“I have not done anything wrong,” Lois Lerner, head of the IRS’ nonprofit division, told a congressional hearing. “I have not broken any laws.” Then she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to be second-guessed by the Congress that is supposed to be watching over all agencies of government.
Seeing the IRS grilled like this is something many people have waited for their entire lives. It’s lovely and a sign of the times (government has never been this unpopular). But contrary to Ms. Lerner, it is possible to not break laws but still do wrong things.
The truth is that there is nothing right about an agency that routinely and legally loots the public of a third of private income and presumes the right to take what is left if we, as citizens, fail to comply with every jot and tittle of the regulations.
Sadly, that is not the scandal Congress is interested in. The scandal is that the IRS seems to be discriminating against groups based on their political outlook. And truly, it is alarming to see it all so clearly and to know that the practice was so widespread. Let’s hope these hearings on Capitol Hill are part of a larger project in which Congress takes on the role of actually looking into what the government is doing to the people.
Let’s consider the larger context. In most any authoritarian regime in history, most people felt free, and they enjoyed that freedom as long as they never crossed a (sometimes invisible) line.
Talk to anyone, for example, who lived in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Everyone knew the rules. For the most part, the regime would leave you alone. You could go about your life raising a family, working and enjoying various luxuries. If you minded your own business, it didn’t feel anything like tyranny.
But if you became interested in politics and actually sought some kind of change in society, matters would be very different. At that point, you became a threat. You could be woken any night by a knock on the door and dragged off, never to be heard from again.
In other words, in any authoritarian regime, the main goal of the government is to protect itself from outside threats and maintain its monopoly on power. So long as you didn’t disturb that monopoly, all was well. (For more on how this works, see Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s The Great Fiction.)
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