Today, one might reflect on the nature of the social contract as defined by Genevan philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau in 1762: it is a collective decision by individuals to surrender some of their natural liberties in exchange for the benefits of an organized society. The general will, Rousseau argued, is that of the people’s collective willpower aimed at the common good, and that the power of any sovereign state should be based upon it. The state therefore must enact and enforce laws that are a reflection of the general will; a state may only be considered legitimate if it is guided by the general will of its members.
Taxes form a key part of the social contract. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) states it clearly: “Paying tax is the glue in the social contract.” They not only provide the people with equal access to services funded in this way (healthcare, road maintenance, and infrastructure, utilities like hydro and gas) – they empower people to hold governments to account on how that money is spent.
Modern political parties build their platforms based on how they believe those funds should be used. For example, the conflict between publicly funded services (which benefit everyone) versus private investment (which benefit a very select few) between political parties is common. Ultimately they are based on varied interpretations of the obligations that the social contract dictates, and people vote for or against those interpretations in democratic elections.
Services and research relevant to national defence against aggressors are also included in taxation. But as with all other services, this begs the question: should those taxes also fund armed conflicts that benefit private interests, such as those of weapons manufacturers, war profiteers, and the ruling class? Unequivocally, no. Funding such actions with tax revenue is illegal under numerous international agreements; in fact, citizens could even be considered accessories to these crimes by paying taxes to the nations that commit them. Here’s a more in-depth look at the relevant legislation:
Known also as the Pact of Paris, the Pact is a binding multilateral peace treaty. Signatories committed to not using war as a means to “resolve disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them.” Notably, it created the notion of crime against peace. The pact makes any threat or use of military force, as well as territory acquired from them, unlawful.
Several articles from the United Nations’ founding document specifically prohibit the threat or use of force. The following links reference wherein the Charter prohibits unlawful threats or use of force, pacific resolutions to disputes between countries, and how threats to international peace are to be determined or defined.
By bringing representatives of the defeated Nazi Germany to trial, the International Military Tribunal (IMT) composed of France, the UK, the US, and the USSR, used the Nuremberg Charter as its legal instrument to convict them; it marked, according to Kazakh professor Sergey Sayapin, “the true beginning of international criminal law.”
Notably, the IMT stated that a war of aggression is not only “an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes, in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
Known simply as the UN’s Genocide Convention, this document has clear provisions against genocide in just four pages. Article II of the Convention famously states that genocide means any of the outlined four acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group. Article III goes on to specify acts of genocide punishable by international law, including incitement, conspiracy, and complicity in committing genocide.
This resolution defines the crime of aggression and makes the following distinctions between aggression (which “gives rise to international responsibility”) and a war of aggression (defined as “a crime against international peace”), acts of which are clarified in detail. In other words, the Resolution states that not every act of aggression qualifies as a crime against peace; only a war of aggression does.
Containing a further definition of crimes of aggression and their seriousness, the Rome Statute also encompassed this crime within the ICC’s jurisdiction and was adopted by a vote of 120 to 7 (21 countries abstained from the vote). Notably, the seven countries who voted against the treaty were Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar, Yemen, the US, and the People’s Republic of China. Later, in 2010, 111 State Parties to the Court adopted a further resolution that accepted this definition and the conditions for the ICC to exercise its jurisdiction over this crime.
Given the above precedents, the payment of taxes to a nation committing internationally outlawed crimes of aggression amounts to complicity for that nation’s citizens – most often without their consent. By not aligning with the general will of its people, the State violates the principles first set out by Rousseau in the Social Contract. All too often, anti-war demonstrators understand this; it can be seen in slogans on signs, and heard in chants, the words “Not in my name” pointing to the deep, personal contradiction among those who object to the use of their tax dollars to wage criminal wars or commit acts of genocide.
Famously put by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his fight for civil rights in the 1960s: “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” By refusing to pay taxes in support of wars of aggression, citizens are well aligned with their legal and moral obligations.
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