All Commentary
Thursday, February 1, 1962

Violence as a Way Of Life

Broadly speaking, there are two opposing philosophies of human re­lationships. One commends that these relationships be in accord with the principles of love. The other commends that they be in ac­cord with the principles of vio­lence.’

The principles of love in society lead to willing exchange in the market place—the economics of reciprocity and the Golden Rule. No special privilege is counte­nanced. All men are equal before the law, as before God. The life and the livelihood of a minority of one enjoys the same respect as the lives and the livelihoods of majori­ties, for such rights are conceived to be endowed by the Creator. Ev­eryone is completely free to act creatively as his abilities and ambitions permit; no restraint in this respect—none, whatsoever.

Abandon the ideal of love and the only alternative is to embrace violence in principle, with robbery and murder as its ultimate expres­sions. Plunder, spoliation, special privilege, feathering one’s own nest at the expense of others, do­ing one’s own brand of good with the fruits of the labors of others—coercive and destructive schemes of all sorts—all fall within the order of violence.

Are we abandoning the ideal of love and drifting into the practice of violence as a way of life? That’s the question this paper intends to raise and answer—to answer in the affirmative. But why? William James may have suggested the reason: “Now, there is a striking law over which few people seem to have pondered. It is this: That among all the differences which ex­ist, the only ones that interest us strongly are those we do not take for granted.”2

Taken for Granted

Socialistic practices are now so ingrained in our thinking, so cus­tomary, so much a part of our mores, that we take them for granted. No longer do we ponder them; no longer do we even suspect that they are founded on violence. Once a socialistic practice has been Americanized it becomes a member of the family, so to speak, and, as a consequence, is rarely thought of as having any violent or evil taint attached to it. We are, in this state of taken-for-grantedness, inclined to think that only other countries condone and practice violence—not us!

Who, for instance, ever thinks of TVA as founded on violence? Or social security, federal urban renewal, public housing, foreign aid, farm and all other subsidies, the Post Office, rent control, other wage and price controls, all space projects other than for strictly de­fensive purposes, compulsory un­ionism, production controls, tariffs and all other governmental protec­tions against competition? Who ponders the fact that every one of these aspects of state socialism is an exemplification of violence and that such practices are multiply­ing rapidly?

The word “violence,” as here used, is a particular kind of force. Customarily, the word is applied indiscriminately to two distinct kinds of force, each as different from the other as day is from night. One is defensive or repel­lent force. The other is initiated or aggressive force. If someone were to initiate such an action as flying at you with a dagger, that would be an example of aggressive force. It is this kind of force I call violence. The force you would employ to repel the violence I would call defensive force.

Try to think of a single instance where aggressive force—violence—is morally warranted. There is none. Violence is morally insup­portable!

Defensive force is never an ini­tial action. It comes into play only secondarily, that is, as the anti­dote to aggressive force or vio­lence. Any individual has a moral right to defend his life, the fruits of his labor (that which sustains his life), and his liberty—by de­meanor, by persuasion, or with a club if necessary. Defensive force is morally warranted.

Moral rights are exclusively the attributes of individuals. They in­here in no collective, governmental or otherwise. Thus, political officialdom, in sound theory, can have no rights of action which do not pre-exist as rights in the individ­uals who organize government. To argue contrarily is to construct a theory no more tenable than the Divine Right of Kings. For, if the rights to governmental action do not originate with the organizers of said government, from where do they come?

As the individual has the moral right to defend his life and prop­erty—a right common to all in­dividuals—he is within his rights to delegate this right of defense to an organization. We have here the logical prescription for gov­ernment’s limitation. It performs morally when it carries out the in­dividual moral right of defense.

As the individual has no moral right to use aggressive force—against another or others—a mor­al limitation common to all indi­viduals—it follows that he cannot delegate that which he does not possess. Thus, his organization—government—has no moral right to aggress against another or others. To do so would be to em­ploy violence.

