A Brief Note on Violence and Taxation
In order that we can proceed this weekend to the next post on the biblical basis of Christian pacifism, I am briefly going to respond to a challenge that pacifists must either be inconsistent, incoherent, or they must advocate a purely voluntary system of taxation by governments. The argument is that taxation is backed up by the threat of violence and therefore, to be consistent, pacifists must oppose it.
But, remember, we have distinguished violence, from force, and coercion. Governments have many tools of coercion available for enforcement apart from violence. To use the U.S. as an example, the Internal Revenue Service need not hold guns to the heads of taxpayers to get them to pay their taxes. They can, for instance, garnish wages until back taxes are paid. Alternatively, the IRS could put a lien against someone’s home or other property until the taxes are paid. These are coercive actions, but they aren’t violent.
Now, it may be true, that governments reserve violence as a final coercive measure to enforce taxation (and every other law), but that does not mean that it must do so. Pacifist need not be anarchists to be consistent. A pacifist who believes in government and the necessity of taxation need not be inconsistent or to argue for purely voluntary taxation. All such pacifists need do to be consistent is argue that governments use less-than-violent forms of coercion. Whether or not governments listen is another story.
Later this weekend, I’ll give the next installment in my biblical case for Christian pacifism. I’d appreciate if the comments and challenges to my view stick with the biblical arguments until the end. If we keep getting sidetracked to deal with such questions in the midst of the biblical case, we’ll never get anywhere. I will try to answer some such questions at the end.
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