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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

For FEE It’s Personal: The Lessons of Witch Hunts and IRS Scandals

Lord Acton famously warned us that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Explosive revelations about the Internal Revenue Service in recent days suggest that power also attracts the already corrupt. In a letter to John Melish in 1813, Thomas Jefferson noted, “An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens…. Power is not alluring to pure minds and is not with them the primary principle of contest.”

At FEE, we know firsthand what the IRS is capable of. In today’s Wall Street Journal, James Bovard refers to an instance when the IRS targeted FEE and its founder, Leonard Read: “Within a few days of Kennedy's remarks, the IRS launched the Ideological Organizations Audit Project. It targeted right-leaning groups, including the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, the American Enterprise Institute and the Foundation for Economic Education.”

David Beito explained the details in this 2011 article. He writes:

In 1950 Leonard E. Read faced one of the most difficult challenges of his life as he prepared to appear before a hostile congressional committee. His friend W. C. Mullendore warned that the committee was out to destroy him: “You should be under no illusion whatever but that the intention is to smear and not look [for] information, enlightenment and the philosophy of freedom. You are going against a bunch of cutthroats who have very vicious motives.”

And as Beito goes on to explain, most historians are happy to mention McCarthy and let instances like these pass into obscurity.

If our fellow citizens decide when all is said and done that the problem in Washington is that the wrong people are in key positions, that simply replacing them will fix things, then we might as well stop the inquiries now. We will have failed to learn the larger lessons. Big government is bad government and it cannot be otherwise.

When concentrating power and scooping up other people's money are the objectives, abuse of power and waste of money are inherent and inevitable. The statist, end-justifies-the-means mentality is a green light for anything but character. When you elect or appoint people who have created nothing, managed nothing, and want to redistribute everything, you get rampant incompetence and never-ending threats to liberty. And if you think what you’ve heard so far about the IRS is ugly, just wait until thousands upon thousands of new IRS agents get their mitts on your health-care records as part of their mandate to enforce Obamacare.

Frédéric Bastiat warned us nearly 200 years ago: “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

The only thing about the burgeoning IRS scandal in Washington that should surprise anyone is that it didn’t become known sooner.

  • Lawrence W. Reed is FEE's President Emeritus, having previously served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). He is also FEE's Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. His Facebook page is here and his personal website is