To complete this picture, it is necessary to recognize that man’s energies manifest themselves either destructively or creatively; we might say violently or produc­tively. It is the function of gov­ernment to inhibit and to penalize the destructive or violent mani­festations of human energy. It is a malfunction to inhibit, to penal­ize, to interfere in any way what­soever with the creative or pro­ductive manifestations of human energy. To do so is clearly to ag­gress, that is, to take violent ac­tion.

Now, carefully consider TVA or any of the other socialistic proj­ects earlier mentioned. You are living peaceably and off the fruits of your own labor, including any­thing which you have acquired from others in willing exchange. You are aggressing against no one; therefore, there is no occa­sion for anyone’s use of defensive force against you, defense being a secondary action against an initi­ated aggressive action. And, cer­tainly, there is no moral sanction for anyone or any organization to take aggressive action against you.

Subsidized Power

One more step for clarity’s sake: Suppose that some people decide they want their power and light at a price lower than the market rate. To accomplish their purpose, they forcibly (with guns if neces­sary) collect the fruits of your peaceable labor in the form of capital to construct the power plant. Then, they annually use force to take your income to defray the deficits of their operation—deficits incurred by reason of the sub-market rates they charge themselves for the power and light they use. The questions I wish to pose are these: Is any set of per­sons, regardless of how econom­ically strapped they may be, mor­ally warranted in any such action? Would not this be aggressive ac­tion? Would not their project be founded on violence? The answers to these questions are inescapably clear. There is hardly a person but would declare this thievery and criminal.

Very well. Move on to TVA. What distinguishes this from that? Not a thing, except that in the case of TVA the immoral, ag­gressive, violent action has been legalized. This merely means that the law has been fixed so as to ex­onerate the “beneficiaries” from penalties common to criminal ac­tion. There is no altering of the fact that TVA, as well as all in­stances of state socialism, are founded on violence!

Most people are inclined to scoff at this idea simply because they have never witnessed any instance of actual violence. They are blind­ed by the common acquiescence to socialistic pressures, once they are legalized. Everybody goes along, so what!

Before going further, isn’t it enough to give any conscionable citizen pause for reflection when he awakens to the fact that the people of his country are abandon­ing the ideal of love and drifting into the practice of violence as a way of life? The fact that this catastrophic change is taking place without many persons being aware of it is all the more reason to sound the alarm.

It is easy to demonstrate that all state socialism, of which TVA is an instance, is founded on vio­lence. Take the farm subsidy pro­gram, for example. Let us say that your share of the burden of this socialistic hokus-pokus is $50. Should you absolutely refuse to pay it, assuming you had $50 in assets, you would be killed—le­gally, of course—here in the United States of America in the year of Our Lord, 1962! If that isn’t resting the subsidy program on violence, then, pray tell, what is violence?

Absolute Refusal To Pay

Here’s how to get yourself killed: When you get your bill from the Internal Revenue Serv­ice, remit the amount minus $50 with these words of explanation:

“I do not believe that citizens should be compelled to pay farm­ers for not producing. I do not believe in the farm subsidy pro­gram. My share of the cost is $50, which I have deducted. Do not try to collect for I absolutely refuse to pay for same.”

The IRS will quickly inform you that this is a matter in which free­dom of choice does not exist and will demand that you remit the $50.

You respond by merely refer­ring the IRS to your original let­ter, calling attention to your use of the word “absolutely.”

When the IRS becomes con­vinced that you mean business, your case will be referred to an­other branch of the government, the judicial apparatus. It being the function of the judiciary only to interpret the law, the law mak­ing it plain that a government claim has first lien on one’s assets, a decision will be rendered against you and in favor of the IRS. If you have no assets but your home, the Court will order it put on the auction block and will instruct you to vacate.

At this point you will apprise the Court of your letter to the IRS and your use of the word “ab­solutely.”

