That is about as concise and accurate as a definition can be; it leaves no room for argument as to what taxation is. In that statement of fact the word “compulsory” looms large, simply because of its ethical content.
The quick reaction is to question the “right” of the State to this use of power. What sanction, in morals, does the State adduce for the taking of property?
Is its exercise of sovereignty sufficient unto itself?
On this question of morality there are two positions, and never the twain will meet. Those who hold that political institutions stem from “the nature of man,” thus enjoying vicarious divinity, or those who pronounce the State the keystone of social integrations, can find no quarrel with taxation per se; the State’s taking of property is justified by its being or its beneficial office.
On the other hand, those who hold to the primacy of the individual, whose very existence is his claim to inalienable rights, lean to the position that in the compulsory collection of dues and charges the State is merely exercising power, without regard to morals.The present inquiry into taxation begins with the second of these positions.
It is as biased as would be an inquiry starting with the similarly unprovable proposition that the State is either a natural or a socially necessary institution.
Complete objectivity is precluded when an ethical postulate is the major premise of an argument and a discussion of the nature of taxation cannot exclude values.