|“Consent is for the weak!!” – John Kreese
“[T]he president can give an order, but the order must be taken up and executed by a general. The general can give an order, but the order has to be executed by some officer. The officer can give an order, but the soldiers ultimately have to do the shooting. And if they don’t shoot, then whatever the president says, what the highest commander says has absolutely no effect.” – Hans Hermann Hoppe
This is the essence of withdrawing consent from the State; this is the endeavor to be striving for as non-violent resistance is integral to achieving a free society. The right to pursue any course of action we may choose unmolested, so long as our actions confer no harm upon anyone else, is the most basic human principle. Anytime the government acts contrary to this axiom, it acts a dangerous aggressor that must be resisted. John Locke said, “In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity,” viz living as animals live. In doing so:
he becomes dangerous to mankind. Which being a trespass against the whole species, and the peace and safety of it, provided for by the law of nature, every man upon this score, by the right he hath to preserve mankind in general, may restrain, or where it is necessary, destroy things noxious to them, and so may bring such evil on any one, who hath transgressed that law, as may make him repent the doing of it, and thereby deter him, and by his example others, from doing the like mischief.
Why should this principle be confined to individual men, i.e. private citizens? Are governments not made of men also? Why should the government not be subject to the same standards of justice as its citizens? If we believe in the rule of law, we must admit that “no official, high or petty,” is beyond reproach of the law; specifically, the natural law.
Ayn Rand has made it abundantly clear in her writing that consent to the injustices of government “looters” is the only thing that gives a legitimacy to government power. In Atlas Shrugged, when the government was trying to force Henry Rearden to voluntarily give up the rights to his metal in court, he said:
If you choose to deal with men by means of compulsion, do so. But you will discover that you need the voluntary co-operation of your victims, in many more ways than you can see at present. And your victims should discover that it is their own volition-which you cannot force-that makes you possible. I choose to be consistent and I will obey you in the manner you demand. Whatever you wish me to do, I will do it at the point of a gun. If you sentence me to jail, you will have to send armed men to carry me there-I will not volunteer to move. If you fine me, you will have to seize my property to collect the fine-I will not volunteer to pay it. If you believe that you have the right to force me-use your guns openly. I will not help you to disguise the nature of your action.
Under Rand’s logic, openly refusing to acknowledge the authority of the state is necessary to expose the injustices it necessarily commits. This concept is one that goes back centuries. Before Ayn Rand affirmed this principle, Henry David Thoreau wrote about it in great clarity in On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. He understood that even tacit consent to a government that is tyrannical is only going to ensure that the injustice continues. Thoreau said:
How does it become a man to behave toward the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also. All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.
He believed a government which sanctioned chattel slavery could not possibly have any grounds for legitimacy. In fact, there was even a moral imperative to withdraw one’s consent from a tyrannical government, particularly when it violated the most basic of human rights as the antebellum United States’ blatant violation the right of self-ownership for African-Americans did. In Civil Disobedience, where Thoreau mentioned his letter of refusal to pay church taxes, addressed to the Town Clerk, he said, “Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any incorporated society which I have not joined.” Thoreau lived by, and went to jail for, these principles.
Going even farther back, into the 16th century, we see that Étienne de La Boétie was writing about withdrawing one’s consent from the government in his work The Politics of Obedience. In one of the most powerful statements of all time, Boétie declared:
Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place your hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces.
Boétie thought that we didn’t even need to forcefully resist a government to topple it; we only needed to cease being the pedestal that government stands on. Acquiescence in the government’s immoral policies only provides the foundation for further tyranny. As banal as it has become, the truth is that if we all stopped paying taxes tomorrow, government would fail in no time. It would have no choice; it could either fail or stop masquerading as a voluntary establishment instituted for protection and benevolence and show its true colors as a highwayman pointing a gun at us saying, “Your money, or your life.”
Henry David Thoreau said, “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe—”That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” If we believe in the right to withdraw one’s consent to the government, and take it to it’s logical conclusion, we arrive at a fully voluntary society where no one is subject to arbitrary whims of a coercive monopolist. Anyone can roll over and allow the government to do whatever it pleases; consent is easy. Dissent is onerous; only a courageous few are willing to take a principled stand and refuse to allow any concessions to the State at personal risk to their own life, liberty and property. These few should be lauded as they are the bulwark of liberty.