April 12, 2007
Thanks to our nation's income tax system, individual Americans are not free --they are literally on parole.
If they fail to show up at the designated time and place to testify against themselves, they face the prospect that their material goods will be confiscated and their bodies seized and imprisoned. All this because they are guilty of the crime of doing what the most fundamental law of nature gives them the right to do --procure the means of preserving themselves and their loved ones.
Every year around this time, I find myself in a great quandary, a struggle between y sense of obedience to law and my sense of principle. The reason: it's time to file an income tax return.
Don't get me wrong. I have no trouble with the logic that effective government requires some form of taxation. What I can't understand is how we reconcile the clear provisions of our Constitution with the demand that every citizen testify under oath as to the amount of income they have earned in the previous year.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that "No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." The common understanding is that every American must file an income tax return or be prosecuted for the failure to do so.
Yet, it also appears to be the case that the contents of the return can be used in evidence against us if and when we are prosecuted for tax evasion or other income tax related crimes, including perjury, if we do not scrupulously comply with the letter of the voluminous tax code.
If filing is compulsory, we are being forced to provide testimony that may be used in evidence against us. This means that we are compelled to bear witness against ourselves, which the Constitution plainly forbids.
On the other hand, those who support the use of the income tax return will say that it does not violate the Fifth Amendment because filing the return is a voluntary act. But if this were truly the case, how could anyone be prosecuted for failure to file a tax return? Prosecution brings the force of law against the individual. Acts performed under the threat of prosecution are therefore not voluntary acts, but acts done under the threat of force.
Shallow legal arguments
I'm sure that the self-interested representatives of the legal profession will spring forward to assure me that the Courts have accepted the validity of the income tax system and cooperated with its enforcement mechanisms (by sanctioning the coercion used to enforce compliance). But we all know that this offers no assurance of constitutionality.
The Courts do not reliably represent the rule of law, since they willfully ignore the plain provisions of the Constitution that is the Supreme Law of the Land and the source of all their legitimate governmental power. The Courts blithely fabricate and impose requirements that are nowhere found in the Constitution (such as the separation of Church and state) and demand respect for rights that contradict its principles and stated purpose (like the so-called right to abortion).
Given this dismal track record, it's not at all hard to believe that they would cooperate in the imposition of an income tax regime that contradicts the Constitution's plainly worded guarantee against self-incrimination.
Respect for law
If we assume for a moment that the income tax regime is enforced by means that systematically disregard one of the most basic guarantees against governmental abuse of individuals, we realize that it puts conscientious citizens in a terrible position. If they choose to cooperate, they lend credence to the abuse --so that over the course of generations, people become more and more inured to it, and ignorant of the abrogation of right that it represents. Since habitual deference to law enforcement is the only basis for the filing requirement, such deference becomes the source of government authority, rather than the plainly declared and duly ratified will of the people expressed in the Constitution.
Habitual deference to the perceived force of law is far from being characteristic of a free people. Indeed, it is the reason large masses of people in every region of the world submitted to despotism and arbitrary tyranny in the centuries before the influence of Christianity led thinkers to articulate the doctrine of God-given inalienable rights.
We must be careful, of course, to keep in mind the distinction between habitual deference to the force of law and the habit of respect for the law. The first is quite simply the product of fear, the second is the fruit of good civic education.
Courts and all the trappings of so-called law are no strangers to tyranny. They have more often been its tools and servants than its enemies. The preponderance of human history offers examples of tyrannical and unjust regimes that cowed the masses into submission using handy symbols of power to shackle the mind, reinforced by the routine application of brute force.
Constitutional self-government is supposed to achieve respect for law on a very different basis, one that commands obedience on account of the assurance that the transcendent principles of right and justice will be respected in both the substance of the law and the procedures that enforce it.
Here then is the question: If the administration of the income tax departs from the principles of right and justice plainly set forth in the Constitution, does our cooperation with the income tax regime constitute and encourage the habitual deference to force without respect for right that has been a key support for sustaining tyrannical and unjust government? Does our willingness to cooperate help to shackle the mind and will of our children and of future generations, corrupting their understanding so that they will no longer recognize the distinction between legitimate government by law, and government by force masked with the handy symbols of law?
If we truly care about liberty--which is to say, constitutional self-government based upon respect for our God-given inalienable rights--are we obliged to cease this cooperation, even as, in the founding generation of our country, people ceased to cooperate with a system of taxation that contradicted those rights?
This challenge might be less urgent if the issue involved were not so critical to the material foundations of liberty. The American founders repeatedly alluded to Blackstone's pithy dictum: The power to tax is the power to destroy. How much more so when the mechanism of taxation itself involves the destruction of one of the most vital protections against governmental abuse of the individual: the protection against self-incrimination.
The income tax gives the government the power to attack or manipulate the material resource base of the whole people, determining what share will be controlled by the government and what will be left to the discretion of individuals. It also places every individual under a requirement to reveal to the government the sources of their individual sustenance, knowledge that could be used to attack or sever these lines of supply at will. It places every individual under a reporting requirement which, aside from being incompatible with the Fifth Amendment, can at any time become the basis for embroiling the individual in legal and bureaucratic challenges that consume their time and resources in ways that can threaten their own survival and that of the family and friends who rely on them.
By contrast, Montesquieu defined liberty as the ability to live without fear that others could assault your life, In our society, livelihood is life. Franklin Roosevelt appeared to agree when he cited freedom from fear among the four freedoms for which we did battle during the Second World War. Under our system of constitutional self-government, legitimate power means power consistent with liberty. The provisions of the Constitution aim to secure liberty by establishing a government whose powers are limited by respect for the Constitution's principles and requirements.
I admit that we would face an insoluble dilemma if the income tax were the only form of taxation capable of funding our government effectively. If this were so, it would mean that republican government consistent with the U.S. Constitution and its principles is impossible. The best we could hope for would be some less evil form of tyranny.
However, the success of the free enterprise economy made possible by respect for liberty means the existence of a huge marketplace, whose transactions generate an enormous exchange of goods and services. A system of taxation that imposed a modest toll (retail sales tax) on every such open and public exchange in the marketplace would more than suffice to fund the government, without the need to threaten the livelihood or constitutional right of any citizen. In the normal course of their voluntary business and other economic affairs, people would pay for government services, just as they pay for food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and entertainment.
If we care any longer to preserve the substance of democratic self-government, we need urgently to develop and put in place the free-market alternative to the liberty-destroying income tax system now in place. If we fail to do so, we leave the people, as individuals and as a whole, defenseless against the strategies of self-righteous, power-hungry elites who are already manipulating its administration to isolate and demoralize our people, crushing both their individual spirit and their ability to associate effectively for political action.
© 2007 Alan Keyes
Wow...Mr. Keyes gave me pause for thought with this article. He and I suffer from the same affliction: struggling to obey the law and at the same time honor our sense of principle. I never really thought about how the IRS compels us to do things that are in direct conflict with our Constitutional guarantees.
To be honest, while I have many reasons for supporting the FairTax, the Constitution was just never a part of it (aside from repeal of the 16th Amendment). I have become more aware of the Constitution over the last couple of years, but Mr. Keyes has given me many more things to consider now.
If you've read this far, perhaps you'll see a different side to the taxation issue. I know I certainly have.