that has no internal contradictions. The implications of this will be demonstrated when I get into the text of Romans 13.
- The Sufficiency of Scripture. That is that the Word of God alone is our infallible rule of authority for all of life and it contains everything we need for life and godliness. This does not mean that there is no truth outside of Scripture. Neither does this mean that every truth is contained in the scriptures. Rather it means that the scriptures give us all truth necessary for salvation and being right with God. All truths must be evaluated with scripture as the authority and arbiter.
But what is Anarchy anyway?
I feel that I need to clarify my use of the term before I begin to defend it, lest I accidentally poison my own well. The term is unfortunate because it is used by many people in many ways, and our search for a new term has not yielded one we feel sufficient for our use. So I will use the term “anarchy”, but what do I mean by it?
Anarchy is not the preference for the state of affairs at the end of Judges wherein “everyone did what is right in their own eyes.” This is where the confusion comes in. there are those who self-identify as anarchists for whom that is the definition. To most people, when you say “anarchy,” they get a mental image of something like Occupy Wall Street, or the state of affairs in The Dark Knight Rises. This is not what we want. The Reformed Libertarian simply recognizes the larger Biblical teaching that everyone does what is right in his own eyes anyway – even and especially once he becomes a government official.
We do not reject law and order in order to embrace chaos. Instead we reject coerced order in order to embrace spontaneous order. We have this preference because we believe it to follow from God’s moral law with no contradiction, as we will see. We want everyone to be subject to God’s law including and especially those who enforce it. We therefore believe that the enforcement of law and order is most ethically and efficiently provided by a free market in which the only use or threat of violence comes against those criminals who have first done something to warrant the use of force by committing some form of crime. I believe that a proper, thorough exegesis of Romans 13 will lead us to the conclusion that such a system is to be preferred and I intend to show it here.
Is It Sin for the Government to Tax?
The central issue, as we will see, is the issue of taxation. Indeed, this was the battle ground for my recent debate that sparked this post. The whole concept of anarchy hinges on this notion of taxation. I was a minarchist for a long time because I perceived certain logistical objections. Indeed there are several such objections that certainly present pragmatic hurdles to the prospect of anarchy. Nevertheless, it was the issue of taxation that swung me around to anarchy. For I became convinced that taxation should at best be considered a necessary evil, but still evil. Believing this, I sought hard for ways to fund a minarchy without the use of coerced taxation and simply found the task impossible. My very faithful readers will remember a four or five part series that I never really finished because I left for my last installment the task of describing how to fund a minarchy without taxation. I conceded in that post that it would be better to fund the minarchy by means other than taxation, if possible. In trying to come up with a way to fund a minarchy through purely voluntary means, I realized that it was impossible to do so without creating an anarchy!
Exegesis of Romans 13:1-7
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s dig into the text to see what it says. Here is Romans 13:1-7
(1) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (2) Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (3) For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, (4) for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (5) Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (6) For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. (7) Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
The main thrust of this passage is Paul’s two commands to believers: Submit to the governing authorities without resistance, and Pay to all what is owed to them, which ostensibly includes the taxes which go to support the work of the governing authorities. It is not the intention of this thesis to directly contradict these commands. It seems all too often that our opposition simply points this out and struts around as though they have defeated us. Yet they have missed some very critically important observations which may be found in the middle section of the passage in which Paul describes the nature of these governing authorities. These observations which they chronically skip over teach us much that should factor into our thinking.
1. Paul is Writing to Subjects, Not the King
The first observation is that this passage is written to the subjects. It is not written to the governing authorities. Therefore, it is quite simply an invalid interpretation to say that this passage gives any sort of direct moral permission for the government to tax. It would require further analysis in order to deduce that such moral permission follows logically from what may be directly observed. Until that analysis has been done, we must accept that there is a second hypothesis for how this passage may be interpreted. This competing explanation must also be considered.
The second explanation is this: Perhaps this passage should be interpreted in the same way as “Turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-39) in which Jesus, not meaning to give moral permission to those who persecute Christians, nevertheless commands Christians to suffer such persecution willingly. Consider also Hebrews 10:34, in which the writer commends the believers for their joyous attitude when their property was plundered. This cannot be legitimately interpreted to say that theft is morally permissible. Could we interpret Romans 13 this way? Could Paul be teaching us to submit to government and pay our taxes regardless of whether the government is in the right, implying that they may in fact be in the wrong?
If the second explanation is correct, then the Christian’s duty to obey government and pay taxes does not preclude the evaluation of the government’s laws and actions to determine whether they are just.
It is incredibly irritating to hear rebuttals to our position that say nothing more than “But God told us to obey” or “Paul says pay your taxes.” Seriously. Stop. When you make this argument, all you do is prove that you have not listened to a word we have said. We do not deny that God here is commanding us to obey and pay our taxes. What we deny is that such a command necessarily means that government is automatically in the right.
Obey, yes. Pay your taxes, yes. But this does not necessarily mean that the government’s laws and taxes are inherently just! It just begs the question of whether the government’s laws and taxes our inherently just. This is a question that will be answered by our further observations and analysis of the text.