When the Court becomes con­vinced that you mean business, your case will be referred to an­other branch of the government, the constabulary. In due course, a couple of officers carrying arms will attempt to carry out the Court’s instructions. They will confront you in person.

But to accede to their invitation to vacate would be to pay. With your “absolutely” in mind, you re­fuse. At this point the officers will try to carry you off your property, as peaceably as possible, of course. But to let them carry you off would be to acquiesce and to pay. You might as well have acquiesced in the first place. At this stage of the proceedings, in order not to pay, you have no recourse but to resist physical force with physical force. It is reasonable to assume that from this point on you will be mentioned only in the past tense or as “the late Mr. You.” The rec­ords will show that your demise was “for resisting an officer,” but the real reason was that you ab­solutely refused to pay farmers for not growing wheat or what­ever.

Rarely will any citizen go this far. Most of us, regardless of our beliefs, acquiesce immediately on receipt of the bill from the IRS. But the reason we do so is our rec­ognition of the fact that this is an area in which freedom of choice no longer exists. I, for instance, would never give a cent of my in­come to farmers not to grow wheat were I allowed freedom of choice in the matter. But, real­izing that the farm subsidy pro­gram rests on violence, it takes no more than the threat of vio­lence to make me turn part of my income over to farmers for not growing wheat.

The Penalty Is Death

The idea that the whole weari­some list of socialistic practices rests on violence and that the ul­timate penalty for noncompliance is death, was written and pub­lished in 1950.3 Many have read the booklet and an explanation of the same idea has been given be­fore many discussion groups throughout the country, but the reasoning has never been chal­lenged. Yet, I am unaware of any instance where an individual has gone all the way, that is, has ab­solutely refused to pay and gone to his death for his beliefs. One farmer went so far as to leave the country, and quite a number of citizens have delayed their acqui­escence considerably, that is, they have carried their revolt beyond immediate payment mixed with grousing. One of the most inter­esting examples is reported by IRS in a news release dated May 15, 1961:

Considerable public and press mis­understanding exists over the seizure of three horses from a Pittsburgh area Amish farmer who refused to pay Social Security taxes because of religious convictions.

This memo is designed merely to Public Law 761, 83rd Congress, ef­fective January 1, 1955, extended So­cial Security coverage so as to in­clude farm operators. A tax on the self-employment income of these peo­ple is imposed and they are required to report this tax on their annual federal income tax return.

The Old Order Amish are the most conservative of the Amish groups and have taken the position that al­though they will comply with taxes, as such, Social Security payments, in their opinion, are insurance premi­ums and not taxes. They, therefore, will not pay the “premium” nor ac­cept any of the benefits.

In the fall of 1956, the IRS district director at Cleveland held meetings with Amish farmers and their church officials in an effort to solicit coop­eration and voluntary compliance with the laws we have to administer. At these meetings, it was explained that the self-employment levy is a tax and that it would be the respon­sibility of IRS to enforce this tax.

As a result of these meetings and of letters sent to the individuals in­volved, the majority of Amish farmers in that general area volun­tarily remitted the tax. With re­spect to those who refused, it be­came apparent that some did not wish to contravene the dictates of their church, but they also did not want “trouble” with IRS.

Thus, a portion of these farmers did not pay the tax, but did make the execution of liens possible by maintaining bank accounts which covered the tax.

The current problem stems from the “hard core” group of Old Order Amish farmers who closed out their bank accounts and made such levy action impossible. As a result, the IRS was forced to collect 130 delin­quent taxpayer accounts from Amish farmers in the past two years.

Valentine Y. Byler of New Wil­mington, Pennsylvania became the latest collection problem among the Old Order Amish. He owed the fol­lowing self-employment tax:

1956 …………….


1957 …………….


1958 …………….


1959 …………….


The foregoing taxes amounted to $257.78. The total interest for the same period was $51.18, making a grand total of $308.96 owed by the taxpayer.

