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A Treatise of Taxes & Contributions

By William Petty, 1662

Critique by Punkerslut

From RadicalGraphics.org
Image: From "Religion" Gallery from RadicalGraphics.org

Start Date: July 6, 2003
Finish Date: July 7, 2003


     William Petty was a political economist of the 1600's, who wrote his ideas on economy long before Adam Smith published his "Wealth of Nations." Though Petty's ideas are certainly not as developed as Smith's, or even developed in similar manner, there is some merit to Petty's works. In this work, Petty describes the various methods of tax collection (or government contributions). He also analyzes the various merits and problems that come with instituting each sort of tax. It was his purpose, as he describes himself in the Preface, to write on a subject that aided in the development and advancement of the British government. In particular, he hoped it would aid in the suppression of rebellions in Ireland. However, in this work, we find that he lets his prejudices grab hold of his reasoning powers. I am, partly, skeptical in whether this work is worth criticizing. Mainly, because the arguments which I am about to criticize were partly common in those days (but alas, the Freethinkers of those times would have ardently disagreed with Petty's arguments). The prejudice which Petty allows to grab ahold of his reasoning powers is that of religion. Not only is he opposed to tolerance, but he was opposed to a separation of state and church...


7. A third branch of the Publick Charge is, that of the Pastorage of mens Souls, and the guidance of their Consciences; which, one would think (because it respects another world, and but the particular interest of each man there) should not be a publick Charge in this: Nevertheless, if we consider how easie it is to elude the Laws of man, to commit unproveable crimes, to corrupt and divert Testimonies, to wrest the sense and meaning of the Laws, etc. there follows a necessity of contributing towards a publick Charge, wherewith to have men instructed in the Laws of God, that take notice of evil thoughts and designs, and much more of secret deeds, and that punisheth eternally in another world, what man can but slightly chastise in this. [Chapter 1]


11. The causes of Civil Wars here in Europe proceed very much from Religion, viz. the punishing of Believers heterodox from the Authorized way, in publike and open places, before great multitudes of ignorant people, with loss of life, liberty, and limbs, rather then by well proportioned tolerable pecuniary mulcts, such as every conscientious Non-Conformist would gladly pay, and Hypocrites by refusing, discover themselves to be such. [Chapter 2]


And this with Catechizing, and Extra-Lectures upon the Week-dayes, would perform as much as now is performed, and as much as by the blessing of God is necessary to salvation; for the yoak of Christ is easie and his burthen light. [Chapter 2]


The usual Penalties are Death, Mutilations, Imprisonment, Publick disgrace, Corporal transient pains, and great Tortures, besides the Pecuniary Mulcts. Of which last we shall most insist, speaking of the others but in order to examine whether they may not be comuted for these.

There be some certain Crimes, for which the Law of God appoints death; and these must be punished with it, unless we say that those were but the Civil Laws of the Jewish Commonwealth, although given by God himself; of which opinion certainly most modern States are, in as much as they punish not Adulteries, etc. with death, as among the Jewes, and yet punish small Thefts with Death instead of multiple reparation. [Chapter 10]


...no opinion can be more dangerous, then to disbelieve the immortality of the Soul, as rendring men a beast, and without conscience, or fear of committing any evil, if he can but elude the penaltie of humane Laws made against it, and letting men loose to all evil thoughts and designs whereof man can take no notice: Now I say that even this Misbeliever may be adaequately punished if he be kept as a beast, be propietor of nothing, as making no consicence how he gets; be never admitted in Evidence or Testimony, as under no obligation to speak truth; be excluded all Honours and Offices, as caring onely for himself, not the protecting of others; and be withall kept to extream bodily labour, the profit whereof to the State is the pecuniary Mulct we speak of, though the greatest. [Chapter 11]

     These are some of the quotes of William Petty where he argues that the government ought to be involved with religion. As side from that, he agrees that lack of belief in immortality ought to be punished with a life equaled to slavery. His ideas stem only from his time. His mind was ready to accept and believe what he was taught, what his heart had no knowledge of. I know that Petty was well aware of the brutality given to convicted persons, as he described how they were often times amputated or killed, sometimes in private, sometimes in public. And he argued against this brutality. This sort of response by the state to a criminal, he wrote, was harmful to the state and society. The government would be benefited if criminals were turned into slaves. It was not on humane, or compassionate, grounds, that he argued for the rights of prisoners. Rather, it was an appeal to the self-interest of the government. It was the same sense of vengeance, brutality, and inhumanity which the state had justified murdering criminals that Petty argued with to convince the state to enslave them. However, the purpose of this critique is Petty's promotion of a Theocratic state, where heretics are punished, or even enslaved.