2. The Magistrate is God’s Servant.
The second observation is that the magistrate is God’s servant. It says explicitly, “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” and “he is God’s servant.” There are two sub-points to be made from this.
2.1. Rebellion Against Government is Rebellion Against God
First is the obvious point that is frequently thrust in our faces by our opposition: rebellion against government is rebellion against God. Yes this is indeed true in the same way that disobedience to parents is disobedience to God (Ephesians 6:1) and so on. This is because the one in authority does not exercise his own authority, but authority that God has entrusted him with. He has a duty to steward this authority as God’s servant. This naturally leads us to our second sub-point:
2.2. The Government is Also Under God’s Authority And Held to the Same Standard
The magistrate is himself under God’s authority. Thus, he is accountable for the same law before God as those under his authority. That this point is so frequently overlooked baffles me to no end. So let me explain by going go Ephesians 6:9.
“Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.“
Paul is speaking to the masters of the bond-servants to whom he had just given the command to serve their masters as though they are serving Christ because Jesus is their true Master (Eph 6:5-8). He then tells the master that Jesus is also the master’s Master and that there is no partiality with God!
This idea is directly linked to judgment in the previous verse when Paul tells the bond-servants that they will be rewarded by Christ for their good service done to their earthly masters. By extension, the implication to the master is that if they treat their servants poorly, Christ will punish them accordingly at the judgment.
So we see here that even though Paul is telling the bond-servant to submit to the earthly authority, he teaches that there are moral boundaries placed on the one in authority and that, before God, he stands as an equal to those under his authority. When he stands at the judgment, both master and servant will be judged by the same standard. There is no partiality.
Does this apply to civil government? Certainly! The magistrate is under the authority of God, as we have seen. Further, everywhere else that human authority is discussed in Scripture (Ephesians 6:1-4, 1 Peter 5, Romans 13, 1 Corinthians 11:3), the same hierarchical umbrella is placed over the human authority. Therefore, the same standard of no partiality must apply. How can I say this? It is logically necessary. Either God has partiality, or he has no partiality. If he has partiality in evaluating one kind of authority differently than another kind of authority, then he has partiality. But the Scripture says he has no partiality. So if he has no partiality in one arena, then he has no partiality in any arena.
This is the principle of The Rule of Law. In no human-to-human authority relationship is there any double standard for the one in authority to operate above God’s standard of morality. The human authority is held to the same standard of God’s moral law as the one under him. If this is the case for masters of bond-servants, then it is the case for Pastors, Parents, and Civil Magistrates. If that is not the case, show me in Scripture where it is.
Now I will admit that there is possible room for an accusation of presupposition in the way I have married these two passages. However, I do not believe that such an accusation is warranted. Since I believe in the unity of Scripture, I believe them both to be true and to have no contradiction. If there is an apparent contradiction (as my opponent may be thinking at this point due to his interpretation of this passage as giving the government a moral right to tax), then one must be given logical primacy to the other in order to remove the contradiction. This must be done in such a manner that the passage which speaks more clearly informs the interpretation of the one which speaks less clearly and in such a way that moves the interpretation away from conflict and towards harmony.
Thus, when I arrange these two passages in my Systematic Theology of government, I evaluate the Rule of Law to have logical primacy over Romans 13 because it speaks more clearly and it helps us decide between the two possible interpretations of Romans 13 which we have previously held as parallel possibilities until further analysis could help us to resolve them.
What were those two interpretations? The first is the one promoted by my opponents, which is to say that government has an inherent moral right to tax. The second is that this passage is speaking in a “turn the other cheek” sense. That is to say that Paul is teaching us to pay our taxes even though government is wrong to demand them. As we stated earlier, since the passage does not clearly necessitate the first interpretation by exegetical or logical analysis, the second must be considered. Therefore both must be evaluated by comparison to the rule of law.
If the first interpretation is correct, then there is a double standard and these two Biblical passages are in conflict. This cannot be so. If on the other hand, the second interpretation is correct, then these passages harmonize perfectly and we find ourselves in the analogous position of the bond-servant. The magistrate is in the analogous position of the master. Indeed the magistrate is “God’s servant” (Romans 13:4,6). Thus, the second interpretation is to be preferred. This all, of course, hinges on an analysis of whether taxation is actually theft. Let us continue.
If the magistrate is to stand as the servant of God, he must do so according to God’s standards. God will hold him accountable for whether he upholds God’s standard. If he is to uphold God’s standard, he must first follow God’s standard. What standard will that be? Well, since God shows no partiality, it must be the same standard that God holds all men to: the standard of his own character. Indeed, if the magistrate is to steward King Jesus’ authority, then he must mirror King Jesus’ character in the way he rules. The standard God will apply to the magistrate is none other than the same moral law he will apply to others. If not, then there is partiality. If there is partiality, how can this be harmonized with Ephesians 6:9? If there is partiality, what standard does God apply to government? There is no place in Scripture that gives us a separate standard for government. So if we are to promote such a double standard, then we must use some other source than Scripture. If we are to reject Scripture, then how can we know anything about what God would have us to do. Why would God apply standards other than what he gives us in his Word, or do we not believe in the Sufficiency and Exclusivity of Scripture as our moral authority?
