The Price of Patriotism …

… is half a million dollars, and dropping fast.

In virtually every country in the world, goodwill towards America has been plummeting for two years. However, the phenomenon is not limited to opinion abroad. Indeed, in terms of the domestic "market price" of patriotism, American goodwill is declining rapidly, especially among American youth. At least, that is what recent U.S. Government military recruiting figures show.

Goodwill, that intangible but all-important line-item that appears on the balance sheet of every private concern in the marketplace, is more difficult to measure when it comes to the government. One can hardly cite budgets or government programs in this regard, since they are financed not by the marketplace, but by tax receipts derived from coercion and the threat of imprisonment for noncompliance. However, as the war in Iraq grinds on, it offers a rare glimpse into market forces and their impact on patriotism — that sum of goodwill, personal devotion, sense of service, and many other elusive, hard-to-quantify elements of citizenship as perceived by the young potential military recruit.

Two recent news stories underscore the issue. First, the Washington Post reports that military recruiters are working night and day to fill the ranks of the U.S. government’s "volunteer forces." In spite of signing bonuses of $20,000.00, there are still not enough enlistees. When asked why recruiting is so tough, military recruiters — not yet graduated from the Karl Rove and Karen Hughes spin school — answer simply and truthfully: "the war."

Second, the Financial Times reports that American mercenaries in Iraq, coyly referred to as "private forces," receive just under half a million dollars per man a year to perform the same duties, and run the same mortal risks, that most U.S. government troops do.

As the war grinds on and troop strength continues to diminish, two options emerge clearly on the horizon. Either the pay received by the "volunteer" forces will continue to rise toward the market value, or involuntary conscription will become the law of the land. A third option — that the war will end and the need for additional troops will subside — has been ruled out by the Bush Administration, in two steps. First, as all the original justifications for the war have proven false, it has incorporated the Iraq invasion into the "war on terror." Second, it has transformed the "war on terror" — already predicted to last fifty years or more — into a permanent military campaign to democratize the world.

That will require more troops — many more troops, perhaps an endless supply. And that brings up an interesting series of theoretical observations.

Thomas Hobbes, the seventeenth-century theoretician of the Leviathan state, perceived all men to be constantly engaged in a "war of all against all." This natural condition of man led to a life that was, famously, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

But Hobbes offered a way out: a "social contract" that would create a society where all would obey every order the Leviathan state, in return for one concession: the promise to the subject of protection by the Leviathan from an untimely death.

The appeal of such a prospect, however, came undone when the Leviathan state went to war. After all, how could the state both protect its citizens from an untimely death and send them into mortal combat? The logic that produced Hobbes’s Leviathan was fatally flawed. But that did not reduce the attraction for Hobbes among would-be tyrants. Hobbes is their hero.

A century later, Jean-Jacques Rousseau brilliantly resolved Hobbes’s dilemma. This father of totalitarian democracy recognized that the citizen might not freely submit to the will of the tyrant. But that did not mean that the tyrant was wrong — no! It was the citizen who was mistaken!

Rousseau dreamed up (for the first time) the notion of a consciousness of the State superior to that of mere mortals, the "General Will" — which only the totalitarian sovereign and his mysterious advisors could interpret. Thus, the individual citizen who resisted the State on the basis of his claim to democratic freedom is mistaken. He has not understood what "true freedom" is. And Rousseau gave us that timeless slogan of ideological empire: the citizen "must be forced to be free." Hobbes’s Leviathan not only survives in Rousseau, but is made impregnable.

Thus Rousseau and Hobbes together supply the ideological jiu-jitsu required to enslave a "free" people. Which is exactly why our Founders rejected "democracy" and the entire revolutionary tradition that culminated in Robespierre and the 24-hour-a-day pounding tyrannical rhythm of the guillotine.

