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The Census and Despotism

February 8, 2010
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
3/27/2000

“There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus,” says St. Luke on why Mary and Joseph found themselves in Bethlehem, “that all the world should be taxed.” Joseph had to go to his own city because the tyrannical Roman government was conducting a census. But the information may have been used for more than just taxation. The Roman government’s local ruler later decided he wanted to find the Christ child and kill Him.

Did the government make use of census data to find out where the members of the House of David were? We can’t know for sure, although a later Roman despot did. But we can know that Joseph made a huge error in obeying the census takers in the first place. They were up to no good. In fact, another group of religious Jews in Judea decided that they would not comply with the Roman government’s demand to count and tax them. The group was known as the “Zealots” (yes, that’s where the word came from). They saw complying with the census as equivalent to submitting to slavery. Many ended up paying for their principled stand with their lives.

And yet, their resistance arguably made would-be tyrants more cautious. For 10 centuries after Constantine, when feudal Europe was broken up into thousands of tiny principalities and jurisdictions, no central government was in a position to collect data on its citizens. This is one of the many great merits of radically decentralized political systems: There is no central power that controls the population through data gathering and population enumeration.

The story continues …..

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