is a Crowd, by Frank Chodorov, 1952.
all began, as you know, with the Declaration of Independence.
The Americans stated their case, both as to the disabilities put
upon them by the British Crown and as to the kind of government
they considered it fitting for men to live under.
was rejected and the issue was joined in battle. The god of war
decided in favor of the Americans, insofar as removing the grievous
rule was concerned; but in the establishment of a government to
their liking the victors were on their own. Nobody could help
could not make a suggestion; for never had there been a political
establishment constructed or operating on principles laid down
in the Declaration. These principles, moreover, were quite metaphysical,
completely outside the realm of experience. They were: (1) that
all men are created equal, and, (2) that all men are endowed with
inalienable rights. When you come down to it, the two metaphysical
concepts are really one. For the postulate of equality did not
apply to human capacities or attributes, which are quite unequal
and far beyond the scope of government, but to the enjoyment of
rights or prerogatives.
In that respect,
they maintained, all men must be considered on a par. This was
a brand-new base for government. In all political science hitherto
known it had been an axiom that rights were privileges handed
down to subjects by the sovereign power; hence there was nothing
positive about them. A new king or a new parliament could abrogate
existing rights or extend them to other groups or establish new
however, insisted that in the nature of things all rights inhere
in the individual, by virtue of his existence, and that he instituted
government for the sole purpose of preventing one citizen from
violating the rights of another. Sovereign power, they said, resides
in the individual; the government is only an agency of his will.
If it fails to carry out its duties properly, or if it itself
presumes to invade his rights, then the moral thing to do is to
kick it out.
is not an abstraction; it consists of people, and the inclination
of all people is to improve upon their circumstances with whatever
skills or capacities they possess and by whatever opportunities
they meet up with. The power placed in the hands of this agency
– to enforce the observance of an equality of rights –
is in itself a temptation from which only the saintly are delivered.
Fathers were therefore confronted with a difficult contradiction:
men being what they are, a government is necessary; and government
being what it is, men must be safeguarded against it. Their recipe
was the Constitution. Whether or not the ensuing government would
materialize the metaphysics of the Declaration, the Constitution
was, at any rate, a definite pattern; and when it was ratified
and put into operation, it became the end-product of the Revolution.
To be sure,
the Constitution cut corners around the doctrine of natural rights.
We must remember that it was, after all, a political instrument,
concocted by men. Only in its preamble can such an instrument
serve the moralities; its working parts must be geared to the
interests of the dominating groups in society, and hence it must
be a compromise; to effect the compromise the moralities must
be watered down. The Constitution was no exception. The assumed
equality of rights was distinctly out of line with the profitable
slave trade; owners of large estates wondered how it might affect
their business; merchants and manufacturers deemed it dangerous
to their preferred position. The Constitution was therefore so
framed that the doctrine could not be employed to disrupt the
many Americans who contended that the profit of the Revolution
was liquidated by the Constitution and at their insistence a Bill
of Rights was included.
Fathers forged well. Putting aside what it might have been, the
Constitution did pay homage to the doctrine of natural rights.
It did so by the simple expedient of putting restraints and limitations
on the powers of government. We learn from their published statements
that the intent of the Founding Fathers was to prevent the despised
"democrats," should they come into power, from using
it for spoliation. They were quite forthright about it, and not
a little could be said in favor of their thesis. In recent years
the "mob" they feared has indeed come into power and
the result seems to support the contention of Madison, Adams,
postulate of equality did not apply to human capacities or attributes,
which are quite unequal and far beyond the scope of government…"
But regardless of their argument and regardless of their intent,
the Constitutional shackles did in fact, though perhaps inadvertently,
protect the people in the enjoyment of their cherished rights.
we learn a little heeded lesson in social science, namely, that
the real struggle that disturbs the enjoyment of life is not between
economic classes but between Society as a whole and the political
power which imposes itself on Society. The class-struggle theory
is a blind alley. True, people of like economic interests will
gang up for the purpose of taking advantage of others. But within
these classes there is as much rivalry as there is between the
you examine the advantage which one class obtains over another
you find that the basis of it is political power. It is impossible
for one person to exploit another, for one class to exploit another,
without the aid of law and the force to back up the law. Examine
any monopoly and you will find it resting on the State. So that
the economic and social injustices we complain of are not due
to economic inequalities, but to the political means that bring
about these inequalities.
is to be brought into the social order it is not by accentuating
a class struggle, but by restraining the basic cause of it; that
is, the political power. To bring about a condition of equal rights,
which is a condition of justice, the hands of the politician must
be so tied that he cannot extend his activities beyond the simple
duty of protecting life and property, his only competence.
To the extent,
then, that the Founding Fathers delimited the powers of the new
government – by the system of checks and balances –
to that extent did they render inestimable social service. And
to that extent did they insure the victory of the Revolution.
a century and a half the American citizen enjoyed, in the main,
three immunities against the State: in respect to his property;
in respect to his person; in respect to his thought and expression.
Pressure upon them was constant, for in the pursuit of power the
State is relentless, but the dikes of the Constitution held firm
and so did the immunities. Only within our time did the State
effect a vital breach in the Constitution, and in short order
the American, no matter what his classification, was reduced to
the status of subject, as he was before 1776. His citizenship
shriveled up when the Sixteenth Amendment replaced the Declaration
tax completely destroys the immunity of property. It flatly declares
a prior right of the State to all things produced. What it permits
the individual to retain is a concession to expediency, not by
any means a right; for the State retains the liberty to set rates
and to fix exemptions from year to year, as its convenience dictates.
