If n=4 people showed up and told you, "we're going to take our combined wages and vote about what to do with half of it", most people would consider it theft at best. Even in theory, I can't imagine anyone thinking it would be right. So for n=5, non-voluntary democracy is unethical.

If there was a group of people who you would not accept to share your money with, would it make any difference if one more guy showed up wanting to share the collective income? Not as far as I know. The only exception being going from n=1 to n=2, but there we go from "OK" to "not OK" so that's not an issue.

My conclusion is that taxes is theft no matter if 4 random guys want to share money or if n = Total population of your country.

The example can be modified for the "if you don't want to pay taxes move somewhere else" argument which just shows us that it's ethically equal to protection racketeering. Any thoughts? I'm not exactly a libertarian myself in practice, but there seems to be good arguments for being one.

  • If you live in a house with four people and you might collectively decide to establish an upkeep fund, and vote on how to allocate that fund to maintaining said house. HOA fees are the same idea on a larger (and still private) scale, then (usually) you get to local taxes on up. – Dave Jul 1 '15 at 14:01
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    This is very broad. I suggest a lot of reading. – innisfree Jul 1 '15 at 14:25
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    Can you rephrase this question so it doesn't violate the "push a personal philosophy" off-topic reason? There's a good question in here somewhere. – James Kingsbery Jul 1 '15 at 15:05
  • That's an interesting argument Dave, I'll think about it. – Mårten Jul 2 '15 at 6:08
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    @Mårten "personal philosophy" in the context of James' remark means that your question is basically asking "am I right?" Such questions are frowned upon here, because we want people to ask questions about philosophy to improve their understanding rather than have us do the philosophical equivalent of a spellcheck. – virmaior Jul 2 '15 at 15:07

I think the answer to the question hinges on what ethical framework we are working from. Put it another way, I think there's a hidden assumption that makes your though experiment appear to work.

If you read, for instance, Locke or Hobbes, or most contemporary political philosophies, they distinguish between the way membership in a state works and the way voluntary association works. Your thought experiment seems to assume states are like voluntary associations. But if we add this assumption then it's unsurprising that we see the forced involvement as illegitimate.

To give a similar analogy, in a family, there are adults and children. Is it fair that the adults work, but the kids don't have to?

It's nearly impossible to answer that until we start adding assumptions. To many of us, it would be obvious kids are not required to work in the same way. We may disagree, however, as to why since we may think kids are luxury goods created by parents or that kids are owed certain duties by those who choose to have to them. Or we may just see this as the model of care that nurtures children into the sort of people who can support themselves.

For the political case, much hinges on what we think a political society is and whether we think it is natural or not. There's two streams of philosophical thought on this. (Restricting ourselves to the Western tradition) There is one starting from Plato is that society is to some degree an unnatural extension of the rational self who can work in tandem (here I am thinking less of the Republic and more of say Phaedo, Meno, and Apology Socrates). A second stream building on Aristotle looks at society as the basic unity of human existence and sees the family and the individual as parts of this greater whole (Politics 1).

A second and related question is whether we view society first and foremost as a contract entered into by rational agents or some thing else (for instance, a church, or a nation).

In some interesting ways, the U.S.A. was originally an experiment in the idea of minimal government that enabled maximal free association and independent choices. This was partially inspired by Locke's idea of tolerance (See "Letter Concerning Toleration") and augmented by the experience of many of the groups that came to those shores as previously persecuted groups.

Since then the guiding philosophy for many later constitutions has been the idea of a people with a deeper bond than self-selection or the idea that the cosmopolitan ideals are sufficiently worthy of selection so as to force these onto others, but beneath this is the basic idea that humans don't exist primarily as individuals but rather as people in communities and societies, i.e. units in a greater whole rather than complete entities that then contract together.

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There is the Sorites paradox that shows sometimes things and ideas don't scale: ie how large must a molehill be before it becomes a mountain.

If you're discounting democracy (and it isn't true by the way that democracies are as simple in their political constitution as you're making out) then what other political arrangement makes sense? Monarchy, oligarchy, tyranny? These are the classical options outlined by Aristotle.

I'd suggest the question of tax comes from the wrong end; and should start with the question of public services ie roads, schools, hospitals - and how their provision is to be funded; the question here is in terms of size of organisation, inclusivity, and values proper to the institutions.

But there is the larger question of what constitutes a society; and the role of an individual within it. The private realm for Arendt is the site of the family; and the public realm is where private individuals become citizens.

But this notion of the individual needs further examining: individuals aren't born as individuals, they're born into families; and families are the locus of their maturing into adulthood; without a family an individual isn't one as such; similarly, families (despite tales like the swiss family robinson) do not exist in a social vacuum - they take their place in a social unit, a linguistic community, and a political arrangement (however loose it maybe, as in a tribal confederation) or strict (as in a city-state).

This is one of the points of the classic novel, Lord of the Flies, by Golding: just how quickly a society falls apart into a bare life of savagery, when it's disciplinary institutions are taken away.

And this shouldn't be termed as a critique of the nomadic life, as in certain traditional forms of life, as they have their own institutions proper to them.

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I agree with your initial assertion ("small scale, non-voluntary democracy is unethical"), however I disagree with applying that to a citizen within an established democracy/socialist society.

This would be analogous to being born into a community where all adults must pay a monthly fee for security services/grounds maintenance. You were not around when the initial agreement was decided, but you have benefited from the arrangement since your birth. When you come of age, that community is ethically correct to expect you to pay the fee as well. To not do so can be viewed as a rejection of the entire "social contract" for that community, and necessitate that you find another society in which to live.

In other words, living within a society is an implicit agreement to obey that society's rules. This is a side effect of being mortal beings operating within societies that can last many generations.

If a person lives within a democratic/socialist society and accepts benefits from that society in some way (roads, schools, police services, etc), they are obligated to fulfill other aspects of that social contract as well (taxes, obeying laws, etc).

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  • Imagine a nazi concentration camp. The basic operations is performed by the prisoners and children are allowed to be had. Children born there has been given food and shelter. In principle they wouldn't be allowed to complain because they owe the camp something. I think every generation should give whatever they want to the next without expecting anything back. – Mårten Jul 2 '15 at 6:19
  • @Mårten I'm not saying everything required by the social contract you're born into is ethical and good. I'm saying that the association with a pre-existing social contract is a neutral factor. It is a fact of human society that others will expect you to perform in line with social agreements/tradition you had no part in creating or approving. In many ways, these assumptions are essential for day-to-day society to function. Some of these expectations are ethical ("be at work at the designated time") and some are not ("the government may murder people solely due to their ethnic heritage"). – immortal squish Jul 6 '15 at 21:32

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