On several occasions, I've noted to Evan that I think people who refer to abortion as a "holocaust" are being disingenuous. Nobody actually thinks that at all - they don't draw the moral equivalence, although they find it politically useful to claim they do (or psychologically settling to convince themselves they do). But ultimately they don't. If you actually thought a holocaust worse than the Nazi Holocaust was occurring (at least four times worse), not in isolated secret camps but in clinics in your neighborhood, you would not stand idly by for decades. If people actually believed what they said about it being a holocaust, they would rise up violently against the practice. So I'm convinced there are a few clinic bombers and doctor-murderers who do actually believe it's a holocaust, but most don't. Most implicitly admit that the abortion of fetuses - even if it does raise real moral problems - is by no means the moral equivalent of killing fully developed and born human beings. It would simply be unconscionable for the pro-life movement to actually believe that but act the way they've acted. When tens of millions are slaughtered in a holocaust, you don't just picket the Supreme Court once a year. So I like to call BS every once in a while on that one.
A similar instance I've been thinking of recently is the tendency of some libertarians to refer to taxation as theft. Modern citizens of just about any state pay a lot of money in taxes. Several thousand, if not tens of thousands for many Americans. If people honestly considered this "theft", it's more than enough cause to react violently. If a thief enters your home in an attempt to steal thousands of dollars, you would be well within your rights to respond violently to expel the thief, and given the means most Americans would. One response may be that the government itself is a criminal organization that makes resistance futile. Maybe, but this counter-point is riddled with problems. When well armed criminal organization like the mafia or drug cartels infest an area, victims demand some sort of response from other organizations. Sometimes rival gangs are formed, of course. But the law is also called in. Even if people did not openly revolt out of fear of the power of the state, there would be some action to put together a countervailing organization to fight the state. You would have relatively expansive rebel groups, even if they had little chance of success. The other problem with this explanation is that even if the state were a criminal organization, it would be a criminal organization where millions of taxpayers vote at regular intervals for the leadership. If people honestly believed that taxation was theft, you would see some sign of in the polls, or you would see plummeting voter turnout accompanied with plummeting legitimacy of the government. No gang or mafia where the victims had a say in the leadership and where the mafia don had to regularly pander to his victims and had to leave after eight years would commit theft on a mass scale. The idea is absurd.
The only conclusion I can draw is that libertarians (much less some broader community of Tea Partiers or conservatives) don't actually believe that taxation is theft, no matter how many times they may tell you they do. They may not realize they don't believe this - they may have convinced themselves that they believe this. But they don't. Just like pro-lifers who refer to the holocaust to make their points, if libertarians did believe it, they would behave very differently. Since they don't behave how you would expect them to behave if they actually believed taxation was theft, it's reasonable to infer they don't believe it.
So what do we conclude? Americans broadly agree that taxation of citizens is an entirely legitimate and appropriate action. There is nothing criminal or inherently illegitimate about it. We may disagree on what the right level of taxation is, but nobody (aside from a few nuts) actually believe it is theft. It is not a reasonable moral equivalence.
As an aside, I thought of this last night when I was thinking about Jefferson (after commenting on this post and this post) and specifically the points Jefferson raised to justify the revolution against England. I thought "what would justify, or specifically what would libertarians think of as a justification for armed revolt against the federal government today?". Because it seems that whatever may theoretically justify armed revolt in the minds of libertarians hasn't occurred in the United States yet, because they haven't revolted.
I think these previous posts of mine on libertarianism and state violence and on the idea of "the empire of liberty" (which was a very well received post) are probably relevant to this point as well.
Piketty’s “New” Book
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