Therefore we must conclude that the magistrate, being the steward of God’s authority, is himself under that same authority and held accountable to that same law. Because of this, we can certainly make a moral evaluation of whether the government’s use of the sword is just. We need only to evaluate government by the standard of God’s law. Thus, if taxation is indeed theft, then when the Law says “Thou shalt not steal,” we can deduce that it is sin for the king to tax. This, obviously, begs the question of whether taxation is theft. Rest assured that we will answer this question here.
It’s funny. I can I hear the theonomists in my readership snickering. Or perhaps my Libertarian readers are a bit worried. I do sound a bit like a theonomist, don’t I? I have adopted their line of reasoning to this point. This is because, up to this point, we are in complete agreement. Where we diverge is in the content of that Law. I have spilled much virtual ink on that subject previously and may spill more in the future. For now, it is beyond the scope of this thesis. Our analysis hinges only on the truth that we together affirm which is that the governing authorities are not above God’s law.
3. The Magistrate Has Been Given a Certain, Definite Task.
Verse 4 very clearly describes the role of the magistrate.
“For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
This forms a very specific job description: Use the sword to punish those who do wrong. The key point to take from this observation is that there is one defining characteristic of the civil magistrate: the sword. The magistrate bears the sword. It is not something he does in addition to other activities, it is the sum total of what he does. Isn’t it possible for the government to do things that don’t involve the use of the sword? Well, in one sense it doesn’t matter. For this discussion, it is meaningless to speak of government action that does not require the sword. For our concern, as Libertarians, is not with whatever the government might do without using the sword, but with all the things that it does use the sword to do. If government can find a way to do whatever it does without using the sword, we would have no objection whatsoever to it. But then, if the government stopped using the sword to do its work, it would stop being a government. Our objections are not to the government’s existence, nor to the government’s legitimate use of the sword, but to the government’s illegitimate use of the sword. This begs a further question: is there a legitimate use of the sword? What is the legitimate use of the sword, and what is the illegitimate use of the sword? This yields naturally to our fourth observation.
4. The Magistrate Has Been Given Certain, Definite Boundaries.
Backing up to verse 3 we see another statement which helps us understand the ideal nature of the magistrate as defined by God through Paul.
“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.”
So we see from verses 3 and 4 together that there is a legitimate application of the sword, and a limitation on how the magistrate may use that sword. Who is the magistrate to use the sword against? Those who do wrong. Who is he not to use the sword against? Those who “do good” – or rather, those who have not done wrong.
Now, how are we to define right and wrong in this passage? That’s of critical importance. Since the magistrate is God’s servant and God’s avenger, he must be enforcing God’s standard. Indeed, as we have already seen, God holds all men to the same standard. Thus, the definition of right and wrong here must be defined by God’s Law. Those who break God’s law have done wrong. Those who do not break God’s law have done what is good.
This is where our divergence from the Theonomists takes its critical turn. The theonomists insist that this includes the entire scope of the Mosaic Law (minus certain exceptions that have been explicitly repealed in the New Testament, though they can offer no explanation as to why this does not conflict with Matthew 5 – BUT I DIGRESS!) This would include all of the standards of private morality from Leviticus, such as homosexuality. On the other hand, we Reformed Libertarians insist that this passage, among others, helps us to understand that the portion of the Law that is under the magistrate’s jurisdictional authority are the civil laws that deal with sins that cause harm to another person. This concept comes from the description of the magistrate as the avenger. This idea ties directly back into chapter 12 where the Roman believers are commanded not to seek vengeance for wrongs done to them, but to leave it to the wrath of God. Here we see that this same wrath is dispensed by God’s avenger: the civil magistrate.
In any case, Paul gives very clear parameters for the use of the sword here. Use it to punish those who do wrong and leave everyone else alone. So is a government that wields its sword in order to manipulate an economy, influence the affairs of foreign nations, or make people stop smoking a plant using the sword in accordance to its Biblically defined parameters? Certainly not!
5. Paul Gives a Certain, Definite Reason to Pay Taxes.
In verses 6 and 7, Paul says:
“For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
We pay taxes because the authorities are ministers of God, attending to “this very thing.” What very thing? The bearing of the sword against those who have done wrong. Therefore, it seems clear to me that Paul instruction here is to view paying taxes as a subscription to the service of that sword bearing. Indeed, that’s how many view taxation, as a subscription to government. However, this still leaves open the question of whether it is morally permitted to take by force in order to finance this operation. This requires further analysis, which we will get into. For now, our task is merely to observe Paul’s plain teaching that we should pay our taxes because we should want to see God’s standards upheld in society.
