Service is a pervasive blessing of a free-market society — or even a society as cankered with collectivism as ours has become.
Every second of each day, countless acts of service are being rendered. They are performed by auto mechanics and attorneys, doctors and dog groomers, musicians and manicurists; service is given by “sales” associates in our much-maligned retail superstores, by taxi drivers, by convenience store clerks.
Those services are offered in voluntary exchange for money (well, the government-issued simulacrum of the same) on terms that are mutually beneficial to the buyer and seller.
Altruistic service likewise abounds in the United States. It takes place in families, religious communities, private clubs and fraternal organizations, and in the form of spontaneous individual acts of conscience.
To an advocate of “National Service,” however, none of these activities are innately worthwhile. They haven’t been mandated or certified by the State. Thus they are missing the magic ingredient that supposedly makes government “service” morally superior to the private variety: Coercion.
From that perspective, the janitor who cleans up a shopping mall in exchange for a paycheck is to be disdained as someone seeking his own economic benefit, while an AmeriCorps “volunteer” who cleans up a public park in exchange for money extorted from taxpayers at gunpoint is to be celebrated as the embodiment of the Common Good. Yes, they both perform the same function, but only the labor of the latter has been consecrated through the exercise of government coercion.
Contemporary advocates of National Service, whether they admit it or not, seek to install coercion — not commerce or contract — as the organizing principle of the economy. They likewise seek to indoctrinate young Americans in the idea that human needs are best met through social regimentation administered by a supervisory elite. And behind the conceit expressed in the common refrain that National Service teaches a person to serve something “larger than himself” looms the murderous assumption that the individual exists to serve the pleasure of the State.
All of this explains why modern collectivists, from the Jacobins to the Bolsheviks to their disavowed but unmistakable kindred, the Fascists and National Socialists, have made compulsory universal “service” a central pillar of their totalitarian platforms.
The Jacobins fought a civil war against the heroic Vendeans in the effort to impose conscription — for both military service and forced labor — on a recalcitrant population. Decades later, the demand for universal, state-mandated labor and the conscription of “industrial armies” was the eighth plank of the Communist Manifesto.
After the founding of the Soviet regime, Vladimir Lenin insisted that each of its subjects consider himself part of a “great army of free labor” to be used as the Bolshevik oligarchy saw fit. “The generation that is now 15 years old … must arrange all the tasks of their education in such a way that every day, in every city, the young people shall engage in the practical solution of the problems of common labor, even of the smallest, most simple kind,” declared the founding Soviet dictator.
A nearly identical ethic of common servitude was championed by the Fascist regime founded by Benito Mussolini. Fascist theoretician Alfredo Rocco declared: “For Fascism, society is the end, individuals the means, and its whole life consists in using individuals as instruments for its social ends.”
In his 1936 book The Philosophy of Fascism, Mario Palmieri explained that under Mussolini’s variant of quasi-socialist collectivism, “a true, a great spiritual life cannot take place unless the State has risen to a position of pre-eminence in the world of man. The curtailment of liberty thus becomes justified … with this need of raising the State to its rightful position.”
The “rightful position” Palmieri alludes to, of course, is master.
Not many people realize that nearly two decades before Mussolini’s ideological priesthood taught those tenets in Italy, the same gospel of collectivism was being preached in the United States under the reign of the despicable Woodrow Wilson. In fact, there’s a strong case to be made that fascism and national socialism were invented by American collectivists, rather than their counterparts in Italy or Germany.
Bernard Baruch, chairman of Wilson’s War Industries Board (and the son of a German who fled that country to avoid conscription) unflinchingly espoused the concept of state ownership of its subjects in an August 7, 1918 newspaper editorial:
“Every man’s life is at the call of the nation and so must be every man’s property. We are living today in a highly organized state of socialism. The state is all; the individual is of importance only as he contributes to the welfare of the state. His property is his only as the state does not need it. He must hold his life and possessions at the call of the state.”
