Rendering Caesar

 | 

At first glance, it will appear to the reader that my title omits the word “unto.” The omission was intentional. There’s no “unto,” because my view of the familiar gospel story (Matthew 22:15–22) is unconventional. For most of my life, I read it in the way everybody else does. But although my religious convictions have changed little since early adulthood, I now see that story in an entirely different light, because of the change my politics have undergone.

The meaning I see: was it there all along? Purists may claim that I made it up, but I wonder. The feeling usually derived from the story is that Jesus was a crafty guy, because he really punked those Pharisees. I have a hunch that Jesus was even craftier than we realize.

For the scripturally uninitiated, some self-righteous types came to Jesus asking whether it was indeed lawful to pay taxes to Rome. They were always trying to trap him, and this time they really thought they had him in the bag. As the people of Palestine were subjects of the empire, they were forced to pay taxes to it. But the Jewish people regarded their overlords as tyrants, and cherished the dream of one day overthrowing them. As a rabbi, if Jesus were to say that these taxes were the empire’s due, he would stir up a hornet’s nest of resentment.

Government produces absolutely nothing. It creates nothing. One can pretty persuasively argue that it contributes nothing that could not be better supplied by another source.

“Show me a coin,” Jesus tells his inquisitors. When they produce one, he asks them whose picture is on it. Of course they say it is Caesar’s. To which he responds, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” They went away disappointed, and perhaps a bit awed. Jesus had really gotten out of that one!

My purpose in retelling this story is not to force religion on anybody. My point isn’t particularly religious, but in my retelling of this story, it does have a moral, just not the one usually supplied.

From the time the gospels began to be circulated to the present day, the moral that has been understood is that there are some things that belong to us, and others that belong to the government. But it is precisely this moral that I wish to challenge. As a matter of fact, I challenge the very notion that government rightfully owns anything.

In truth, government produces absolutely nothing. It creates nothing. One can pretty persuasively argue that it contributes nothing that could not be better supplied by another source. Everything it gets its hands on, it has taken from us. Or from whatever other nation it has plundered, or from which it has demanded tribute.

How, then, can government legitimately be said to “own” anything? It doesn’t earn; it simply takes. From others. Whether they want to give it or not. And for all that it takes, it gives astonishingly little in return.

Because I’m both a Christian and a libertarian, I’m sometimes accused of hypocrisy. How can I believe that taxation is theft, when — for crying out loud — Jesus himself told us to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”? Whenever people remind me of this, they give me a smug smile, certain that they’ve punked me.

I used to get frustrated by this. But not so fast. Having now deeply considered the matter, I see the other side of the coin.

Jesus didn’t specify exactly what belonged to Caesar and what belonged to God. Technically, he never really answered the Pharisees’ question. That aspect of the story almost always goes unnoticed. Actually he left us considerable leeway in deciding that for ourselves.

Yes, he minted the money and put his picture on it. But he took the metal from lands he’d taken from the people, extracted from the earth not by the sweat of his own brow but by theirs.

Do we owe that coin to Caesar? Or do we “owe” Caesar anything at all? Those who call themselves “progressives” love to tell us that “we are the government.” If that is true — and I think that when they say it, understanding government as they do, it is the hollowest of lies — then where did “Caesar” get it in the first place? He neither made it, created it, nor earned it; he simply pulled out a sword and took it.

Yes, he minted the money and put his picture on it. But he took the metal from lands he’d taken from the people, extracted from the earth not by the sweat of his own brow but by theirs. They didn’t want his picture on their money; he told them they would use that money or die for treason. Then he forced them to give up a crushingly sizable portion of the money they had earned — by the sweat of their brows — and give it to him. No part of how Caesar came about that coin was sanctioned by the law of the God they worshiped.

“I came not to destroy the Law,” said Jesus elsewhere in Scripture, “but to fulfill it.” Again, not to force religion on anybody, but even those who have no religion have a conscience that says what belongs to one may not be forcibly taken by another. Caesar owns nothing at all, beyond, perhaps, the image on “his” coin.

