Libertarians commonly claim that taxation is theft! Liberals say that we are under a social contract that obligates us to pay taxes. In this podcast, I examine the philosophical roots of libertarian thought regarding taxation as theft, and compare this to classical liberalism, and democratic socialism. Finally I look at thoughts the Bible offers on taxation, and what theological critiques might be offered regarding all these perspectives on taxes.
To facilitate this discussion, I sit down with a friend and prior guest on this show, “St. Theosaurus Rex.”
Talking Points From Today’s Show
- We are here today to talk about a couple perspectives on taxation. The first perspective is the libertarian view that taxation is theft. The second is the classical liberal perspective that taxation is necessary, and that we are obligated because of a social contract. From both these perspectives we wish to offer biblical criticism.
- Libertarians believe that man is fundamentally a free individual, born with no obligation except those obligations in which he voluntarily and freely enters into. From this perspective, taxation is something man is forced to pay on threat of force by the coercion of the government. Since taxation involves coercive force, many see taxation as fundamentally no different than a robber who steals from you after pointing a gun at you. Libertarians look at taxation as a violation of your rights to private property and self determination.
- Classical liberalism, while also believing man is fundamentally free, nevertheless believes man has certain social and moral obligations. Many say that all mankind has entered into a certain “social contract,” that obligates him to pay taxes to his government. However, classical liberalism teaches that there should be constraints put on government, and that there must be limits on taxation.
- Democratic socialists believe that while there is such a thing as private property, the government has the right to tax you on whatever it deems necessary to pursue the common good.
- Are libertarians right? Or right to a degree? Is taxation theft? Do you find the argument persuasive and compelling? Or is it fundamentally flawed in its assumptions, and is it overplaying its hand in some hyperbolic way? And should we take this perspective seriously?
- Are classical liberals right? If so, I just wanna know, where is this social contract that I signed? What are the terms? Where can I read the contract? I don’t ever remember signing any contract. If I didn’t sign any contract, how am I obligated to pay taxes? What makes me liable to pay taxes?
- What perspective did the founding fathers have? The American revolution doesn’t seem to have been founded on the idea that taxation was theft. The founders just believed that taxation must come through representation. Or am I wrong? If they believed taxation was okay, why did they believe such?
- Ultimately this seems to boil down to power. The government may indeed use force to collect taxes, but such is a legitimate use of force. Why?
- Does the government have unlimited power to collect as much tax as it wants? Can the government take 100% of my earnings? What limits, if any, should be placed on taxation?
- A brief look at Enlightenment philosophers, David Hume, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as it relates to individual liberty and the role of government.
- What about a biblical criticism of any of these perspectives?
- The Old Testament had a tithing system was administered by the priesthood, but not a formal taxation system. If you didn’t pay your tithes, in theory the nation could cut you off. But in reality there wasn’t any real enforcement mechanism.
- Taxation in the Bible was often in the form of “tribute” collected from conquered tribes and nations. It’s what you paid to the conquering nation for not killing you!
- When Israel demanded a king from the prophet Samuel, the prophet warned them that a king would tax them. It wasn’t until King Solomon that any formal taxation system was developed. And then after his death, his successor, Rehoboam, threatened to greatly increase the tax rate to expand his kingdom. For such, the people under the leadership of Jeroboam revolted, and forever divided the kingdom into two kingdom… all over taxes!
- Jesus paid taxes and encouraged paying taxes… but not without much controversy among the religious leaders of his day. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors, which upset many. One of them even became an apostle and author of the gospel. And the apostle Paul thought taxes were an obligation that Christians owed the state for rendering justice and punishing evil.
- What can we say about the Bible’s attitude towards taxation, and criticism regarding contemporary approaches to taxation?
- From the Bible, it’s hard to support the libertarian idea that taxation is theft. Moses, Jesus, and the apostles certainly never thought of it as such. But the Bible does recognize that while man might have social obligations to pay taxes, that tax systems indeed be a weighty form of oppression.
About Today’s Guest: The Theosaurus Rex
The following guest on today’s podcast goes by a pseudonym in order to remain anonymous online. I know his real name and where he lives. But in order to protect his identity and wish to remain anonymous, I will simply use his online moniker and stage name: The Theosaurus Rex.
St. Theosaurus Rex is a “millennial dinosaur” who has a Bachelor degree in International Studies: Political Science and politically identifies as a Communitarian Liberal (socially conservative and fiscally constitutional). He also has his Master of Divinity in Christian Education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and identifies as a charismatic Bapticostal. Currently St. Theosaurus Rex is a pastor in a small southern church setting, and is recently ordained..
Eventually, St. Theosaurus Rex would love to get a PhD in philosophy with something to do with Christianity in literature or cinematography. An interesting hybrid of his hippie father and scientist mother he’s been taught to always question authorities, come up with his own philosophies, and objectively look at all sides. His biggest theological influences are the works of CS Lewis, Rob Bell, and J.R.R. Tolkien.