America’s Founding Fathers recognized the entire democratic charade as the nightmare of power-hungry madmen. They embraced instead the notion of a national government with strictly limited powers, where the voice of the states and of the people commanded the government, and not vice-versa. With regard to war, the Founders sided with Augustine and the Just War theory that had reigned in Christendom for a millennium and more. Peace, said Augustine, is the natural state of man. Even wars are fought to achieve peace. And society is not the artificial construct of Hobbes, a construct wrought from the feverish reveries of ideologues, but a peaceful reflection of "The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God."

In light of this background, the collision course between twenty-first century imperialism and "The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God" of America’s Founders becomes clear. Increasingly, the American population is turning against the war. In a traditional democracy, where the people rule, that judgment would eventually lead to disengagement and peace.

But not in Rousseau’s totalitarian democracy. There, instead of heeding the will of the people (Rousseau derisively called it "the will of all"), the Sovereign imposes the "General Will" — his ideological vision of what is good for them. And then, logically, "they must be forced to be free," and they are conscripted and sent into mortal combat. Thus Hobbes’s fallacy is felicitously resolved in totalitarian democracy.

Of course, the Leviathan state can also conjure up the lure of battle, by appealing to passions both high and low. Such "virtues" as patriotism and duty come to mind. But war also offers endless indulgence for the lust for power over one’s equal, the Hobbesian state of nature where everyone can kill everyone else without any moral compunction to restrain him (indeed, moral behavior will only guarantee his early death).

So the Hobbesian state of nature re-emerges, arrayed in all its glory, in war. The conscript and the mercenary are equally free to shoot to kill on any target, civilian or military, without restraint, because of their right to self-preservation. Whether the victim is a combatant or not is immaterial to Hobbes and Rousseau — but not to the Christian, or to the American Founders. (In an interesting aside, the Times notes that, while mercenaries are paid $450,000 per year, the price they must pay — if they are caught — to the family for killing an innocent civilian is approximately $2,500.00)

For Augustine, wars are fought to restore peace. Augustine’s Just War theory reigned in the West — in Christendom — for 1500 years. But Augustine could not imagine the diabolical dimension of the ideological wars of the XX and XXI centuries. (The ironic aspect invites further inspection: while America opposed "godless communism" in the Cold War, it is now "Dispensationalism," an esoteric and uniquely American branch of evangelical Christianity, that provides the religious impulse for today’s permanent-war imperialism. And, in another ironic twist, conscription will target exactly the population that Bush is trying to attract with his Social Security "reforms.").

Market forces appear to reflect a sharp rise in the cost of securing sufficient troops for the U.S. government armed forces. This rising price not only reflects a decline in the value of the dollar, but a decline in the value of "goodwill" — patriotism, duty, and the rest — in the marketplace for potential recruits — the young people of America. The "goodwill gap" must be made up in hard cash — or replaced by coercion.

The rising demand for troops invites a closer look at the two alternatives. The first — the market — is unlikely to provide the necessary manpower. As the value of patriotic "goodwill" declines even further, the bonus and pay formulae would have to approach the price of $450,000.00 per man per year already paid in the market — to the mercenary forces now serving by the thousands in Iraq.

The only alternative is the draft. What the free market and natural law (which since Augustine has consistently recognized love of country and goodwill towards one’s neighbors) cannot provide must be supplied by coercion — involuntary servitude of the youth who refuse to buy into the flag-waving happy-talk endless wars of the Leviathan state.

Of course, this scenario reveals the profound contradiction between the symbolic language of "democracy" that the U.S. government uses to justify its wars. That should not come as a surprise, since contradiction was central to Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology. Indeed, "democracy" as a political symbol is so empty of content that it can be invoked with equal ease as a slogan to refer either to the American founding (although the Founders loathed democracy as tyranny) or to the "Democratic Republic of North Korea."

"Words, words, words," said Liza Doolittle. But the market cannot lie. And, as the market value of patriotism plummets, so too does our country, towards conscription and the sovereign rule of the Leviathan.

At that point, the principles and traditions of Christendom and the Founding Fathers will be laid to rest by the totalitarian heirs of Hobbes, Rousseau, and Lenin.

And the future conscripts? "They must be forced to be free."

May they rest in peace.