Responding to those who condemned conscription as a form of impermissible enforced servitude, Baruch assumed that there is some ineffable quality of government that elevates and purifies officially sanctioned slavery.
“Enforced and involuntary service for a private master,” Baruch insisted, “is and has been clearly and repeatedly defined by our Supreme Court as slavery.” But this wasn’t true of those drafted into the military, or into industrial armies through the Wilson regime’s “Work or Fight” program: “A soldier serves the nation directly. There is but one master in the case and that master is America. He serves to profit no one but the country as a whole” — or, more honestly stated, the government ruling the country.
As someone who lusted to impose an austere uniformity upon irrepressibly individualistic Americans, Baruch was sorely disappointed when World War I ended so quickly.
“Had the war gone on another year, our whole civil population would have gradually emerged (as wardrobes and inventories became exhausted) in cheap but serviceable uniform,” he wrote wistfully in his book American Industry in the War, published in 1941 as the Regime in Washington geared up for a second mass bloodletting. “Types of shoes were to be reduced to two or three. The manufacture of pleasure automobiles was to cease.”
Although Baruch and his comrades failed to consummate their desire to transform America into a dull gray collectivist monolith, the former War Commissar could take some satisfaction in knowing that his work was appreciated abroad.
Writing of Germany’s National Socialist regime, Baruch proudly noted: “German military experts have said, u2018Except for a few minor changes, the German economic mobilization system was conscientiously built in imitation of the similar American system.’”
Let me repeat, and italicize, that admission:
Bernard Baruch, the architect of Wilson’s wartime collectivist state, was proud that the Nazi regime was using his program of universal conscription as the blueprint for their own totalitarian order.
A few years before Baruch the Malignant was put in charge of the American economy, social philosopher and psychologist William James devised a slightly different framework for universal slavery. In a 1910 essay of the same name, James introduced a concept that has since become an exceptionally tiresome rhetorical trope: “The Moral Equivalent of War.”
As a self-described pacifist, James sought to extract “the higher aspects of military sentiment” from the “bestial side of the war-regime.” Like many social engineers who write with extended pinky fingers, James found that there was something about the regimentation and pageantry of militarism that stirred his loins. He mused that there must be some way to preserve the collectivist advantages of war, without all of that icky bloodshed.
Why not have “a conscription of the whole youthful [male] population to form for a certain number of years a part of the army enlisted against Nature,” wrote James, using the term to describe both the physical challenges of a country that was still part wilderness, and those elements of youthful human nature James found disagreeable.
“To coal and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dish-washing, clothes-washing, and window-washing, to road-building and tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes, and to the frames of skyscrapers, would our gilded youths be drafted off, according to their choice, to get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas,” wrote James. “They would have paid their blood-tax*…. Such a conscription, with the state of public opinion that would have required it, and the many moral fruits it would bear, would preserve in the midst of a pacific civilization the manly virtues which the military party is so afraid of seeing disappear in peace.”
Once again, young men perform all of the various kinds of “service” referred to by James — as employees or even as business owners.
But this won’t do. Only conscripted service will accomplish what he, like other statists, desired: Teach the youngster to put the State at the center of his life, impressing upon him the idea that he belongs to the State, and that anything he has can be demanded of him by the State at any time. Just as importantly, it would preserve the chief “benefit” of war by imposing quasi-military regimentation on young Americans during peacetime.
Roughly a century later, Time’s Richard Stengel dumbed down and reheated William James’s proposal in “A Time to Serve,” an essay he published in his little magazine roughly a year ago.
“It may seem like a strange moment to make the case for national service for young Americans when so many are already doing so much,” writes Stengel. “Young men and women have made their patriotism all to real by volunteering to fight two wars on foreign soil. But we have battlefields in America, too — particularly in education and health care — and the commitment of soldiers abroad has left others yearning to make a parallel commitment here at home.”
Two elements of this paragraph shriek out for a response.
