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Are Taxes Patriotic?

March 20, 2011

When I was reading parts of the Opinion Section on yesterday, I came across an article with a somewhat provoking headline Why taxes can be patriotic (I would suggest reading the article to continue reading this post; the article is relatively short). This article seemed to illustrate a different approach to the current-day view on taxes. Very rarely do you hear of people who view the action of paying taxes as their “duty” or “patriotic effort.” The author, however, is possibly trying to portray this idea to modern society.

“What is significant about Bronxville’s tax anxieties is that they show the degree to which the anti-tax movement in America has taken on a life of its own. Being pro-tax has become the new third rail of American politics.”

By utilizing the views of Franklin Roosevelt, the author draws the link between taxes and national unity. From his point of view, it might not always be necessary to lower taxes. In fact, maybe it is necessary to raise taxes in times of war or monetary crisis for the common good of the country. In this sense, wouldn’t taxes be considered patriotic?

Recently in the news, however, there have only been complaints about the increases in taxes. These complaints have created a sense of national unity but in a different sense. People, from all different classes, are protesting the increase in taxes to solve the monetary crisis. The lower class wants lower taxes because the payment of taxes is burdensome to their living conditions. Much of the upper class, on the other hand, does not want an increase in taxes.

John Locke writes in Second Treatise of Government that “For if any one shall claim a power to law and let taxes on the people, by his own authority, and without such consent of the people, he thereby invades the fundamental law of property, and subverts the end of government” (Locke 325). Locke believes that taxes are a justified act, however, taxes can only be imposed by the consent of the people. The government does not have the right to lower or raise taxes without first allowing the people to decide. Therefore, would he view the payment of taxes in our modern society unjust?

Thomas Hobbes, on the other hand, writes in Leviathan that “For he, and his successors did for all that, lau arbitrary taxes on all subjects’ land, when they judged it necessary. Or if those public lands, and services, were organized as a sufficient maintenance of the commonwealth, it was contrary to the scope of the institution; being (as it appeared by those ensuing taxes) insufficient…” (Hobbes 203). Hobbes, unlike Locke, views taxes as something that maintains the rule of law. In order for everyone to be equal, everyone should be equally paying taxes. Taxes are not burdensome in this sense; instead, they are essential.

Many people think of paying taxes as a “necessary evil;” however, is it really evil?  This “necessary evil” definition ultimately seems to combine the views of Locke and Hobbes.  According to Locke, paying taxes could be considered an evil, and according to Hobbes, paying taxes seem necessary. Utilizing their viewpoints, would they consider taxes to be patriotic? In our current governmental system, do we still consider the payment of taxes an act of patriotism?


Works Cited

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzshe. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008. Print.

Locke, John. “Second Treatise of Government.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzshe. Ed. David Wooton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008. Print.

  1. Emily Slaga permalink
    March 21, 2011 5:57 PM

    I sort of agree with you that John Locke would think taxes are unpatriotic, only because of the quote that blatantly says that. But on the other hand you could interpret him to think taxes are necessary and important, and he would support them. Locke says that when joining a society, “he gives up to be regulated by laws made by the society” the right of “doing whatsoever he thought fit for the preservation of himself”. If the laws are that taxes are necessary, then it’s our duty as citizens to pay them. It’s the governments job to “secure the community from inroads and invasion. And all this to be directed to no other end, but the peace, safety, and public good of the people”. Taxes are used for military protection, as well as maintaining public facilities/areas around the nation. So I guess you could argue that based on this, Locke would think that taxes are patriotic because it helps the government protect you in the end.
    This was an interesting post. I think you can go both ways and read into Locke in different ways on this topic.

  2. Jeremy Kucera permalink
    March 21, 2011 11:32 PM

    I think you, as well as the author of the article on CNN, make a good point. That point is that the anti-tax movement has taken a life of its own. It seems that today in American politics BOTH Democrats and Republicans pledge to lower taxes. This seems one thing that they both agree on; however, both sides have different views on who exaclty to lower them for, and this always creates the tax debate. Also, when it comes time to cut funding for a program because there are less tax dollars, it seems that half of the country is up in arms and complaining about some program getting cut. The citizens have to take the good with the bad. If you are paying less taxes, then some programs’ funding are going to get cut. I would love to just see a politician on the campaign trail giving speechs where he more or less says “Hey I’m going to cut your taxes, but program x is going to suffer funding losses” or “I’m going to raise your taxes, but your kids will have a new state of the art computers in the public schools.” I would respect that candidate’s honesty.

    As for the question of taxes being patriotic…. It depends on what the money is going towards in my opinion. FDR made a compelling case because he said that the tax money would go towards a war effort that is helping defend America’s freedom. What isn’t patriotic about the citizens paying to help defend America’s freedom? But if tax money is going to be used for things like upgrading computers in the public schools from PCs to Macs, then it is really hard for me to see the patriotic value in that.

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