There is a prominent subspecies of libertarian that places much emphasis on the technicalities in Constitutional and statutory law, often at the cost of understanding the true nature of the state and its mechanisms of power.
The most pervasive technicalitarian arguments concern the income tax. We learn that the 16th amendment was never properly ratified, or that the tax is only supposed to apply to foreigners or citizens who make money in foreign exchange, or that the tax is really a corporate tax, or that the web of IRS regulations serves to obscure the fact that no statute actually mandates that you pay a tax. Refusing to file for income tax, or writing your name in all capital letters, or refraining from using Zip Codes in your outgoing mail, or referring to yourself as a "Citizen" as opposed to a "citizen" is supposed to keep the tax hounds away. They cannot touch you if you know the law.
Libertarians certainly have good reasons to know the law, especially the parts of it that will help shield liberty against the government. Furthermore, it is important to understand the real story behind various frauds, hoaxes and coups in American history. When we know that a certain Constitutional amendment, or, indeed, the entire Constitution, was conjured up in a smoky room filled with special interests and unscrupulous politicians, we better recognize that the state does not really have the sacred legitimacy often spoken of it in the popular mythology. We come to realize that constitutions are mere pieces of paper and governments mere groups of people empowered in ways the rest of us are not. We see that, even by its own terms, the state is illegitimate. Knowing the workings of the state has many uses in the intellectual battle for freedom.
Drawing on the technicalities of law as the chief tactic of fighting the state has its severe limitations and drawbacks, however. Instead of helping to expose the naked emperor or the man behind the curtain, it can lead us to grant undeserved legitimacy to the state. To obsess over the income tax as a supposed violation of statutory law is to give far too much credence to statutory law. The reason income tax is wrong is that it’s theft, not because some legislator back in 1913 failed to dot his i’s and cross his t’s. Moreover, if enough Americans began calling the IRS’s alleged bluff, and stopped filing, the state would simply make the income tax "official" and "properly ratified" in any ways it had presumably failed to do so.
When we stop for a minute to think about it, nearly every single thing the federal government does is unconstitutional, blatantly, clearly, and unabashedly. Article I, Section 8 makes no mention of a federal department of education, energy, agriculture, or transportation; a CIA, an FBI, or an alcohol, tobacco and firearms bureau; a national war on drugs, crusade on guns or struggle against illiteracy; a central bank, a retirement plan, or even a standing army. The number of constitutional — that is to say, legal — practices of the federal government would likely correspond to less than one percent of its current activity. So we already know that almost everything the feds do violates the so-called Supreme Law of the Land. It is useful to reflect on this to understand how far removed the government is from the document that supposedly gives it its authority. It is helpful to consider this in understanding the way the state operates in the real world. But we should also recognize that a government that is constantly and nakedly at odds with its Constitution is not going to let itself be deprived of one of its major sources of revenue upon being shown that the IRS is not following its own regulations to the letter. Liberty is not a mere technicality away.
The state is not about laws on pieces of paper. It is about looting and violence. Its principal methods of funding are theft and counterfeiting, its regular modus operandi is extortion and its most conspicuous projects are assault and murder. Ultimately, finding a technicality that saves Americans from income taxation will prove as effective as finding one that saves foreigners from incoming U.S. missiles. (Can you imagine an Iraqi screaming at the bombing of Baghdad that since the war had not been declared properly, the explosions cannot legally hurt him?) A loophole might save you money in the short term, but it will likely do you no good if the IRS has it in for you, and it will certainly do little in the long term to help in the eternal clash with the state.
Instead of searching for the magic loophole that will swallow up the state and all its oppression, we should devote our time to learning about how the state actually works, its historical and modern relationships with the private and semi-private sectors, and the effects of its domestic and foreign interventions. We should not fool ourselves. The state does not steal our incomes because we have overlooked a confusing regulation or fail to know our case law. The reason we have an income tax is because the politicians in power want an income tax, and have bamboozled the public into believing that taxation is acceptable in the first place. The tax code is confusing and contradictory for all sorts of historical and operational reasons, but it certainly does not contain the final key to our freedom from taxation.
The state is an organization of coercion, a monopoly on aggression, falsely legitimized by its own fiat and sanctified in idolatrous mythology and through lying propaganda. There is no technicality that can curb its inherent conflict with the natural law and individual liberty. It draws actual blood, bankrupts actual companies, bombs actual cities and taxes actual wealth. Its soldiers shoot to kill, its taxmen are equally ruthless. In principle, it is no more bound by a subsection of its tax code than a mobster is bound by his vague promise to protect you. It is for all these reasons that the state must be understood and eventually dismantled wherever and whenever possible. Don’t get too distracted by the fine print and neglect the big picture.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.