The Observations Summarized
So we have seen that the civil magistrate exists as a steward of King Jesus’ authority to enforce God’s standard of law as a servant of both God and the citizens he serves. He is not above this law, but is rather a subject of the law himself. In order to both be in subjection to him and to financially support his work, the Christian’s duty is to obey him and pay taxes to him. But nowhere in this passage is there any statement that government’s laws and taxes are inherently just. Rather, they must be evaluated on the basis of God’s law and the parameters God gives for the use of the sword.
These truths are exegetically drawn from Romans 13 and Ephesians 6:9. There is no presupposing anarchy here. But by the same token, I have yet to prove anarchy. The proof of anarchy is not directly in the exegesis, but is in the pudding of what the exegesis logically necessitates. Let us continue.
So as I mentioned, the critical issue is taxation. There are two questions that need to be answered. First is the question of whether this passage gives divine blessing for the government to steal. Second is whether taxation is actually theft.
Question 1: Does Government Have Divine Blessing and Moral Permission to Steal?
Well, this has been answered up above. Does the government have the moral right to steal? No. As has already been proved by the principle of the rule of God’s law, government is under the same moral standard as everyone else, and the law is clear: Thou Shalt Not Steal. Thus, in order to claim that taxation is morally valid, it must be claimed that taxation is not actually theft. I think my opponent understands this, at least subconsciously, because this is the argument he kept making. “Where does the Bible say that taxation is theft?”
Question 2: Is Taxation Theft?
So question the second: is taxation theft? “Where does the Bible say that taxation is theft?” Well let’s first understand what taxation is. I will use Hans Herman Hoppe’s definition. This is from chapter 2 of The Economics and Ethics of Private Property:
“Taxation is a coercive, non-contractual transfer of definite physical assets (nowadays mostly, but not exclusively money) and the value embodied in them, from a person or group of persons who first held these assets and who could have derived an income from further holding them, to another, who now possesses them and now derives an income from so doing.”
The key is that it is coercive and non-contractual. This is contrasted with trade which is the peaceful, contractual transfer of assets from one person to another in exchange for different assets or the performance of a service. The difference between these two is the difference between a person being manipulated into doing something involuntarily by the threat of force and two people doing something by voluntary, mutual cooperation. Even with the view that taxation ought to be seen by Christians as a subscription to the service of the bearing of the sword, it still fits the bill of Hoppe’s definition, because it is not presented to the citizen as a contractual, voluntary arrangement, but one in which the government demands payment on threat of punishment. It is not optional. It is mandatory, and it is given with the implicit threat of force. If you refuse to pay your taxes, men with guns will come and lock you in a cage or worse. This has been so everywhere there has ever been taxation in history.
Now I know the objection in your mind is that taxation really is trade. We are paying for the service that government provides. Indeed, this seems to follow from Paul’s teaching, but it is incomplete. The problem, as I have already pointed out, is that this trade is coercive and non-contractual. Taxation is expropriated from citizens whether they consent to it or not, and if they try to skirt around it, they feel the bite of the sword. “Taxation” could only legitimately be a contractual subscription to government service if it were entirely voluntary. Of course, I support a system of voluntary support of the government. It’s called anarchy.
But the question still has not been answered. Is “taxation”, as I have defined it above (and as it has been implemented in all societies since its inception), actually theft? I will prove that it is in two ways. Both rely on the indisputable fact that taxation, as I have defined it above, requires the use of the sword. What is not in view here is any sort of “taxation” that does not require the use of the sword. We insist that such a “taxation” should not be called “taxation” so as to avoid confusion on the matter. Such a “taxation” would be a voluntary, contractual trade of some kind and would only exist in the kind of anarchy we promote. No such taxation actually exists in the world, so when we object to taxation, we use the term to refer exclusively to that which requires coercion.
Proof 1: Rule of Law
My first proof relies on the Rule of Law principle from Ephesians 6:9. Taxation would be theft if done by any person or group not called government. If I sent you a note that says “Pay me $100 or I will lock you in a cage,” I would be guilty of the crime of extortion. Thus, since God shows no partiality, then it must be theft for government. This simply cannot be denied. To argue that the definition of a word or the inherent nature of an action changes when done by a different person is, quite frankly, ridiculous. There is no logical way to support this notion that what would be theft for one would not be theft for another. To make this assertion would mean that there is no way to evaluate anything for words have no meaning. Neither government nor anyone else would have any moral boundaries if this were the case. It would be meaningless to say that he is under the same standard of morality as everyone else, as we have established. In fact, it is not the words that we use to describe and label our actions that God judges, it is the acts and the heart behind them that God judges. God does not play games with words. He has a standard, and that standard is the same for everyone. Thus, the expropriation of resources from their rightful owner without his voluntary consent is theft. Voluntary consent is precluded where there is a threat of force. Thus, it is the sin of theft for the government to tax. Otherwise, since there is no partiality with God, if it is morally permissible for government to demand the expropriation of one’s resources by the threat of force, then it must be morally permissible for me to do so as well. If this is the case, then I expect everyone who reads this to write me a check for $1,000. If I do not receive it within the month, I will track you down. I have your IP addresses (unless you’re savvy enough to use Tor… darn). No, we know this to be wrong for an individual to do. Therefore it must be wrong for a government to do. Otherwise, there is partiality with God.
