Posted by Rojas @ 5:37 pm on July 26th 2008

The pledge

Our friend Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty is inviting supporters to pledge the following:

I solemnly swear that I will never take part in any involuntary civilian service at the behest of the federal government, regardless of the consequences.

Weirdly, although this is the sort of bandwagon I normally climb aboard at first sight, I can’t bring myself to take the plunge. I agree with the principles expressed, but in this instance, my pure selfishness simply outweighs them.

I oppose involuntary servitude in all of its forms, not least the Obama plan which Jason highlights in his post. One frustrating example concerns the school at which I teach prides itself on having won numerous awards based on the number of hours of service students have contributed annually (every student is required to complete 15 hours per semester). I do not understand why forcing students to perform community service makes the school honorable; no more than I understand how spending taxpayer money on services to the poor makes a politician “compassionate”. I am particularly aghast at this aspect of our profile given the annual end-of-semester rush to claim service hours, in which students used to descend like locust on faculty members in order to get forms signed indicating that they’d fulfilled their requirement–needless to say, in many cases, we were being asked to abet fraud. This process was substantially remedied by a change in policy wherein students were required to obtain signatures from members of approved community service organizations; this has eliminated the abetting of fraud in that many of the students simply forge the signatures outright.

The politics of national service are strange indeed, placing libertarians in common cause with public employees’ unions, which rightly fear that these armies of civilian volunteers would be used in projects previously handled by paid professionals. Naturally, service advocates indicate that this would not be the case; the question then becomes, where are we to find millions of hours of work that needs to be done, but which is not important enough that we are willing to pay anyone to do it? Compulsory military service during wartime, which is often cited as the model for the “ethic of service” that this project is intended to foster, was many things, but it cannot be said to have been make-work.

I think that history has validated the courageous (yes, I said it) actions of draft-dodgers, who were willing in many cases to abandon their entire lives in order to avoid subjecting themselves to the anti-libertarian mechanisms of the draft.

Unfortunately, I know myself too well to suspect that I have the courage of those individuals, or indeed to imagine that I would be willing to undergo any meaningful penalty for the sake of protesting compulsory service. Case in point: I am writing this blog under a pseudonym for fear of the employment consequences were my writings to be publicly attributed to me. Such is not the stuff of the national service martyr. The inconvenience and the violation of principles incumbent in compulsory national service simply would not weigh as heavily on me as the probable consequences of civil disobedience.

Perhaps if I am lucky, enough of you will be willing to stand in front of the tanks that I won’t have to. So…any pledge-takers here?


  1. I can’t commit regardless of the consequences. If the consequences are long term imprisonment or death to me the costs clearly outweigh the benefits. There is another option:


    Comply but create more problems than you solve. Perhaps if enough people drag their feet the whole service system would collapse from dead weight. At the very least you could potentially negate any effects of coerced service.

    Comment by Cameron — 7/26/2008 @ 6:19 pm

  2. That sounds an awful lot like the performance of the voluntary public service sector we have today, Cameron. Don’t think of it as imprisonment or death, think of it as a spiritual retreat or change you can believe in.

    Comment by James — 7/26/2008 @ 6:48 pm

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