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LIBERTARIAN COWFLAP?



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Well, Mark, it may be ‘libertarian cowflap’ to you, but the argument that the state has no right to kidnap its young people has considerable moral force. In fact, it’s unanswerable. As for a draft being a device to inculcate patriotism, that rather depends on the type of patriotism you are trying to teach. If it’s an American patriotism, it won’t wash. The fundamental Anglo-American notion of liberty as it has evolved since at least the late 17th Century includes the idea that the state should not have the right to compel its citizens’ labor in this way. Thus the British naval press gangs of the 18th Century are still remembered with disgust and thus the fact that male conscription was only introduced in the UK two years into the First World War. It’s no coincidence that the one time in recent British history where we saw a peacetime draft (‘national service’ was the preferred euphemism) was between 1945 and 1960, an era when collectivist ideas prevailed, ideas, incidentally, that were reinforced and spread by the conscription process. Yes, a draft might produce a docile citizenry fit to delight a Rodham, a Blair, or a big government conservative, but other than in a profound national emergency (and compelling youngsters to dig ditches or whatever does not seem to fall into that category) it ought to have no part in a America still run according to the ideals of its founders. Is encouraging patriotism and a pride in this country a good thing? Absolutely. But is a draft the way to do it? No.

It’s worth adding that, beyond the moral and political objections, there are, of course, the practical ones. Militarily, conscription would misallocate resources away from the creation of the specialist, technically advanced and highly trained armed services that are needed today, while the creation of non-military ‘national service’ would simply mean that government would delegate some of the functions it now performs incompetently, inadequately or, usually, both, to a force of underpaid, discontented and untrained conscripts who would make even more of a mess of it.  That is not the way to go.



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