This Working Paper traces the discursive history of the principles of benefit and legitimacy of taxation from the late eighteenth century to the present day. Drawing on the work of scholars from Adam Smith through Richard Musgrave to public choice theorists, it is observed that successful tax states – especially democratic states – seem to depend on both an acceptance by taxpayers of benefits derived under government and a fiscal constitution that limits taxing power. The benefit theory in the context of legitimate government has strengths that are lost if a purely technocratic, narrow economic analysis of public goods is taken. However, both benefit and legitimacy of government are important concepts in the current era of globalisation and fiscal authority, which pose significant challenges to democratic governments. The author argues for a renewed focus on principles of benefit and legitimacy of taxation to fund successful democratic tax states in the global era.