Proof 2: Terror to Good Conduct.
The second proof is, I believe, the stronger of the two. I anticipate that there is still some resistance in your mind to what I said in proof one. Perhaps you are still clinging to some thought that the act of taxation is somehow different for government because, darn it, they’re the government! Well then let’s evaluate it by comparing it to what God says the government should and should not be doing. To do this, we need look no further than Romans 13.
According to verses 3 and 4, the magistrate is to use the sword against those who break the law and not against those who do not break the law. That taxation is theft is clearly demonstrated from the fact that it is the use of the sword against those who have done nothing at all wrong. I know your objection will be to insist that they only use the sword against those who refuse to pay. But this is defeated by the fact that they never fail to use the sword against those who do not pay. The fact that the threat of punitive action was part and parcel with the demand for subscription, and that there was never any ability to simply opt out, means that the sword has been used even against those who have paid. Even though they may not have been struck by it, it has most assuredly been brandished at them, the menace of which having coerced them into compliance. Since they committed no theft or any other crime to warrant this action against them, the government is being a terror to good conduct and violating the parameters set for it by Romans 13.
Thus, whatever we call it (taxation, theft, etc), mandated subscription to the government service must be considered sin! It is a violation of God’s standard of morality, and is a use of the sword against those who have committed no crime. It is therefore sin! It is not sin to pay the tax, as we will evaluate in a moment. But it is sin to charge the tax.
A Further Analysis of Taxation as a Subscription
My opponent insists, however, that refusing to pay taxes is theft! I cannot fathom such thinking. He can only arrive at this conclusion in one of two ways. First, he may be a socialist, but since he self-identifies as a Libertarian, albeit a confused one, I don’t think that’s the case. The second way must be based on the subscription idea, which ultimately boils down to a form of social contract argument. Indeed, he put it to me several times that I derive benefit from the government, and therefore I would be stealing to refuse to pay for that benefit. (for clarity: I don’t actually refuse to pay… I pay my taxes, for what it’s worth. We are speaking in a theoretical sense.) So by his thinking, since I benefit from so called “public goods,” I have an obligation to pay taxes to compensate the government for providing them. So what do we say? Is it stealing to not pay taxes?
Such a fact is not stated in the text. The whole concept of Social Contract Theory is not found anywhere in Scripture. It certainly is not taught here in Romans 13. It would be a logical deduction to say so, but it does not follow from the text and would be a non-sequitur. Remember that Romans 13 is given in the context of Romans 12:1-2 and is therefore part of Paul’s exposition of what it means for the Christian to be a living sacrifice who no longer conforms to this world. Therefore, it is tenuous at best to interpret this commandment in Romans 13:6-7 as the Law for all people that it would need to be in order to make such a conclusion. Indeed, subscribing to the service of the magistrate enforcing God’s law with the sword is part of our “reasonable act of worship,” and worship, by definition, is voluntary.
Romans 13:7 indeed says, “Pay to all what is owed them, taxes to whom taxes are owed…” which does beg the question, are taxes legitimately owed to government on the basis of the fact that they perform services from which I ostensibly benefit. What can we say to this? Further analysis is needed. There are several points to make.
1. There are Many Goods and Services From Which I Benefit Without Obligation to Pay.
First, there are many types of goods or services from which I benefit without paying for them – at least directly. That I benefit from something does not necessarily oblige me to support it financially. I’ll take Hans Herman Hoppe’s example of my neighbor’s rose bush (from chapter one of Economics and Ethics of Private Property). I benefit from the pleasure of seeing and smelling that rose bush, but I’m in no way obligated to pay to help him acquire, install, or maintain it. Certainly everyone benefits from a society in which God’s law is upheld, but this does not necessarily oblige everyone to finance it. A homeowner benefits from the upkeep and improvement of other homes in his neighborhood. Is he therefore obligated to finance the installation of new roofs for everyone in the neighborhood? No. He pays for the upkeep of his own house. That he benefits from his neighbor’s upkeep of his own house does not require him to finance such maintenance. Or another one from Hoppe: if I ride the bus, I benefit from the deodorant worn by the passenger in the seat next to me. Does this obligate me to buy his deoderant? No. I am only obligated to pay for those things which I voluntarily contract to pay for. The only way for me to be required to pay for something I do not voluntarily agree to pay for is to use the threat of the sword against me, which is not legitimate, according to Romans 13.
