Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Serve yourself, not the government

In 1961, at his inaugural address, then-President John F. Kennedy uttered perhaps the most overrated words in the modern American political quotation book.
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Based on the sentiment expressed in those words, I'd say that Kennedy can go to Hell, except that, as an expired politician, he's certainly already there.

Self-sacrifice for the sake of der vaterland -- err ... these here United States -- remains a popular nostrum peddled by office-seekers on both the authoritarian right and authoritarian left of the political spectrum. Both John McCain and Barack Obama are big believers in the idea that Americans should "give something back" to their country in the form of national service that, in their speeches, flirts with a strong dose of compulsion.

"Give something back?" In return for what? Having my rights respected better (or less badly) by the government than they would be in many other countries? Sorry, but I don't owe the state payment for refraining from doing things it never had the right to do. And note -- it shines in this area only by comparison to pretty weak competition.

Here's an attaboy to the U.S. government: You don't suck as bad as the folks running Cuba. Now leave me alone.

Last week, Barack Obama gave a speech expanding his concept of what you can do for your country.
"This will not be a call issued in one speech or one program -- this will be a central cause of my presidency," he said. "We will ask Americans to serve. We will create new opportunities for Americans to serve. And we will direct that service to our most pressing national challenges." ...

"Loving your country shouldn't just mean watching fireworks on the 4th of July," he said. "Loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it. If you do, your life will be richer, and our country will be stronger."
Specifically, he wants to require 50 hours of annual "service" from high school students and 100 hours of annual "service" from college students, with the schools arm-twisted into imposing the mandates. Those hours will be put toward government-approved goals, of course. I don't suppose agitating for an end to the national service program would qualify.

Look, I think volunteering -- that's service of the duration and for the cause that you choose -- is a good thing. That's not because it's owed to a nebulous idea like "country" or a malevolent institution like "the state," but because it helps make the community in which you live a better place and it reaffirms your own connections to that community.

But compelled service builds nothing of value except low-cost labor battalions for fulfilling politicians' wish-lists.

In the end, the most valuable service comes in the form of working against the state, not for it.



Blogger William N. Grigg said...

In the end, the most valuable service comes in the form of working against the state, not for it.

To this plangent assertion of unalloyed truth I would add the following: Any form of beneficial action, performed as charity or for profit, is service. The teenager who uses his time to earn money through honest work is performing a much more valuable service to the public than the tax-subsidized cadres of AmeriCorps. But for collectivists, private service doesn't count as "service," because it misses that magic ingredient that makes government-appointed "service" morally superior: coercion.

July 9, 2008 9:08 PM  
Blogger Dusty Rose said...

"Here's an attaboy to the U.S. government: You don't suck as bad as the folks running Cuba."

My thoughts exactly.

You can replace Cuba with former Soviet Union, Burma, Zimbabwe, etc.

July 9, 2008 10:39 PM  
Blogger John said...

Obama's idea of service is a good one. He just picked the wrong target.

He needs to prod those parasites called "government employees" to start performing some of the service they are paid to do and quit trying to get the kids to do it for them.

Even better: fire the "government employees" and require them to perform service in the private sector.

July 10, 2008 11:06 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home