     Even in Petty's time, he must have known that there were a great deal of heretics who were humane. Giordano Bruno, who had died only 62 years before the writing of Petty's work, was burned at the stake for his own blasphemy. He refused to accept what he knew was wrong, his mind could not disagree with what his heart felt, he believed in compassion and not faith. Though the pinnacle of heresy, he was humane, gentle, and kind. Epicurus doubted the existence of divinity, but he still was fair and kind with all who he encountered. Lucretius, author of "On the Nature of Things," wrote in a manner that would convince any reader, that this author was sympathetic, warm, rational, and friendly. These are but a few examples which existed at the time of Petty, of thinkers who opposed the church -- of thinkers without religion, who held the virtues worthy for us to make them our heroes, who held the strength and boldness of character to sacrifice so that our lives today would not be so hard. As time would unfold, as orthodoxy would slowly slip away from the position it once held in society, reformers and revolutionaries would come about, who would question the existing society. Mary Wollstonecraft, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, all of whom doubted the authenticity of the doctrine of immortality, and yet every one of these thinkers opposed the subjection of women. Elizur Wright, Robert Green Ingersoll, and Percival Bysshe Shelley opposed the subjection of women and of Africans, and yet they doubted the immortality of the soul. Mark Twain, Karl Marx, and Denis Diderot all stood defiant against the chains used to bondage Africans, against the social creeds used to bondage women. There is rarely a thinker who has fought for some social cause who has not expressed their disappointment with the religious books, with the idea of immortality or an afterlife -- because, it is quite common, that these religious books are used to justify every evil in human society. But more than just that, a thinker who sees the flaws in what they are taught about in the inferiority of women or Africans, will often see the flaws of a religion which has no foundation but ignorance.

     Besides the existence of thinkers and lovers -- who cherished affection and duty more than any interest, whose interest lay with bettering the condition of those who are mortal than paying homage to those who are immortal -- besides the existence of these individuals, there whole societies which were heretical, but humane. For instance, the idea of the immortality of the soul arose with civilization, and the consequent rise of religion -- which is to say, the rise of postulations on a life hereafter. In Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, a certain degree of skepticism of religious claims prevailed. There are countless Greek thinkers who argued that the existence of the gods cannot be known. These confessions of doubt are expressed through plays. And we must be led to believe, that these thinkers must represent a certain population of Greece. But, with this doubt and skepticism, was Greece a ravaged city-state, full of vice, misery, and brutality? Were the inhabitants particularly cruel to one another, and even moreso to outsiders? Were they thoughtless, ignorant, barbaric, and without any understanding of hope or kindness? It is not true. Consider also, the millions who constitute the Buddhist religion and the countries in which they live. They do not believe in the existence of a god. Yet are those nations full of war and crime? The history books will tell us that it was the Christian Europeans who visited these nations, bringing famine and plague, by using the Mercantile system. It was not the lack of belief in an afterlife which brought want and misery to these nations, but rather, it was those who represented the belief in an afterlife. I have also known many Jews who do not believe in the existence of an afterlife, but only in the existence of a god. And besides, are we to believe that every human being prior to the rise of religion, was brutal, heartless, and merciless? Christianity has been around only for several thousand years. What can be said of the hundreds of thousands of years, where mankind had no understanding of an afterlife, whose religion consisted of simple superstitions? Can a person, knowing full well that the greater part of their ancestors did not believe in immortality, condemn all of them as brutes: heartless, merciless, and thoughtless.

     There have been countless thinkers who are humane, but without belief of the immortality of the soul. And there have been thousands of societies that suffer neither from want, misery, or crime, but have no such conception of immortality. What existed, though, at the time of Petty, was a great deal of thinkers who were inhumane in their actions, but still believed in the idea of immortality. I must concur that the greater part of Europe was of the Christian faith. The skeptics and philosophers still doubted this creed, and they existed -- more or less -- in small pockets in European nations. It was in these small circles that people stopped praying and began thinking, where they stopped living for an afterlife and began living for today. Happiness was praised as the only good and suffering the only evil. All religious codes were recognized as bunk and useless. It was here, that science began. As side from the small population of skeptics, almost everyone was a Christian. And what's more? Everyone condoned the subjection of women. Everyone condoned the slavery of the African. John Calvin and the Calvinists believed in the doctrine of eternal life, and yet they regarded every smile as a sign of sin, every laugh as a sign of blasphemy -- every grimace as a sign of piety, every tear as the omen of repentance. Were they without understanding of an afterlife? Quite the contrary! Every moment of their life was lived for the sole sake of obtaining an afterlife, and by this, they smothered the natural emotions of their heart, they destroyed every reasoning faculty of their minds, and when a disagreement arose, they employed embers and a stake. They were taught that the only way to obtain immortality was through cruel and heartless actions, and through this belief, they became the most notorious sect of Christianity. If Petty is correct in his assertion, that there is nothing more dangerous than lack of belief in immortality, then what would he say to the full-fledged belief of the Calvinists, and their complete lack of decency for the heart and the mind?

     By understanding several examples of history, we can see why Petty's claims are incorrect. We see heretical thinkers who are humane, heretical societies who are humane, orthodox thinkers who are inhumane, and the orthodox societies they from which are also inhumane. By these four observations, we can see that Petty's arguments are inconsistent with these observations.


     To those matters discussed by William Petty which are political and economic, I cannot offer a great deal of objection. His proposed methods of taxation I would agree with, more or less, to a certain extent. Of course, it is not only the method, but the situation to which it is applied to, which can determine its success. In regards to the rebellions of Ireland, I must say that my answer is quite simple, as I have stated numerous times before. I am an Anarchist. I believe that every region is to have political autonomy. So the American colonies united and rebelled against English rule, as did the Indian colonies, as the South American colonies fought against Spain, as the Vietnamese colony fought against the French, as countless African colonies fought against their English oppressors, as Cuba, Grenada, Haiti, and Nicaragua have all fought against recent Imperialism by the United States -- I believe every one of these revolutions was just, and so are the Irish revolutions when they seek their own right to governing themselves. As side from Petty's arguments against tolerance, and against political autonomy, there is little else in this piece which I feel worth criticizing.


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