2. Requiring Someone to Pay is Only Just If The Contract Is Mutually Consesual
For any arrangement in which someone pays the government for bearing the sword to be be just, it must involve voluntary, mutual consent. We have already discussed that the government does not send you an offer in the mail to ask whether you would like to subscribe to their service. No they say you must do so our face certain penalties. By using the threat of punitive action to take away the option of opting out of their service, the government has not engaged in a contractual exchange but in extortion and racketeering. Of course, the social contract argument relies on a belief that we have implicitly contracted with the government and that we therefore are under a duty to pay. But when did they ask us if we wanted to subscribe to this contract? They never did. We were registered as citizens by our parents while we were still trying to figure out what this air thing was. Then when we were raised we were told nothing but that the government is this amazing and wonderful institution that can do no wrong – unless they are the government of other countries. And this brainwashing is so complete that when we reach the age when, by the social contract theory, we should be making an informed decision as to whether to stay and continue under the government’s domination or move to Somalia, we instead are so wrapped up in what an honor and a privilege it is to be good citizens and vote (and register to be among those who may be randomly selected to die in a war, just or unjust, should the government decide that the numbers of those who volunteer to die in wars, just or unjust, are insufficient), that we quite frankly aren’t even aware of the decision!
Indeed, this whole idea of implied consent is problematic. Oh and there’s that other idea from before that government is only actually committing aggression against those who refuse to pay. Imagine if we were using these arguments to describe someone accused of rape! “Silence implies consent!”, doesn’t it? Or maybe the rapist didn’t actually strike his victim. Maybe he only raised his fist to her and she complied to avoid being beaten. Did he rape her? Well if the government only uses the sword against those who refuse to pay taxes, then I guess our theoretical rapist is innocent! That we would think that these arguments are legitimate defenses of government only underscores the fact that we believe there to be a double standard and that government is above God’s standard of right and wrong. God does not believe this. Why should we?
And let’s think about moving to Somalia. That we would have to completely uproot our entire lives in order to move far away in order to escape coercion means that our decision to stay is not an inherent contractual agreement to being dominated by the government. It just means that it’s less of a hassle for us to put up with them bullying us than it is to move. But why should we have to move? Suppose it wasn’t the government, but the mafia who rolled into town and demanded that everyone pay them protection money or else. Should we just say, “Oh well. If you don’t like it, move to Somalia!” No way. Why should I be the one who has to leave? I was minding my own business and doing no harm to anyone. They are the aggressors. They should have to leave! Thus, my staying does not constitute consent to their taxation and domination.
Ah but you may object that the government isn’t a mafia. Look at all these good things they do!
Let’s consider another example. Say I go over to your house while you’re away on some long vacation and decide that you need a new roof. So presuming that I’m doing you a favor, I install a new roof without first consulting you. Then when you return home, I hand you a bill and expect you to pay. Do you owe me money? Certainly not. Even supposing that you really did need a roof, why don’t you owe me money? Because the house was your property, and the maintenance of it comes out of your budget that you must allocate according to what you need most. I have no authorization to do anything to your property or to consign the allocation of your budgeted resources without your consent, because they are yours. It is theft for me to demand the use of your resources in any particular way without your consent.
The same is true for government especially since the vast majority of tax revenue does not go to benefit the people who pay the tax. Most of it goes to someone on some other street or in some other city, or some other country! Or, more likely, it goes to pad the pockets of some Washington insider, lobbyist, or Wall Street fat cat.
If taxes are a subscription, they should go to support things that benefit those who pay them. Those who do not use certain services should not have to pay for them. I have never had a fire, why should I have to pay taxes to support my local fire department if I am willing to take the risk with my own property? We homeschool our kids. Why should we have to pay taxes to send someone else’s kids to the local public school?
The only way that it would be inherently theft for me not to pay my taxes would be if I had voluntarily, contractually agreed to pay them and the reneged.
Another objection may be that we voted and the taxes are the result of our votes.
Except we hardly ever vote for any specific tax. Local levies are probably the only example of where we do. But we do not vote for specific taxes at the State and Federal level. We vote for politicians who enact the tax. But politicians are woefully bad at keeping their campaign promises and doing what their constituents actually want. Suppose I vote for a candidate because he opposes the drug war and he later goes on to vote for a tax. Have I voted for that tax. No way! He is not representing my wishes. Therefore, voting does not constitute consent to tax unless I vote specifically for a specific tax. This is not possible of course because we are a republic and not a democracy.
What about the local level? Are local levies legitimate because we specifically vote on these specific taxes? Well, who is we? I always vote no on these levies, and yet when tax time comes around, I still have to pay them. These taxes could be considered legitimate only if the government kept track of those who voted yes and only collected taxes from those yes voters. But they don’t do that. They collect the taxes even from those who voted no. This is not a mere act of individually consenting to pay some tax yourself, this is requesting that the government take from your neighbor as well as yourself in order to do what you want done! Voting always results in some sort of violent imposition the will of the majority on the minority. But who says this is justified? Who says that whatever the majority wants is just simply because more people want it? That idea is completely foreign to Scripture! The idea of democracy as a preferable mode of government is inherently based on the idea of the “consent of the governed,” but in order for the government to follow this principle, it must individually divide and taylor its government to those aspects that each of the governed actually consent to. In the area of taxation, this means that they must only collect taxes from those who vote in favor of the tax. Of course, if they did that, why even have an election day at all? It would be far more efficient for the government to have a Kickstarter Page! And you know what? If they did, that would be a great example of the kind of voluntary funding that we Libertarians would applaud!
