It's an unpleasant experience to visit a liberal blog and discover a proposal of spine-chilling evil. Yet that's what happened three days ago when I went to Politics Plus and found this
-- a proposal for conscription of young people into compulsory national service (civilian or military) from a supposedly liberal viewpoint.
As I commented at the post: "Since when is forced labor a liberal idea? There are very few matters of principle I’d be willing to go to jail over. Helping a young person escape conscription (military or otherwise) is one of them."
At 50 I'm now much too old to be at any risk of being swept up in such a scheme, but I can remember being 18. The idea that my life should be a mere utensil for purposes chosen by those in power, rather than my own, outrages me now just as much as it did then.
I do not use the word "evil" lightly above. The evil in this kind of idea is precisely the same as the evil in the right's ambition to ban abortion, thus forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term: the evil of making your body and your self belong not to you but to the powerful, to do their will, not yours.
Here are a few of the responses to my comment:For poor youth choosing military service is the only realistic way to escape the ghetto, so they are already conscripted in a de facto sense.
Rubbish. Millions of people grow up poor and do not join the military, therefore there is not an equivalent of compulsion to do so. It's a choice they are free to make, and should be. Anyway, this is a dishonest misuse of the word "conscription". I have to work at a 40-hour-per-week civilian job, otherwise I would also be poor, but that doesn't mean I've been "conscripted" into that job in any meaningful sense. I have the choice
to not work and try to make a living some other way, or just be poor, if I prefer. Conscription into civilian forced labor -- which is what I'm objecting to here -- would be morally intolerable. Working at a job because you need the money is not comparable.
Anyway, if you think poor people have too few options other than joining the military, then the proper liberal
solution is to support better jobs programs to give
them more options -- not to impose forced labor on them and everyone else.what are you doing to get the kids who would be drafted or conscripted to get out of the slums and violence filled cities and rural towns of this nation?
Of course like most liberals I support good public education, jobs programs, and other methods for addressing poverty. I don't support imposing forced labor on people against their will. Give poor people enough respect to let them make their own choices -- and give them more
choices, don't take choice away.Would you be willing to go to jail to keep these kids from seeing a different way of life
Of course not. Anyone is free to join the military or work for worthy causes right now, as they should be. I would go to jail to save people from being coerced
into forced labor.
Forced labor by young people is an idea whose time has passed. Most of the developed nations have already abolished military conscription (most recently Germany
, despite conservative
objections), and to my knowledge, none have imposed civilian forced labor as a substitute.
It's interesting, too, that civilian forced-labor proposals target only the young; you have a bunch of middle-aged people sitting around discussing what 18-year-olds should be forced to do for their own good (or middle-class people discussing what the poor should be forced to do for their own good). Most civilian work puts more of a premium on experience than on muscle power, so why 18-year-olds and not 40-year-olds? I think the people who are so keen on forced-labor plans for the young would be a lot less enthused if they themselves were also to be imposed on.
As an aside, from time to time I've seen liberals advocate bringing back military conscription because they think that, if all young people were at risk of being forced to go fight in Afghanistan or Iraq, there would be mass protests against the continuation of those wars. Aside from the breathtaking moral evil implicit in such an idea, it wouldn't work. Imposing conscription would not result in mass protests against the wars, it would result in mass protests against imposing conscription -- and a tremendous swing by young voters against the party which had imposed it.
I do wonder a bit: Is there something in the religious
mentality that makes the idea of forced labor imposed by the government seem appealing? As I've said before, one of the positives about being an atheist is that I feel freer knowing that my life is my own and not cluttered up with some "higher purpose" imposed by a supernatural tyrant. Some religionists seem to like
the concept of that imposed "higher purpose". I don't get that at all -- but does the idea of a government-imposed "higher purpose" seem appealing by some sort of analogy?
Two final points: First, it's ridiculous to argue that conscription would be an effective program for getting poor people out of poverty and slums. We had a military draft for decades, and many poor people were subject to it, and there were still poverty and slums, and there still are. Second, every supposed benefit of a forced-labor plan could equally well be obtained by a voluntary
national-service system with both civilian and military options. Just get rid of the element of forced participation and I would have no objection.