By David Gross
I am a war tax resister because Henry David Thoreau convinced me to be one.
I was looking for medicine: something to help me ease my troubled conscience and to help me sleep better at night. I turned to Thoreau and instead of medicine, he gave me marching orders. This turned out to be the cure I needed after all.
People sometimes remember Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” as being an argument for why people ought to have the right to disobey the law and its officials, when the reasons for doing so are good and noble. But the essay is actually more severe and challenging than that: Thoreau insists that you have the duty to disobey the law if the law commands what is wrong or forbids what is right.
I reread his essay in early 2003 as the invasion of Iraq was approaching, and his challenges took me by surprise. I too had misremembered Thoreau as making an abstract argument, and as pointing his finger at Them, not at me. I realized he was right. I stopped paying federal taxes.
I also began, like he had, to “quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make use and get what advantages of her I can, as is usual in such cases.” Thoreau’s statement at the time of the Fugitive Slave Act and the Mexican-American War — “How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it” — is no less true now.
There are many types of war tax resistance, and many different sorts of arguments in its favor, but I remain comfortable calling myself a Thoreauvian, and have yet to find a better argument than the one that originally convinced me.
This piece was published in NWTRCC’s June/July 2017 newsletter, which also features reportbacks and reflections from Tax Day, news from the movement, legal notes on war tax resistance, and more.
Please send NWTRCC your thoughts (at nwtrcc at nwtrcc dot org) about “Thoreau today” or favorite quotes for use in this newsletter throughout the bicentennial year.
David Gross is the author/editor of a number of books including The Price Of Freedom: Political Philosophy From Thoreau’s Journals. His tax resistance blog “The Picket Line” is at sniggle.net/TPL.