3. Mandatory Taxation Requires Using the Sword In Ways Contrary to Romans 13
The argument that taxes are a subscription to the services performed by the government must be evaluated by our careful study of Romans 13. In Romans 13 we have seen that the blueprint of legitimate government is characterized as an institution that bears the sword against those who do wrong (according to God’s law) and not against those who do good. This taxation can be a subscription to a legitimate service only if the monies are used solely for this purpose. It is not a subscription to an institution that follows Romans 13 to pay taxes to an institution that does not follow Romans 13.
Now in order to have a system of governing authorities that is not the type of anarchy that we propose, the government must use the sword in one of two ways that are inherently contradictory to the parameters given in Romans 13.
Mandating Subscription and Punishing Those Who Opt Out
The first way is to make subscription mandatory. As we have already seen, taxation that is collected by mandates enforced by the threat of violence is an invalid use of the sword against those who have done nothing to deserve the use of the sword against them. When they use the sword in this way, they are being a terror to good conduct.
Establishing and Protecting a Monopoly by Waging War Against Competing Sword Bearers
The second way governments violate their constitution is by banishing competition. This is not as obvious because we are so used to the water we swim in that dry land seems bizarre to us. Governments are regional monopolies. That is precisely why going to the DMV is about the only thing worse than calling Comcast.
Pragmatics of customer service aside, governments are the only true monopolies. True monopolies do not arise and survive through competitive means. They require force. Governments are force. They claim jurisdiction over a certain area and do not allow competing agencies to serve the citizens of that region with the sword. They oppose any who would try with the sword. The use the sword against other institutions that use the sword is called war. To wage war against other sword bearing institutions in order to drive them out of existence is unjust. The only just use of the sword is against those who have first committed a crime worthy of the use of the sword. Simply trying to use the sword to establish and protect a monopoly of the use of the sword is inherently contradictory. When the government uses the sword in this way, they are being a terror to good conduct, specifically the good conduct of trying to use the sword according to Romans’ 13’s parameters! In this way, they are resisting the governing authority that God has setting up!
Where in Romans 13 does it say that there must only be one governing authority? It does not say that! In fact, it says, “authorities” plural! So we see here that our promotion of anarchy is not inherently contradictory to Romans 13. How would the free market of sword bearing magistrates be a violation of this passage? I don’t see how it would be. Even if Paul does give the government permission to tax (which, as we have seen, he does not), where does he say that there MUST be coerced taxes? Where does he say that there MUST be a monopoly? He says that nowhere. When he says “those that exist”, he is speaking in a passive sense to the subjects about the authorities that happen to be in place, whatever they might be.
Remember that God is the one who sets the authority up, but for the theoretical question before us, would it be a violation of Romans 13 for God to set up a market of sword bearers? Certainly not. Remember that the anarchy system we have in view is one in which the bearing of the sword is provided by the modern capitalist free enterprise system of businesses and markets. There would be companies who bear the sword. Absent coercion to establish and protect a monopoly, these companies would require paying customers to survive. Thus, private citizens who are so inclined can subscribe to their service, or pay as they use their services (whatever business model makes the best sense). This would naturally restrain the use of the sword to only those situations in which the use of the sword is warranted by virtue of there being a wronged party. All funding would be voluntarily provided by the company’s customers. Due process would still be upheld (and better, I might add) by the accused hiring a competing sword bearing agency to protect him until the case has been heard (Cities of Refuge. Two or more witnesses).
Christians could most certainly be subject to such a system of governing authorities. They could most certainly obey Romans 13:6-7 by subscribing to one or more sword bearing agencies. In fact, they could even pick the agency they want to subscribe to based on which one they believe would most effectively uphold God’s law, meaning that every “vote” of this kind, would actually be effective. Even if you “vote” for Sword Company A because you believe them to be most just according to God’s Law but a majority of people “vote” for Sword Company B, they wouldn’t say, “ok now, Sword Company A, you have to go out of business, and everyone has to subscribe to Sword Company B.” No, that’s how modern political parties work. In the market, those who subscribe to Sword Company A get Sword Company A, and those who subscribe to Sword Company B get Sword Company B. Everybody wins!
Now, I know you probably have objections to this, but they are all of them pragmatic in nature. Indeed there are many pragmatic objections, I am aware. How can we possibly get from here to there? If we got there, what’s to prevent it from devolving into chaos? If we got there and it didn’t devolve into chaos, what’s to prevent one of the Sword Companies from seizing the power vacuum and establishing themselves as the state? How would consistent standards be enforced? All of these theoretical problems have answers, but they are beyond the scope of this essay.
For now, a more basic point must be raised: These are all pragmatic objections. You cannot raise a moral objection to say that it would inherently be rebellion against Romans 13 for such a system to exist. And you cannot get around the moral injunction that I have laid out against the use of the sword in the unauthorized ways that are necessary to even have a minarchist monopoly of the Sword. Thus, pragmatic problems notwithstanding, an anarchy is to be held as the morally preferred system according to Romans 13. Since such a system would exist absent the coerced, mandatory subscription that is enforced by the sword, it would be inherently more just. As a bonus, since such a system would naturally be restrained to the service of paying customers, it would be inherently more efficient. Such a system is infinitely preferable.
