The Duty of Civil Disobedience

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Before posting please read this short essay

Henry David Thoreau; 1849.

I just wanted to bring to your attention a forgotten practice. I was asked by ee80 about what a libertarian could do better while on the campaign trail. I think that a libertarian candidate or a republican like Ron Paul should organize massive civil disobedience. I see massive civil disobedience as the only possible way to get some laws changed; and get them changed fast. Much like that of the civil rights movement, the government actually take notice and realize that the citizens are not going to take their shit anymore.

“…and if the law is unjust, break the law” – Henry David Thoreau

Well, these are just my thoughts. I’d like to hear your’s on this amazing essay.

 
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Could you summarise it? It is very long and is in Times New Roman.

What laws do you see as changeable only by massive civil disobedience?

I agree that civil disobedience is a forgotten practice, and could well be useful in the future – if enough people do it that the government is reluctant to punish them all then it could well lead to a change in law.

 
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Could you summarise it? It is very long and is in Times New Roman.

Basically, quote in bold summarizes the entire essay. It is about Thoreau’s reasons for resisting government and what will happen if a tyrannical government is not resisited.

What laws do you see as changeable only by massive civil disobedience?

Drug prohibition, Gun control, and Unjust taxes could all be solved by civil disobedience. There are also other things that could be ended if massive participation is able to get the attention of the government. Several programs such as Social Security; or unjust organizations and regulations such as the Dept. of Homeland Security could also be changed with civil disobedience.

 
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Well, it makes sense to me. If so many people do it that they can’t all be arrested then the law is probably opposed by big enough a chunk of society to change or remove it. I would say it would only work if participants had truly thought it through though, not just deciding to do something because they have the evening free – or even just to prove they are a libertarian candidate. If Ron Paul were to organise something like that, he’d better be doing it for a better reason than to prove his ‘lib cred’ and avoid getting those people who just want to get up to some mischief. Breaking the law is a serious matter, and you shouldn’t be trying to convince the idiots that they won’t end up in jail because that’s a real possibility. For those who feel a law is unjust, I do think they have some duty to try and change it – whether that extends to risking incarceration for it I’m not sure.

I can see how gun laws could be changed, drugs would be a little more difficult due to availability, but I’d have thought taxes would be unavoidable unless you demand cash from your boss at the end of every month?

 
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but I’d have thought taxes would be unavoidable unless you demand cash from your boss at the end of every month?

I’m talking like maybe a massive refusal to pay the income tax. The IRS can’t arrest hundreds of thousands or possible millions for refusing to pay.

 
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I wouldn’t put it past them to just take money straight out of your bank account. They already keep an eye on how much you earn, and they let banks take money straight from your account if you incur a fine from them (may just be a UK thing, I couldn’t find anything on overdraft charges in the USA, but then again maybe it’s because I’m using UK Google – are they allowed to do that over there?).

 
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I wouldn’t put it past them to just take money straight out of your bank account. They already keep an eye on how much you earn, and they let banks take money straight from your account if you incur a fine from them

I imagine this would just piss the people off even more. It would also cause more people to become sympathetic to the movement and join in. If the IRS showed this arrogance, I think it would hurt their cause rather than help it.

 
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True, but I don’t think the people have any power to stop the IRS unless they turn against another branch of the government. The setting up of income tax seems to have worked quite well.

 
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I think, of the three ideas, drug prohibition would be the most likely to be undermined through civil disobedience.

The government wouldn’t respond, in any noticeable way [in the media], to mass tax-evasion. A gun control protest could easily end up being portrayed VERY negatively, should just one protester act aggressively. Bear in mind, said protester could easily be an undercover agent. Gun control and taxation are better attacked by explaining and showing information about what the end results of those policies tend to be.

A drug protest, on the other hand, would not be so easily misinterpreted, so long as the protesters do not fear jail terms and are willing to assist in dealing with belligerents.

 
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Millions of people DO disobey the laws about drugs, they’re arrested, tried, and imprisoned en masse. I read somewhere that use of cannabis is the single most common crime people are jailed for in the US. May not be true, the article was unsourced and smells like an urban legend, but the numbers are huge regardless.

What exactly are you proposing? A mass toke-fest outside the white house?

As for the IRS, all it would take would be a large series of high profile arrests and inprisonments.

What you really need is sympathetic characters for the public to get angry on behalf of. Worked for the civil rights movement.

