The “Club Dues” Theory of Taxation

Sadly this is an ancient thesis that’s being revived now in a country that was founded on denying it. The idea is well expressed in a recent book by Professor William E. Hudson, titled, The Libertarian Illusion: Ideology, Public Policy, and the Assault on the Common Good (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2008).

Hudson states, on page 43, that “The ability that any of us have to earn income and acquire wealth depends only partly on our own individual efforts. It relies as well on the operation of political, economic, and social institutions that make it possible for any of us to ‘earn a living.’ . . .Viewed in this light, …deductions from my paycheck can be seen as reimbursements to society for that portion of my earnings derived from social goods.”


William E HudsonAuthor and confirmed etatiste William E. Hudson, a Professor of Political Science at Providence College where he teaches courses in American politics and public policy, and has also served in a variety of “administrative functions”. In the words of Hans-Hermann Hoppe: “[…] if practically all intellectuals are employed in the multiple branches of the state, then it should hardly come as a surprise that most of their ever-more voluminous output will, either by commission or omission, be statist propaganda.”

Screenshot via


The very same idea has been championed for years by one of President Obama’s favorite intellectuals, Cass Sunstein, for example in the book the latter co-authored with Stephen Holmes, The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes (W. W. Norton & Co., 1999).

Reimbursements to society! What a lie that is, given that society is nothing more than all of us together as individuals and that what we own, so long as we stole it from no one, ought to be left to each of us to allocate as we judge proper, not to the likes of the sneaky professor and his gang in centers of political power.

A long time ago it was the French father of sociology and avid champion of a huge system of socialism, Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who maintained that very same thesis. As he put it, in his book The Catechism of Positive Religion (Clifton, NJ: Augustus M. Kelley Publ., 1973),


“Everything we have belongs then to Humanity…[my system] never admits anything but duties, of all to all. For its social point of view cannot tolerate the notion of right, constantly based on individualism. We are born loaded with obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries. Later they only grow or accumulate before we can return any service. On what human foundation then could rest the idea of right, which in reason should imply some previous efficiency? Whatever may be our efforts, the longest life well employed will never enable us to pay back but an imperceptible part of what we have received. And yet it would only be after a complete return that we should be justly authorized to require reciprocity for the new services. All human rights then are as absurd as they are immoral. This [“to live for others”], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] Humanity, whose we are entirely” (212-30).


1310267-Auguste_ComteAuguste Comte, a follower of French Utopian socialist Henri Saint-Simon, who is regarded as the founder of the discipline of sociology (not least due to anti-economic stance and leftism of European sociologists under the influence of these antecedents, Mises drew terminological consequences and adopted the term “praxeology”, i.e., the science of human action, as a replacement for “sociology”). Comte believed that the positivism of the natural sciences should be applied to sociology – he was a quintessential central planner and social engineer.

Photo via


Both Comte and his contemporary followers – who, by the way, keep calling themselves progressives, even though what they advocate is about as reactionary as it could get – maintain the fallacy that because people made major contributions with their works to our lives – the scientists, artists, farmers, inventors, and the lot – we now are obligated to give up our resources, our labor, indeed our very lives, and let a bunch of our contemporaries whom we don’t know and often have never met, decide what is to be done with it all.

What a ruse this is!


The Sophistry of Undeserving Extortionists

In fact, of course, the contributions made by all those productive, creative folks of the past were not made with the provision that members of far off future generations will be held in bondage to them somehow, in consequence.

And notice, the debt is not said be owed to those who made those great contributions, no sir. The debt is to be paid to these contemporaries who have done little or nothing at all for you and me other than to send out tax collectors to raid our more or less substantial wealth.

All because, well, we didn’t earn all the value of this wealth on our but had benefited from those folks from the past. (By that argument you don’t own your health, beauty, talents, nothing you didn’t produce on your own!)

Exactly why any of this should entitle this current bunch to any of what you and I and the rest of us they want to rip off have come by, whether by luck or personal effort, I cannot fathom. The argument they put forth, from Comte to Hudson, just does not prove any such obligation, none at all, certainly not to those who now collect the reimbursement – i.e. perpetrate the extortion, which is what it in reality amounts to.

I greatly enjoy the works of many artists and performers who have long since died, via old movies, reproduction of their paintings, music, literature, and the rest. I mean they literally keep thrilling me, as I listen, watch and read.

Quite spontaneously I often wish I could shake their hands, hug them, thank them for having done so much that gives me pleasure in my life. (I am especially fond of the works of some novelist, musicians, and actors or painters with whose work I have surrounded my life for decades.)

By what perverted line of reasoning, if one can even call it that, do the likes of Comte, Sunstein and Hudson make a claim on me in the name of these wonderful folks? Who on earth entrusted them with this job?


cass-sunstein2Another statist intellectual, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, who served as the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration until August 2012. Sunstein came to national attention when he proposed in a study that government should combat “conspiracy theorists”, by either banning the promotion of such theories outright, or by taxing the people promoting them, or by infiltrating their web sites with government agents so as to actively undermine them.