4. Taxation Is Supposed to Support Criminal Justice, Nothing Else.
Back to the notion of taxation as a subscription, whether we are paying taxes that are mandated by the monopoly State or choosing the sword bearing agency we wish to voluntarily subscribe to, we must consider a fourth point. Since taxation should only be legitimately viewed as a subscription when it is exclusively used to support the specific task that God has given government, then when government monopolies use tax revenues to do things that are outside their Biblically prescribed jurisdiction, they are violating God’s standards. When they do so, they cease to be the institution Paul is speaking of! It is therefore not inherently wrong to say, “I’m paying my taxes, but they go to an organization that uses its sword to bully people here and overseas, to artificially manipulate the economy, to banish the consumption of substances they deem to be wrong without consulting God’s law. I wish there was an agency I could pay my revenues to instead that would actually uphold God’s law and restrain the use of the sword only to that purpose.”
The modern state has so far overstepped its Romans 13 bounds that it is almost completely unidentifiable as the institution Paul speaks of. They start unprovoked wars. They regulate commerce. They take from the young and healthy to give to the old and sick. They mandate health insurance. They invade privacy. They seize private property for “public” use. They conscript troops who they send to die. They invade countries without just cause. They ban peaceful, non-violent, consensual activities. They mandate other activities which should be up to the free choice of the individual. And so many more. For the government to act in any of these areas they must use the sword. Because that’s what government is. The only tool at the disposal of government for any purpose is the sword. If they ever ceased to use the sword, they would no longer be a government. In that event, they would become a free market firm – a business or a charity. We would have no problem with this. It is what we prefer. We do not necessarily object to every single thing that is done by government, like building roads. We object to the use of the sword to do things that God has not authorized. We prefer that every single one of these good things that the government does be done by private organizations that would do them through voluntary cooperation. When the government uses the sword in any these areas against those who have done nothing to warrant the just use of the sword against them, they are being a terror to good conduct. It matters not the tiniest bit what good they intend to accomplish, nor how effective they may be at accomplishing it. They are using the sword in ways they are not authorized by their King in Romans 13.
A government that is systematically a terror to good conduct in these ways is no government at all. They are merely a mafia, organized crime at its most successful! Paying taxes to them is not a subscription to the one who is God’s servant, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer, to be sure! This is an abomination, and much desolation has resulted!
So What Are We to Do?
We are to pay our taxes and be subject to the government.
Paul wrote Romans 13 to the Roman church in the time of Nero. There is definitely a tension between the way things ought to be as Paul describes them and the way things actually are in a fallen world. Remember that Romans 13 ultimately points us forward to the coming of King Jesus who will establish his Kingdom of perfect justice forever after having banished all sin in all forms. For now, even though things are not the way they ought to be, we are not in the business of overhauling this world for Christ – at least not through the violent means that would be necessary to topple governments. We are in the business of making disciples.
But this does not restrain us from making a moral evaluation of the government by comparing the way things are to the way Paul says they ought to be. By doing so, we can determine whether the current system is just. Doing so in Paul’s day may have been a merely theoretical exercise of no practical relevance, but for those of us who have the privilege of voting for our politicians and government policies, it is of completely practical relevance.
We must remember that voting is an act of directing the government in his governance. When we vote we are telling the government how we want him to operate. In order to know how to vote, we must imagine that we are the king, and we must read Romans 13 not as the subject, but as Nero who may have come across a copy – as he very likely did. What might Nero’s reading of Romans 13 be? I think we have clearly outlined it. You, voter, are God’s servant. You, voter, are held accountable to God’s law. You, voter, are to direct the government’s use of the sword toward the task of criminal justice and away from any other application. (True “National Defense” is actually just an extension of Criminal Justice in my thinking.)
How should we vote on any given issue? Which politician should we support in any given election? These are complex questions to which I cannot dictate specific answers. I can give my opinion based on how I believe the principles I have outlined should be applied to the given situation, but the only thing I would ever dictate is that these principles be applied. How you apply them is a matter for your conscience. “Let each man be convinced in his own mind.”
And I hope that you have followed my logic here and have seen how anarchy is the morally preferred state when Romans 13 is applied consistently. Having seen that, I would hope that you would join me in trying to influence the world that way – PEACEFULLY! I reject the use of the sword in this mission. I have no optimism that we can ever really convince the powers that be to relinquish their power willingly, but if we all vote according to these Biblical principles and if we all join with other Libertarians in gradually, peacefully, respectfully opposing the evil, idolatrous, ever-expansive, and violent state that has this world in a vice grip, maybe we can influence things for the better. Who knows what God could accomplish through us. In any case, successful at making an impact or not, we will be held responsible to God for how we vote. By what standard will we vote? I say, by God’s standard! It’s time to stand up and be counted!