The IRS: An All Powerful Sovereign (of sorts)

As we approach Election Day the American public is focused on midterm races that can potentially swing the Senate into the hands of the Republicans, giving them control over both houses of Congress. What people are not focused on actually , and has been fading out of people’s minds for a while now, is the IRS scandal that made media headlines only a year ago. The reason I bring this up is because in my political

The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

theory class, we recently read parts of Thomas Hobbes The Leviathan. In The Leviathan, Hobbes sets forth three laws of nature. I find the third law, which says man should establish covenants and keep them, to be very applicable to the IRS scandal.

For those of you don’t remember, in May of 2013 the IRS released a report which detailed how the agency had picked out and targeted Tea Party and conservative groups which were applying for tax exempt status. What followed was internal agency reviews along with House and Senate investigations which dragged out for months. In front of the House investigation, IRS official Lois Lerner even exercised the

IRS Official Lois Lerner testifying before Congress


Fifth Amendment when she refused to answer the questions of the committee. There is much more that I could go into, but this is the general background. What really struck me was how in essence, the IRS broke their covenant with the American people. A quick visit to the IRS website provides the IRS mission statement, “Provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.” I think it is fair to say they missed the mark on the last part. Fairness to all means not targeting political groups, and integrity means not trying to cover it up after you’re discovered. The public is in a covenant with the government: it performs its duties and we perform ours. Hobbes argues that without covenants man can do as he pleases, and no concept of justice can exist. But when covenants are made, the very definition of injustice is the breaking of said covenants. The IRS violated the rights of American citizens and thereby violated its covenant with them, committing a grave injustice. It demonstrated clear abuse of power. I find it rather ironic that a government agency broke its covenant with the people when it is the government itself that is supposed to help enforce covenants between people. While not an all powerful sovereign like Hobbes advocated, our government still acts a power which through various mean (the legal system and the police) ensures that citizens uphold agreements between themselves and institutions (like the government).

My question is how long before we see some other government agency engulfed in a scandal which cuts one more hole in the blanket of trust the American people have for their government.


One thought on “The IRS: An All Powerful Sovereign (of sorts)

  1. The government seems to be a bit fraudulent at times; perhaps that word is a little bit too extreme, but there have been plenty of instances that have given the American people reason to lose trust in their leaders.

    From the Watergate scandal during President Nixon’s administration, to the case with the IRS described above, the government seems to have had a number of instances in which the trust of the American people has been jeapordized.

    Eventually, there will be, enough “holes in the blanket of trust” that it will be a challenge to regain the trust of the American people.


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