Attempts had been made since 1956 to induce Mr. Byler to pay his tax willingly, but with no success. Since Mr. Byler had no bank account against which to levy for the tax due, it was decided as a last desper­ate measure to resort to seizure and sale of personal property.

It then was determined that Mr. Byler had a total of six horses, so it was decided to seize three in order to satisfy the tax indebtedness. The three horses were sold May 1, 1961 at public auction for $460.00. Of this amount $308.96 represented the tax due and $113.15 represented ex­penses of the auction sale including feed for the horses leaving a surplus of $37.89 which was returned to the taxpayer.

The Byler case like all others in the same category present an un­pleasant and difficult task for the Internal Revenue Service. However, there is no authority under which Amish farmers may be relieved of liability for this tax.

With respect to those who remain adamant in their refusal to pay, as in the case of any person who re­fuses to pay any federal tax that is lawfully due, it is incumbent on the Internal Revenue Service to proceed with collection enforcement action as provided by law.

We have no other choice under the law.

Had our Amish friend, Valen­tine Y. Byler, not acquiesced at the point he did but had gone all the way in his determination, he would have employed physical force against the officers who seized his three horses. In this event he would now be known as “the late Valentine Y. Byler.” He would have established beyond a shadow of doubt that the social se­curity program, as well as all other socialistic practices, is founded on violence.

They Did Their Duty

It is important to acknowledge at this point that the IRS did precisely what it should have done. This agency of government is not in the business of deciding the rightness or the wrongness of a tax. Its job is to collect regardless of what the tax is for.

The judiciary, having previ­ously ruled on the powers of the IRS to make such collections, ac­curately interpreted the law and, thus, did what it should have done.

The constabulary, in seizing the three horses, was properly performing its function. This agency, unless derelict in its duty, has to look as indifferently on seizing the horses and harnesses of a gentle, God-fearing farmer as bringing a John Dillinger to bay. They are properly called law en­forcement officers. And, had Mr. Byler resisted with physical force, the constabulary would have been performing its duty had it been found necessary to put Mr. Byler out of the way, as it did Dillinger.

Theirs is to carry out the law, not to reason why!

The fault here is with the law, the three above-mentioned parts of the political apparatus being but effectuating arms of the law. And the fault with the law rests with those who make the law and with those of us who elect law­makers and who, presumably, have some powers to reason what the law should be.

The IRS, the judiciary, the con­stabulary, behave exactly the same when seizing the Amishfarmer’s three horses as when collecting a fine for embezzlement. Yet, the former is an exercise of aggressive force—violence—while the latter is an exercise of defen­sive force. The former has no moral sanction; the latter is mor­ally warranted. How can two police actions which ultimately manifest themselves in an identi­cal manner actually be opposites? This is like asking how two shots from a pistol can be identical when one is used to protect life and property and the other is used to take life and property. The shots are wholly indifferent as to how they are used. The pistol shots, like the IRS, the judiciary, the constabulary, only do the bid­ding of someone’s mind and will. It is the bidding which determines whether they are part of a defen­sive or an aggressive action. The law, and the people who are re­sponsible for it, determine whether a police action is defen­sive or violent.

A Simple Test

There is, however, a simple way to decide whether a governmental action is an exercise of defensive force or an exercise of aggressive or violent force: “See if the law takes from some persons what be­longs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”4

Using the above as a basis for determination, it is obvious that every act of socialism is founded on violence.

The fact that the IRS found it expedient to make a public ex­planation in the face of severe criticism throughout the country, merely lends credence to the fact that most people—even those who support socialistic legislation—do not know what they are doing nor did they mean to do what they did. Simply because most of us meekly acquiesce, that is, uncom­plainingly go along with the ma­chinery of socialism, we tend to lose sight of the fact that it is founded on violence. The seizing of the Amish farmer’s three horses generated widespread feel­ings of remorse and resentment. Had he absolutely refused to pay and been killed in the process, the American people would have pro­tested, “But we didn’t mean this!”

