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Reflections on National Service


National service looms as one of the most dangerous threats to the American people in our 200-year history. Previously advocated only by liberals, national service is now also embraced by many on the conservative side of the political spectrum, as evidenced by the recent book, Gratitude, by America’s foremost conservative, William F. Buckley, Jr.

The versions of national service are many and varied. Most of them are directed to the youth of America. They range from universal conscription to more “benign” foals of coercion advocated by Mr. Buckley. But all of them have at their core one essential principle: that the state, rather than being a servant of the people, is their master; and as their master, has the power to force the citizenry, either directly or indirectly, to serve others.

National service violates every principle of individual liberty and limited government on which this nation was founded. As John Locke and Thomas Jefferson emphasized, life, liberty, property, and conscience are not privileges bestowed on us by government officials; they are natural, God-given rights with which no public official can legitimately interfere. We are not brought into the world to serve the state; the state is brought into existence by the people to serve us through the protection of our natural, God-given rights. We should also never forget that the American people of our time have chosen an economic system which is alien to that which our American ancestors chose. Although there are those who honestly believe that the welfare state, planned economy way of life is simply an evolution of the original principles on which America was founded, they operate under a severe delusion. Although there were numerous exceptions (slavery and tariffs being the most notable), there is no doubt that our American ancestors clearly and unequivocally rejected the morality and philosophy of the welfare state, planned economy way of life.

The advocates of national service, liberals and conservatives alike, would force Americans to serve a system which our ancestors knew would be evil, immoral, and tyrannical. The welfare state, like all other socialist systems, plunders the wealth and savings of those who have in order to redistribute the loot, through the political process, to others. It violates one of the most sacred commandments of our God: Thou shalt not steal. And the planned economy, through its thousands of rules and regulations interfering with peaceful human choices, denigrates one of God’s most sacred gifts to human beings — the great gift of free will.

Recognizing that the ardent wish of the advocates of national service is to require Americans to join them in the support of this political evil and immorality, let us examine some of the opportunities for “service” in our present-day economic system. Perhaps a youth can “volunteer” his services to the Internal Revenue Service and thereby help to destroy more American lives through terror and confiscation. Or perhaps a better opportunity would be to help run the concentration centers on the American side of the United States-Mexican border — where good and honorable people from the Republic of Mexico are incarcerated for committing the heinous, American “crime” of trying to sustain and improve their lives through labor. Or how about simply being an enforcer of minimum-wage laws, thereby helping to condemn black teenagers in Harlem to lives of misery and impoverishment. Or perhaps a “volunteer” can be one of the thousands who are responsible for injecting the narcotic of welfare into the veins of so many thousands of our fellow citizens.

One of the standard complaints about our present-day political system, of course, is that not enough “good” people hold public office. The suggestion is that if “better” people were in public office, socialism in America could finally be made to work well. But lost in all of this is that only a certain type of person is attracted to participation in a government which has overwhelming power over the lives and fortunes of others — the person who has an uncontrollable urge to wield such power — the person who has yet to learn the final lesson in the evolution of man: that true power lies not in controlling the lives of others; true power lies in the conquest of one’s own self.

What about these individuals, then, who have no desire to govern the lives of others or who have overcome such a desire? They avoid like the plague any participation in such a government. Is this a bad thing? On the contrary! When a government is engaged in evil, immorality, and tyranny, the only rightful place for the person of conscience is outside of that government. But the proponents of national service would require or “encourage” all Americans, like it or not, to participate in the evil and immorality of the welfare state, planned economy way of life.

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of national service is that it is advocated by many Christians. Christians know that God loved man so much that He entrusted us with a tremendously wide ambit of freedom — so much so that we are even able to deny Him and our neighbor if we so choose. In other words, while God tells us that the two great commandments are to love Him and to love our neighbor, never does He force us to comply with these commandments. He leaves the choices with us but with the understanding dial we must ultimately bear the consequences of those choices.

But the advocates of national service believe that God made a mistake when He entrusted man with so much freedom. And so they wish to correct the “error” by using the coercive power of Caesar to ensure that man serves his fellow man whether he wants to or not. They block out of their minds that God neither needs nor wants this type of “help” and that, in fact, by interfering with God’s peaceful method — love, charity, forgiveness, acceptance, the cross — they actually place their own souls in jeopardy. Advocates of national service say that we should be grateful to our Founding Fathers for establishing a free society. But they want us to “repay the debt” to these deceased advocates of liberty by participating in the destruction of the freedom which they achieved. Apparently, it is not sufficient that my generation as well as the next, have been saddled by previous generations with a very real, financial, political debt that ultimately must be paid. And apparently, it is not sufficient that we are currently required to work for the first half of each year just to maintain the huge, welfare-state bureaucracy which previous generations foisted on later generations. No, apparently this is not sufficient. We are told that now we must also deliver up our children to the state so that they can prepare for their lives of permanent, partial enslavement through temporary, total enslavement.

As our Founding Fathers taught us, service to one’s country sometimes entails opposition to one’s government. We often forget that those who signed the Declaration of Independence were not American citizens. They were as British as any British citizen today. And they were viewed as unpatriotic by many of their fellow citizens, even those in the colonies, because they refused to serve and support their government In fact, it has been estimated that one-third of the colonists sided with their government — the British government — during the Revolution and that another third stayed neutral during the conflict.

How many present-day Americans would have signed the Declaration of Independence? Would you have signed it? Remember — by signing that document, you would have placed at risk your life, savings, home, and family. And you would have been branded a traitor by your own public officials, and by many of your friends and neighbors, for refusing to support your government. And if you had lost the struggle, you would have died a nameless “extremist” rather than as one of the greatest patriots of all time. The unhappy truth is that most present-day Americans would not have served their country by standing against their government in 1776. Unfortunately, most Americans today honestly believe that support of their country is synonymous with support of their government. And the best proof of this is their willingness to approve, support and serve a tax and regulatory tyranny that makes what King George III was doing to his citizens look like child’s play.

Although ours is a peaceful war of ideas, it is the most important war ever in the history of man. And no one can avoid being a part of it. It finds Americans today divided into three camps: those who wish to expand the welfare state, those who wish to conserve it, and those who wish to end it. It is true that those of us who are fighting to end the evil and immorality are a very small minority who are facing the vast majority of our fellow citizens who wish either to expand or conserve it. But we must remain determined and optimistic. For our American ancestors showed us that minorities who are in the right can prevail over majorities who are in the wrong. Time will tell whether those of us who served our nation by resisting the tyranny of our government will prevail over those who would have us support the tyranny through national service and other such schemes.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.