 
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Actually, more than half of the prison population is for non-violent offenses involving drugs (over a million people behind bars for doing nothing to no one), it wouldn’t surprise me to find statistics to back up that claim. The idea behind civil disobedience is large crowds breaking unjust laws, making it known whats going on. Obviously, individual protesters aren’t going to catch much attention.

Another major problem with tax protests is that the taxes are not likely to go away. If politicians do respond to it, they’d probably just tweak the tax laws a bit and shift the burden around to hide the taxes from the protesters. We might see income tax replaced with a sales tax, placed exclusively on corporations/wealthy people, or simply done through inflation. Political hacks would talk it up, but such shifting really accomplishes nothing, since we’d end up paying the tax through higher prices.

I think picketing expensive government programs, subsidy recipients, and various relevant government institutions would be a much better idea, since that would place the focus on the reason for high taxes.

 
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I don’t think the tax thing would work. They cannot simply “tweak” the taxes to shift the burden around, because at the moment it is a dedicated tax for a specific purpose. Trying to do so would raise some fairly large political issues.

I think a group of sweet old ladies driven into poverty by the tax would make a much better case than any number of refusals to pay. Sweet old ladies with enough fire in their bellies to set the IRS alight. Of course finding credible individuals to play that role is probably impossible.

Enough so that many people are galvanised into letter bombing their politicians and government agencies. Even better if you can catch some politicians destroying the letters unread. I’m pretty sure that’s a crime, and if not it should be. At any rate, if they did it would make a great media feeding frenzy.

 
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Actually, the “sweet old ladies” in trouble may well become very numerous very fast, under current trends. The Baby Boomers are getting pretty old and many of them are retiring. A social security check can only go so far, and prices are rising much more rapidly than payouts. Promises are being broken, and it will only pick up as total payouts start to exceed total collections.

Things are already pretty bad where I live in Michigan. I’m seeing shuttered shops all over the place where just a few years ago, the entire area for miles around had a decent amount of activity. Large government programs do not come without opportunity costs – I live among people who are paying the price.

 
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The problem is that you have to show that it was the income tax specifically which impoverished them, difficult to do when the SS cheques are their only source of income.

 
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Opportunity cost is not hard to explain, especially, if you take the time to point out a few examples of government extravagance and say “someone had to pay for this and many things like it”. Information about the cost of war can also be quite useful.

 
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Neither of those link directly to the income tax. At best you can use it as fodder for trimming the fat from the budget, but that wouldn’t lower taxes. If there was a surplus, and damn but the US needs one soon, it would go to pay debts and help shore up economy.

Ugh, neither of the presidential candidates has much in the way of plans for that, but McCain seems to be happy to continue Bush’ legacy of overspending to fund the war in Iraq, so Obama is probably the better of the two. At the least he is certain to repeal the tax breaks to the wealthy, and is not interested in universal healthcare so no major projects he wants to undertake. If he can just balance the books, he’ll have made a great start.

 
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I was planning on voting for Obama, as a vote against McCain, but he talked up one too many elective wars. I’m not impressed with his Iraq rhetoric when next speech, he’s speaking about invading Sudan, some sort of attack on Iran, or a need to dump more resources on the conflict in Columbia. I think all he really wants to do is change the battlefield. I also don’t care much for the plan to start up more government spending when the feds already have over 9 trillion dollars of debt and a crashing dollar.

I don’t consider tax breaks for the wealthy to be of much consequence, as the tax paid by the wealthy is ultimately comes from trade. If the wealthy are taxed, prices go up and the tax burden gets passed on to consumers. Piling the taxes up also tends to incentivize off-shoring and give foreigners a competitive advantage.

I find it absurd that politicians speak about windfall taxes on oil companies one day, then assert that gas prices are too high and we need to do something about it another.

 
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I’m not sure about his war stances, I think mostly tough talking rhetoric to not appear too “liberal”, but perhaps not. Even if he’s serious about all that, gotta be better than McCain, right? =/

The removal of tax breaks to the wealthy would increase funds by a not insignificant number, obviously nowhere near enough to plug the hole in the budget, but it should help. It shouldn’t make “off shoring” a problem as those who were doing that years ago when the tax break as introduced weren’t gonna come home, and those who have no left already aren’t going to bother over the removal of a small tax break if they haven’t already. Some minor changes perhaps, but I don’t predict anything huge.

The windfall tax thing, I doubt it will affect oil prices. At least not economically, the companies will raise prices in retaliation no doubt. The current glut of profits is kind of obscene given how the prices are rising. It looks like price gouging to me, which absolutely should be punished via a windfall tax.

I think these posts are starting to be more appropriate for the Obama thread though.