Refusing to pay taxes, defining the common good

Politics of the common (16th – 19th century)
Tax resistance and ordinary politics in eighteenth century Germany
By Rachel Renault

This paper analyzes practical forms of tax resistance as well as the discourses justifying them in eighteenth century Germany, from the point of view of ordinary tax payers, who were not represented in assemblies of estates. By refusing to pay taxes, they questioned several essential foundations of the Holy German Empire as a political and social body and they attempted to redefine their own place as subjects. Refusing to pay taxes was a way of de facto gaining a right to consent which, beyond taxes, extended to political authority in general. Collective action and calling for transparency, fairness in tax distribution, and consent were ways of becoming involved in financial matters that the authorities were trying to remove from public control. Refusing to pay taxes was thus seen as a condition for the emergence of fragmented and conflictual public spheres and as a way of fighting for the right to define how power prerogatives should be shared.


  • Germany
  • eighteenth Century
  • taxation
  • political culture
  • politicization
  • revolt
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