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SILENCE: The Ultimate Protector of Individual Rights


Rational logic condemns the initiation of force against peaceful people. Furthermore, rational logic holds that the State is inherently and necessarily an invasive institution, whose employees must eventually initiate aggression. A government whose employees were not prepared to use force would soon cease being a government because people would have the option of whether to support it or not. Faced with the loss of patronage and/or financial support, the State would have only two choices: either coerce people into paying up or restrict its services to those who voluntarily agreed to deal with it. Both history and theory tell us that this never has and probably never will occur. Government employees are the only group of people in society who regularly and routinely use physical force or its threat to collect funds to sustain themselves. To the conscientious rational thinker it makes no difference how government employees spend the money they coercively collect. What does matter is the invasive nature of the taxation process; that it relies on coercion. The very fact that government employees must resort to force proves that their "services" are unwanted.

Thus when a person sets out to offer witness to his or her conscientiously held beliefs against irrational regulations, conscription, taxation, and other aspects of government, it is inevitable that, at some point, the government will initiate aggression against him or her.[ 1 ] Thus, the only conscientious way to withdraw one's sanction from the system is by a peaceful but total refusal to cooperate. Eventually, government agents must confront the noncooperator and demand cooperation. At that point, noncooperation means standing silent before one's accusers, offering the government no information about one's private self and refusing to take any positive actions which could be construed as participation in an invasive system. Other than stating one's conscientious convictions, elaborating one's view would do nothing. In a word, one would remain silent and refuse to offer testimony (i.e., bear witness) against oneself. Effectively, such a procedure would place the burden of proof on the government to prove that one owed them any duty to cooperate and place them in a position of having to initiate aggression in an attempt to force one to cooperate. The government would be left with two alternatives if they could not coerce cooperation: to either wrongly imprison an innocent person or to cease their harassment altogether.

The right not to be compelled to be a witness against oneself has a long and rich history. Although it is commonly referred to as the privilege or right against self-incrimination, our forebears commonly discussed it in terms of the right of a person not to be a witness against himself, or of a right of silence, or of the right against self-accusation. History exalts this right because it gained acceptance long before a whole host of other freedoms and procedural rights. It preceded the freedoms of speech, press, and religion and is older than the immunities against bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, and unreasonable searches and seizures.


The purpose of this document is twofold. The first is to examine, historically, how and in what situations individuals have asserted the right to remain silent. The second is to determine why the right of silence is such an important right, why its manifestation is an important part of the self-ownership principle. Self-ownership includes the right not to expose oneself to the loss of life or property by self-accusation. Knowledge of the history and significance of this right will enhance respect for those who have and those who continue to bear witness for silence.


[ 1 ] The idea of conscientious objection against taxation probably originated in the 19th Century tax protests of Amos Bronson Alcott, Charles Lane, and Henry David Thoreau. See the discussion of their history in Charles Lane, A Voluntary Political Government, (Compiled and with an introduction by Carl Watner,) St. Paul: Michael E. Coughlin, Publisher, 1982.

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