There Is No Such Thing as Treason
“Treason” is quickly becoming a favorite word among Washington politicos and their media allies. One need not look hard to find countless examples. For example, a late-night talk show host called the January 6 Capitol riot the “treason finale” of the Trump era. A Washington Post columnist concludes “the founders” would have “denounced it as treason.” The Mayor of New York says Trump is guilty of “treason” for his supposed role in the riot.
What is perhaps surprising about the use of the word this time around is that it’s being used by the Left against adversaries in the Right. Usually, it’s the other way around. During the second half of the twentieth century, it was not particularly unusual to hear rightwing Cold Warriors denounce as traitors those who were allegedly too soft on their communist enemies. Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, among others, has long referred to leftwing adversaries as the “Treason Lobby.” It’s an old conservative trope, and I suspect that the irony of using the term against Trump-supporting conservatives is not lost on the Leftists who employ it.1 We can see this tactic’s effectiveness in the fact so many Republican and conservative politicians have rushed to distance themselves from the riot on the grounds that it constitutes treason, or that it violated the state’s “sacred” property. By the Right’s own criteria—which tends to stress reverence for government institutions and buildings—the riot was a violation.2
The “Social Contract” and the Treason Myth
The truth, however, is that the use of the term—regardless of who is using it—has always been maudlin and founded on falsehoods. Terms like “treason” and “traitor” perpetuate the myth that Americans owe something to the regime, or that the regime’s coercive monopoly is somehow based on a free and voluntary agreement—an imaginary “social contract”—between the regime and those who live under it.
None of this is true. As shown by Lysander Spooner in his 1867 essay “No Treason,” Americans are not morally bound by the US Constitution or its agents. The relationship between the average American and the US government is not a contractual one. At best, the constitution was only ever a contract between the those who ratified it, and the regime. Those people are now all dead.
For Spooner, unless a person gives explicit consent and approval of the constitution and its notions of treason (among other notions) then a person cannot be said to be any sort of traitor:
Clearly this individual consent is indispensable to the idea of treason; for if a man has never consented or agreed to support a government, he breaks no faith in refusing to support it. And if he makes war upon it, he does so as an open enemy, and not as a traitor that is, as a betrayer, or treacherous friend.
Nor would resistance to a regime constitute treason even if the
Article from Mises Wire