Photo credit: Matthew W. Hutchins, Harvard Law Record


No-one, that’s who. They are trying to perpetrate an out and out ruse, that’s what they are about. If one falls for their deception, they will have gained power and resources they certainly did not earn and do not deserve. And it will not be luck that landed them all of what they are attempting to steal from us, but trickery, sophistry, and ruthless indifference to our own rights, to make the effort to carve out a decent life for ourselves.

I hope they do not win, at least not for much longer.


Templo_positivistaA “positivist temple” in Porto Alegre. Perhaps not surprisingly, Auguste Comte at one point invented a “positivist religion of humanity”, which was supposed to take the place of traditional religious worship.

Photo credit: Tetraktys


Image captions by PT


Dr. Tibor R. Machan was until recently a Hoover Institution research fellow. He is Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, Auburn University, Alabama, and held the R. C. Hoiles Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University from 1997 to 2014.




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7 Responses to “What you “Owe to Society””

  • Crysangle:

    I’m still waiting for someone to prove ‘a society’ exists , that ‘a nation’ exists , that ‘a nationality’ exists.

    I mean it all gets very hypothetical with ever suggestive indirect evidence to sustain the illusion .

    A person can only owe what he agrees to owe , when he decides not to owe, nothing may be done about that .

    The rest is just a settling of accounts by force .

    So let us not fool ourselves , the aim of state is to create an unavoidable dependence , to profit while creating that dependence , and to profit from that dependence .

    Those that work for or towards the state are only out to justify and prove their own existence .

    Socius , Latin for companion .

    Choose your companions wisely , some are more equal than others and will sacrifice you in the name of the rest … because you are nothing without them.

    These people should be prosecuted for trying to leverage a small but common human weakness , the fear of exclusion , so as to profit by exaggerating it into a manipulator of every corner and facet of a person’s existence . Absolutely psychotic .

    There are thousands of laws , where is the one which will deal with these people ?

    The reason it does not exist is plainly obvious – government and state is built on duty and debt .

    Welcome to your new masters , ‘nobodies’ .

    • rodney:

      I’m still waiting for someone to prove ‘a society’ exists , that ‘a nation’ exists , that ‘a nationality’ exists.

      One thing is for sure, you are definitely high on semantics and definitions! (not that I find anything wrong with that).

      I fully agree that ‘society’ does not exist. When Margaret Thatcher said that society doesn’t exist, she was absolutely right, but she didn’t try to find an alternative word for the “group of people” that we are. She was seeking to attack collectivism by undermining its definitions.

      Perhaps we are lost for words to refer to “human beings” in the plural without conveying socialistic implications.

      Just in case you are objecting to Albert Jay Nock’s use of the term “Social Power”, be aware that, likewise, he couldn’t come up with something better, so he kept mentioning that this was understood as the power of all individuals acting together with a purpose (human action) as opposed to “State Power”.

      Mises said it best, individual human beings have purpose and volition, and act to achieve their aims. And one way to achieve those aims is through cooperation with others. So there is a “group” thing attached to it, but it is just an outcome of individual human action.

      A very different thing would be to say that the “group” exists and has purpose. That’s collectivist nonsense.

  • No6:

    To Comte, Sunstein, Hudson et al.
    Sieg Heil!

  • FreemonSandlewould:

    The only explanation I have for people like this is that they benefit from the “Ruling Oligarchy” by being mouth pieces.

    If the state / government were such a good thing people would voluntarily join associations just as they do with open source software. But they don’t and that is because government is a scam.

    • rodney:

      If the state / government were such a good thing people would voluntarily join associations

      Yes, exactly. By usurping tasks that were historically accomplished voluntarily in a charitable way by individuals, the State has diminished people’s willingness to help. Contrary to what lefties think, the State tends to make people more selfish, not less.

      This idea was eloquently explained by a great libertarian champion of the 20th century:

      “Heretofore in this country sudden crises of misfortune have been met by a mobilization of social power. In fact (except for certain institutional enterprises like the home for the aged, the lunatic-asylum, city-hospital and county-poorhouse) destitution, unemployment, “depression” and similar ills, have been no concern of the State, but have been relieved by the application of social power. Under Mr. Roosevelt, however, the State assumed this function, publicly announcing the doctrine, brand-new in our history, that the State owes its citizens a living … The effect of this upon the balance between State power and social power is clear, and also its effect of a general indoctrination with the idea that an exercise of social power upon such matters is no longer called for.”

      — “Our Enemy, the State”, Albert Jay Nock

      • Crysangle:

        State negates the persona and breeds dependent miserably incompetent self perpetuating excuses of a human being . I am not sure you could call that a selfish result , no more than suicide would be .

        • rodney:

          … self perpetuating excuses of a human being …

          I have no problem calling it selfish. An excuse-making obsessed human being is inward-looking and exclusively worried about his own little problems.

          Social cooperation through division of labor, honest production and peaceful exchange is the basis of civilization. Anyone looking to reverse this process and to achieve gains through coercion and violence is undermining civilization, so in a certain way you could call it suicide as well.

          I appreciate your point, but I believe it is mostly about semantics.

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