First, Stengel identifies education and health care as two areas desperately in need of help. This isn’t surprising, given the amount of government involvement in those two fields. This illustrates one of the nastiest hidden aspects of the “National Service” concept: Government creates or exacerbates social problems through corrupt intervention, and then forces people to work for free on behalf of a government-mandated “solution.”
Secondly, young people face no impediments should they feel a calling to help clean up the government-created messes in education or health care, or to offer uncompensated service for any other cause. Stengel’s disingenuous language about a national service program being a boon to those who want to make a “commitment” of that kind is a variant on a familiar theme — the idea that conscription would “give youngsters an opportunity to serve,” as if such opportunities didn’t exist.
Young people face no shortage of opportunities to enlist in the military, or in any of the numerous government-created “service” organizations. The real intent is to reduce their opportunities by forcing them to serve.
Stengel, a co-chairman of the elitist pro-servitude lobby Service Nation, proposes that Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 be required to spend at least one year in “national or military service.” This wouldn’t be “mandatory,” he insists, because in his scheme it would be the taxpayers who are coerced: “Every time an American baby is born, the Federal Government would invest $5,000 in that child’s name in a 529-type fund [a college savings account]…. At a rate of return of 7% — the historic return for equities — that money would total roughly $19,000 by the time that baby reaches age 19.” The money would be released after the youngster has paid the “blood tax” of national service.
Stengel’s proposal is just one version of what has become the semi-official template for a new conscription program: Various proposals are circulating in which a year or more of “national or military service” would be required of young Americans as a condition of college admission, or financial aid for college.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York), who has sponsored legislation to reinstate the military draft based on that concept, has pointed out that although young people could request domestic assignments of various kinds, the final decision as to where the subjects would serve would be made by their masters: “[I]t would seem to me that … you bring everybody in, and then you determine what can you do with them, what contribution can they make?… We can train people to do these non-military jobs. They can go overseas. They can stay here. They could be the eyes and ears.”
Those who volunteer for military service today have no control over how or where they serve, and find that the government reserves the power to redefine its service contract at whim. Why should we believe that a universal mandatory service program would operate any differently?
This September 11—12, Service Nation will hold a two-day summit in New York City to inaugurate a year-long campaign to enact a mandatory universal service program. Organizers anticipate the involvement of both John McCain and Barack Obama, who represent complementary halves of the mandatory service concept.
The notoriously bellicose McCain lusts for the manpower necessary to carry out various wars and foreign occupations that would last for generations.
Barack the Blessed (we pause now for a moment of chastened reverence) has proposed the creation of a “civilian national security force” that would be “just as powerful, just as strong” as the military. And like all advocates of government-administered “service,” Obama believes that “volunteering” works best when it is mandatory under penalty of law.
His wife Michelle — who once ordered people in an economically depressed Ohio community to eschew lucrative corporate employment and instead serve as instruments of the State — has predicted that as ruler Obama will “demand that you shed your cynicism . . . That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual …..”(Emphasis added.)
Whether it takes the form of a military draft, or the creation of huge armies of state-supervised “free labor,” National Service is designed to make the State the central focus in the life of every individual. It is a perverse political sacrament intended to compel subjects to seek first the good of the State and its supposed righteousness.
Rather than catechizing them in collectivism, young people desperately need to be taught that the only genuine public service is that which takes place through commerce and contract, rather than coercion. They should be helped to understand that a youngster who flips hamburgers or mows laws in exchange for a private paycheck is performing a socially useful service immeasurably superior to the purported “service” performed by tax-subsidized drones.
They should be instructed to despise the State and oppose all of its works and pomps — its fraudulent currency, its fictional reserve banking system, its wars both domestic and foreign. They should be raised to see the State for what it is: The grand impediment to all genuine social progress and the greatest source of needless death and misery in human history.
*To anyone possessed of so much as a whisper of historical perspective, the phrase “blood tax” has a chilling resonance: That expression originally referred to the practice of the Ottoman Turks of stealing young Christian boys, forcibly indoctrinating them in Islam, and deploying them as Janissaries — occupation forces and tax collectors for the Sultan.