Quote of the moment, still, again: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., on taxes as the price for civilization


It seems we need to keep reminding people of this.

The frequently quotable Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., circa 1930. Edited photograph from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Original photo by Harris & Ewing. LC-USZ62-47817.  Copyright expired.

The frequently quotable Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., circa 1930. Edited photograph from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Original photo by Harris & Ewing. LC-USZ62-47817. Copyright expired.

I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., attributed. (see Felix Frankfurter, Mr. Justice Holmes and the Supreme Court, Harvard University Press, 1961, page 71.)

Did Holmes say that?

The quote was all over the internet in early October 2008 (and later), after New York Times op-ed writer Tom Friedman noted it in his column criticizing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for her assertion that paying taxes is not patriotic.

I found reference to the quote in a book about eminent economists, through Google Scholar:

Eminent Economists: Their Life Philosophies
By Michael Szenberg
Published by Cambridge University Press, 1993
320 pages

On page 201, Szenberg refers Holmes’s view of “taxation as the price of liberty.” In a footnote, he points to Justice Frankfurter’s book. The quote is dolled up a little. According to Szenberg’s footnote:

More precisely, he rebuked a secretary’s query of “Don’t you hate to pay taxes?” with “No, young fellow, I like paying taxes, with them I buy civilization.”

Frankfurter is a reliable source. It’s likely Holmes said something very close to the words Friedman used.

This is mostly an encore post.

Urge others to give a dime and give a damn for civilization:

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7 Responses to Quote of the moment, still, again: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., on taxes as the price for civilization

  1. […] could always refer to that wonderful line from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., about how he liked to pay taxes because “with them I buy civilization.”  But I suspect most tax revolters in the U.S. don’t much like civilization (and they have the […]

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  2. [...] Quote of the moment, still, again: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., on taxes as the price for civilizatio… (timpanogos.wordpress.com) [...]

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  3. Jim says:

    You’re quite correct. I still lurk (but no longer post) on a political message board heavily populated by Libertarians. Even some of the Democrats lean toward Libertarianism in some ways. And yes, some very bright people.

    I have, however, been utterly gobsmacked by the blind faith placed in what I call “the road and bridge fairies” — what others have referred to as “free market pixie dust”. One fellow even suggested that taxation solely for military defense was “theft”. (A lot of them say that’s the only reason we should tax.)

    His proposal…made quite earnestly…was that we finance national defense with an annual telethon.

    Cheers!

    Jim

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  4. Porlock Junior says:

    Golly, thank you!

    Now I’ll have to keep trying to come up with pithy things to say, but they don’t come often.

    BTW it was inspired by daily contact with high-tech Libertarians, one of whom was extremely bright and well-informed on a broad range of things. Don’t let anybody tell you Libertarians are dumb (like Paul Ryan). Some see the world all wrong in very smart ways.

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  5. Jim says:

    Porlock Junior is my new favorite contributor to MFB! Bravo!

    Like

  6. Ed Darrell says:

    That’s good. Five classes . . . I gotta remember that.

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  7. Porlock Junior says:

    My own much clumsier response to the Taxation Is Theft crowd:
    Since the invention of cities, there have been about five classes of people who have traditionally not paid taxes: kings, high priests, highwaymen, barbarians, and the destitute. Which do you aspire to be?

    Of course we know the answer is highwaymen, but those people have so little respect for *property*!

    The high priests are in there to make sure the Objectivists will be duly offended.

    Like

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