A lot of libertarians endorse the non-aggression principle, which states that the initiation of physical aggression is illegitimate. Seems like a good principle if you value freedom: we should all be free to do what we want as long as we don’t violate other people’s freedom to do what they want. This kind of thinking leads to Nozick’s popular (among libertarians) view that “taxation is theft”.
I bring this up because I have been thinking lately about a conversation I had about a year ago with Isaac Morehouse of the Institute for Humane Studies during an IHS seminar. We were debating the legitimacy of the welfare state (I was arguing that the welfare state is legitimate). Isaac made an argument that, to the best of my recollection, went like this: if you endorse the legitimacy of the welfare state, then this entails that you think that it’s morally legitimate for an agent of the government to go up to a rich person whose personal stash of wealth is subject to redistribution and demand that he pay his (disproportionately large as a percentage of his income) share of taxes. If he refuses, then the government agent may call in the coercive mechanisms of the state to physically force him to pay, even if that means imprisoning him and then breaking into his home and taking the money he owes out of the treasure box under his bed (or his bank account, or whatever).
How could any self-respecting liberty lover support such a practice? At the time of our conversation, I didn’t have a response to this non-aggression argument, but now I think that I do. In my next post, I’ll explain why I think the argument fails and why libertarians should abandon the “taxation is theft” objection to redistributive policies.