On Achieving Near-Universal National Service


The article claims that the goal is to foster universal national service without mandating it. Which is good –any mandated service will have my undying enmity– as far as it goes.

As far as it goes? Well, how does one achieve universal anything, if it’s not a mandate? I’ve got an answer that, I think, is better than any other for getting as close as possible. More on that later though.

General McChrystal seems to think that this could be a solution to the perceived “civil military divide.” I think this divide is pretty overblown. It comes down to the freedom of association and you can’t make free people associate with veterans or service members any more than you can make them serve, unless you remove their freedom. Anyone who wants to associate with a vet or service member, can–there is no access barrier. Any divide that exists is self-imposed. And the same solution to near-universal service is the key.

Speaking of access. That’s another phrase in the general’s article that bothers me. There is no bar to access to national service today. No one is being turned away from the Peace Corps or any other service opportunity. People simply have to want to and then have sufficient motivation to follow through.

General McChrystal also is worried about the lack of trust in government. If you ask me, a lack of trust is a good thing. We should be wary of government. We should understand that every time the individual comes into contact with the government the individual loses some amount of freedom. The thing is, that loss of freedom has to be seen in a value context–is what I gain made up, or exceeded in value, by my choice to make that contact. I chose to give up some of my freedoms in order to serve in the military. I’ve given up more in order to work as a federal employee. I came to the conclusion that what I gained outweighed what I was losing. This is the biggest part of why any service must be voluntary.
And again, the solution will address this as well.

The general also thinks that service will foster bipartisanship. I don’t agree. I also don’t find bipartisanship to be any kind of virtue. Non-partisanship, yes, but, I think bipartisanship is just being squishy.

His last point is the building of “national resilience and patience.” Here I think he’s misidentified the benefit and got the cart before the horse. The resilience and patience are a side effect of the real virtue and what’s more, that virtue must come before there will be any near-universal service.

That virtue was what the founders referred to a “public virtue.” Simply put, public virtue is participation and engagement in public life, in civil society. It is public virtue that is the solution I’ve been referring to.

How do we foster public virtue? We return to the principles of how a republic run and perpetuated as explained by the Baron de Montesquieu. Principally, we must teach our children to love our country and our laws and its form. Our educational system today is destructive of this end than that must be reformed. If not, how will you persuade anyone to give up a portion of their lives and some of their freedom to serve a state that they have been taught is corrupt and racist?

They have to have the love of the republic *first* before they will make the decision to become a part of that something bigger than themselves. Any call to serve without this precondition is doomed to fail.

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