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 National Service 

November 11, 2003

New York leads the country again, paying $141 per thousand dollars of personal income in state and local taxes. This is 72 per cent more than the national average, according to a new Citizens Budget Commission study.

New York has been traditionally liberal — meaning, in practice, that it has been dominated by rapacious pressure groups, each seeking to live off the taxpayer. It illustrates Frédéric Bastiat’s description of government as the system through which everyone attempts to live at the expense of everyone else.

Even if your self-respect prevents you from being part of the greedy “everyone,” you have no choice about being part of the victimized “everyone else.” The government owns you. In principle there is no limit to how much of your earnings it may claim.

And even here, in the Land of the Free, lots of people like it that way. They don’t call themselves Communists or Fascists, but they accept the basic premise of collectivism: that government should have as much power as possible over the individual. Millions of people depend on the taxing of their fellow citizens for their income, jobs, medical care, and other benefits. So the taxpayer spends several months a year working for the government.

[Breaker quote: Alias involuntary servitude]In other words, the taxpayer is enslaved. Taxation at this level is a form of “involuntary servitude,” though the courts — an arm of the government itself — refuse to acknowledge this. Chattel slavery has been abolished, but state slavery has replaced it. That is, the taxpayer isn’t the personal property of an individual, but he is effectively the “property” of more impersonal forces.

This isn’t enough for some people, who, no matter how much power the government has, think we still have too much residual liberty. Here is David Broder, senior columnist of the Washington Post, reflecting on Veterans Day:

There are many reasons to wish that the United States had a system of national service that offered all young Americans the bonding experience that many men and some women of previous generations found through membership in the armed forces.
Living, eating, and working together with Americans of different races, educations, religions, and backgrounds, as millions did between 1940 and 1970, had benefits that lasted a lifetime and helped every aspect of our national life — including politics.
It contributed to the sense of community ... sustained the national spirit....
It was the glue of what we have come to call the Greatest Generation....
It is not just politicians and legislators who would benefit from undergoing the discipline and experiencing the rewards of giving a period of their lives to tasks assigned by their country — either military or civilian. That is the surest way we know to restore the sense of shared commitment so lacking today.
This is a bland call for the “involuntary servitude” ostensibly banned by the Thirteenth Amendment. That is what national service really means.

But how nice Mr. Broder makes it sound! The government would be “offering” a “bonding experience,” with “benefits” and “rewards” for its victims, including a “sense of community” and a “sense of shared commitment.” Formerly these blessings were restricted to men and only “some” women in the military, but now they can be “offered” to all, of both sexes.

And what if men and women should decline this “offer”? That’s the real point: it would be an “offer” they couldn’t refuse. Involuntary servitude — alias “tasks assigned by their country.”

The popularity among liberals of proposals for national service is yet another reminder that the connection between liberalism and liberty is strictly an etymological curiosity. Liberals are still nostalgic for the good old days, when the government could force young men to go to war; their only complaint is that this power was too narrow.

Most Americans accepted the military draft as a specific necessity: they thought that in emergencies young men should be required to fight for their country against foreign threats. But a growing number of liberals think men and women alike should be required to undertake “tasks assigned by their country — either military of civilian” — even in peacetime. Their country, of course, means the government.

This proposal ought to be shouted down as a radical step toward totalitarianism. But it won’t be, because it isn’t really a shocking departure. It’s merely a slight extension of what we already accept. Namely, limitless government.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
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