Of course they didn’t mean it. Nonetheless, these projections of horse-seizure and even death are nothing more nor less than the in­evitable consequences of admit­ting the socialistic premise into American polity. State socialism every single item of it—is founded on violence!

Alexander Barmine and Victor Kravchenko, both of whom rose to top posts in the Kremlin heir­archy, escaped from Russia and came to this country because they could not stomach the purgings and shootings that logically fol­lowed the policies which they themselves had a hand in pro­moting.5 Let the principle of vio­lence continue in this country—even fail to rid ourselves of what we have—and gangsters only will come to occupy high political of­fice. Few of the present crop of bureaucrats are heartless enough to administer socialism in its ad­vanced stages.6 Violence is not their dish. The IRS folks demon­strate this.

That policies founded on vio­lence are growing is self-evident. Take the examples of practices founded on violence cited on page 19. All but the Post Office are of relatively recent vintage, and clamor for more of the same seems to increase daily.

I can still remember when the income of farmers came from willing exchange; when people lived in houses built with the fruits of their own labor; when wage earners, for the most part, were no more compelled to join unions than businessmen were forced into chamber of commerce membership or parents into the P.T.A. Violence as a way of life was in those days perhaps at an all-time minimum.

Man either accepts the idea that the Creator is the endower of rights, or he submits to the idea that the state is the endower of rights. There is no third alterna­tive.

Those who accept the Creator concept can never subscribe to the practice of violence in any form. They have been drawn to this concept, not coerced into it. If we would emulate, as nearly as we can, that which we have learned from this relationship, we would confine ourselves to this same drawing power. As Gerald Heard so clearly puts it: “Man is free to torture and torment himself until he sees that his methods are not those of his Maker.”7                       



He Might Have Known

Charles II, monarch of England from 1660 to 1695, tried to avoid uneasiness and trouble and was noted for generous gifts of money and honors. The description by the Marquis of Halifax of The Character of King Charles II aptly fits many characters of the twentieth century as well:

“He thought giving would make Men more easy to him, whereas he might have known it would certainly make them more trouble­some….

“When Men receive Benefits from Princes they attribute less to his Generosity than to their own Deserts; so that in their Opinion their Merit cannot be bounded; by that mistaken Rule it can as little be satisfied. They would take it for a diminution to have it circumscribed. Merit hath a Thirst upon it that can never be quenched by Golden Showers. It is not only still ready, but greedy to receive more. This King Charles found in as many instances as any Prince that ever reigned, because the Easiness of Access in­troducing the good Success of their first Request, they were more encouraged to repeat those Importunities which had been more effectually stopped in the Beginning by a short and resolute Denial.”

Harold M. Fleming

Foot Notes

1 The use of “love” as the antithesis of “violence” is suggested by Leo Tolstoy’s little book, The Law of Love and The Law of Violence. Published posthumously (1948) by R. Field, New York.

2 See The Will To Believe and Other Essays on Popular Philosophy (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1956), p. 257.

3 See my Students of Liberty (Foun­dation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington, N. Y.), pp. 7-8. 50¢ paper.4 See The Law by Frederic Bastiat (Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington, N. Y., 1950), 76 pp. $1.00 pa­per; $1.75 cloth.

5 See One Who Survived by Alexander Barmine (New York: G. A. Putnam’s Sons), and I Chose Freedom by Victor Kravchenko (New York: Scribners).

6 To understand why gangsters rather than humane human beings must occupy political office in a socialistic state, read “Why the Worst Get on Top” in F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (The Uni­versity of Chicago Press). Obtainable from The Foundation for Economic Edu­cation, Irvington, N. Y. $1.50 paper.

7 Gerald Heard, editor, Prayers and Meditations (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949), p. 39.

  • Leonard E. Read (1898-1983) was the founder of FEE, and the author of 29 works, including the classic parable “I, Pencil.”