Thus, the sacred right of private property is violated, and the
fact that it is done pro forma makes the violation no less real
than when it is done arbitrarily by an autocrat. The blanks we
so dutifully fill out simply accentuate our degradation to subject
loves to emphasize a distinction between human rights and property
rights. The distinction is without validity and only serves to
arouse envy. The right to own is the mark of a free man. The slave
is a slave simply because he is denied that right. And because
the free man is secure in the possession and enjoyment of what
he produces, and the slave is not, the spur to production is in
one and not in the other. Men produce to satisfy their desires
and if their gratifications are curbed they cease to produce beyond
the point of limitation; on the other hand the only limit to their
aspirations is the freedom to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
American no longer regards his local government as anything more
than an agency of the State." That fact, deep rooted in the
nature of man, accounts for the progress of civilization when
and where the right of property is recognized, and for the retrogression
that follows from its denial. Property rights and human rights
are more than complementary; they are identical.
tax did more than revoke the immunity of property. It gave the
State the means of effectively attacking the immunities of mind
and of person; it transferred to the State that sovereignty which,
according to the American theory, is lodged in the individual.
In the final analysis, sovereignty is a matter of dollars. The
more dollars the more sovereignty. The individual is no longer
sovereign when his living is dependent on a superior will, when
that will becomes dominant by the economic strength behind it.
of the State are not self-enforcing, since they lack the voluntary
support of public opinion, and are therefore only as effective
as the size of the police force; but the police force must be
paid, and since the payments must come out of the property of
those upon whom the edicts fall, there is no standing up to it.
Without an FBI, military conscription – which violates the
immunity of person – would be impossible; it failed during
the Civil War simply because Lincoln did not have the funds to
support such an agency. The Espionage Act – which violated
the immunity of mind – would have been but a piece of paper
but for the thugs hired by the State to enforce it.
the wealth acquired by the State at the expense of the producers
enabled it to buy its way into sovereignty. The Founding Fathers
put a check on the central power by clearly delimiting its scope,
specifying that all other prerogatives, named and unnamed, shall
reside in the component and autonomous commonwealths. They knew
from experience what a far-away and self-sufficient authority
could do to human liberty, and sought to avoid that danger by
making local government the residuary of all unspecified power;
not that the local politician is different in kind from the national
politician, but that his proximity to the people makes him more
sensitive to their will.
with the advent of the income tax this safeguard lost all meaning,
for from then on the local politician was less and less under
obligation to his constituents; on the other hand, they fell under
his obligation by his ability to hand out gratuities derived from
federal grants, for which he gave up nothing but the dignity vested
in him by the Constitution. His political preferment is now largely
a matter of dispensing federal patronage. The American no longer
regards his local government as anything more than an agency of
original federation – the Union – has been superseded
in fact by a single, centralized power, and the citizen of the
commonwealth has become a subject of that power. The income tax
alone made this possible, inevitable.
transmutation of the Constitution by bribery has also been effected
through private channels. The income tax has made the State the
largest single buyer in the country and, since "the customer
is always right," it is unthinkable that the recipients of
its patronage would oppose the State on any issue important to
its purposes. Subvention of agriculture, education, and the press
has been supplemented by gratuities to sundry pressure groups,
all easing the shift of sovereignty from the individual to the
State. To top it all off, the capital absorbed by the State, via
the income tax, has put it into business in a big way, so that
it is now the largest employer in the nation; loyalty to a boss
of that potential breeds a peculiar kind of freedom of conscience.
were not unaware of the inverse ratio of taxation to liberty.
Their experience with the British Crown was still fresh when the
Founding Fathers came up with the Constitution, and they scrutinized
its taxing provisions most carefully. About the only fiscal power
generally conceded to the federal authority was a levy on imports.
Hamilton knew this would hardly yield enough to support the establishment
contemplated and pleaded with great acumen for the right to levy
internal excise taxes. His argument prevailed, but only because,
as he pointed out, without this revenue the government would be
compelled to ask for the unthinkable: a land tax or an income
And, until 1913, the federal establishment had to get along as
best it could with what it picked up from custom duties and a
few excise taxes. Its sovereignty was thus contained.
1913 the relationship between the State and Society was reversed.
Areas which had heretofore been considered within the private
domain, sacred ground so to speak, were now invaded by the arrogant
and enriched State, and within thirty years the individual was
squeezed into a corner so small that even his soul lacked elbow
room. His case was far worse than it was in 1776; in exchange
for an income tax King George III would have conceded every point
made against him by the colonists, and might even have done penance
for past sins. But, such was the character of these Americans
that they challenged him to battle because he presumed to impose
a miserable tax on tea. What they won at Yorktown was lost by
their offspring one hundred and thirty-two years later.
disposition of the current crop of Americans comparable to that
of their forbears, a new revolution, to regain the profit of the
first one, would be in order. There is far more justification
for it now than there was in 1776. But, people do not do what
reason dictates; they do what their disposition impels them to
do. And the American disposition of the 1950s is flaccidly placid,
obsequious and completely without a sense of freedom; it has been
molded into that condition by the proceeds of the Sixteenth Amendment.
We are Americans geographically, not in the tradition. In the
circumstances, a return to the Constitutional immunities must
wait for a miracle.
Chodorov (1887–1966), one of the great libertarians of the
Old Right, was the founder of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists
and author of such books as The
Income Tax: Root of All Evil. Here he is on “Taxation
Is Robbery.” And here
is Rothbard’s obituary of Chodorov.