Were many, many more of us to recognize that fact, we could render Caesar powerless to demand anything from us at the point of a sword. We’d tell him what we wanted, and he would do it — because he’d serve us instead of the other way around. Every shekel and widow’s mite in this country belongs to us — the people who created it, worked for it, and rightfully earned it. It’s time for a reassessment of who owns what. And of who owes what unto whom.




Share This


The Liberty Dollar: An Update

 | 

Bernard von NotHaus, creator of the Liberty Dollar, was convicted in federal court in Statesville, N.C., on March 18. The Justice Department said he was found guilty — not of counterfeiting or of fraud, neither of which he was accused of, but “of making coins resembling and similar to United States coins; of issuing, passing, selling, and possessing Liberty Dollar coins; of issuing and passing Liberty Dollar coins intended for use as current money; and of conspiracy against the United States.”

Readers of this story in Liberty (“Attack on the Liberty Dollar,” March 2008) would have had little doubt of the outcome. The federal code, 8 U.S.C. 486, says:

“Whoever, except as authorized by law, makes or utters or passes, or attempts to utter or pass, any coins of gold or silver or other metal, or alloys of metals, intended for use as current money, whether in the resemblance of coins of the United States or of foreign countries, or of original design, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

Von NotHaus always asserted that Liberty Dollars were lawful, arguing that the Constitution’s grant of power to Congress to coin money was not exclusive; that in the 1800s private mints were allowed to issue precious-metal currency, and that Liberty Dollars were not “coins” because they were not legal tender. Given the law cited above, none of these arguments was likely to persuade a federal court. In that sense von NotHaus was much like the tax protesters who argue that the federal income tax is illegal, or unconstitutional, or that it’s voluntary, and who try to win their arguments by asserting in a louder voice and a higher tone that they are right. These people invariably lose. It takes a while, because the government is slow, but it eventually gets them.

In announcing its victory, the Justice Department made its own political statements. According to US Attorney Anne Tompkins, “attempts to undermine the legitimate currency of this country are simply a unique form of domestic terrorism. While these forms of anti-government activities do not involve violence, they are every bit as insidious and represent a clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country. We are determined to meet these threats through infiltration, disruption and dismantling of organizations which seek to challenge the legitimacy of our democratic form of government.”

Trying to trade a privately minted coin of 999 fine silver for goods or services is hardly terrorism. Who would be terrified by it?

Liberty Dollars were indeed an attempt to undermine the public’s faith in US dollars, but they were never a “clear and present danger” to the Treasury, because no bank ever accepted them, and under the regulated system we have, no bank was ever going to accept them.

Von NotHaus’ organization was an economic venture set up to earn money — US-dollar money. It could sell Liberty Dollars at a profit into the collectible market, because the coins are beautiful and are of pure metal, and because of the political statement they make. (Several versions replace Miss Liberty with the head of Rep. Ron Paul.) But as a circulating currency, the Liberty Dollar was a failure. Probably it had the most success around Asheville, NC, where it had a diligent agent who is now facing prosecution as well. But he made such a poor living at it that he had to give up his storefront and operate out of his house.

The Liberty Dollar was a political act, a statement by a libertarian that he would offer the people a currency of valuable metal, now that the Treasury no longer did. Von NotHaus said as much, and he ambitiously named his company the National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve and Internal Revenue Code. He did this openly. An act of civil disobedience? Yes. But a conspiracy? My dictionary defines conspiracy as “a secret plan to commit a crime or do harm, often for political ends.” There was nothing secret about the Liberty Dollar. Von NotHaus took as much publicity as he could get.

For all the various counts he has been pronounced guilty of, Von NotHaus, 67, could be sentenced to as many as 25 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The federal government is also asking the court for the 16,000 pounds of copper and silver Liberty Dollars and precious metals it seized, said to be worth nearly $7 million.

As I write, the “buy it now” price on eBay for a 1-ounce 999 silver Liberty dollar denominated at $20 is $50.




Share This
Syndicate content

© Copyright 2017 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.



Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.