UPDATED: Height of Irony: Obama to Require Youth Involuntary Servitude – ‘REQUIREMENT’ REMOVED

If you’ve already read this – skip down for Major Updates:

serve

“Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.”

Are freedom and liberty things people even desire anymore? Or are these just quaint notions great men used to talk about in a bygone era?

How ironic that I would have to remind President-Elect Obama of the 13th Amendment:

Section 1.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

In a free American society, the State does not have the power to compel service, only encourage it. Only Tyrannies hand the power of people’s lives to the state. While community service doesn’t seem to have parity with slavery, what is the real difference? Do we not trade individual masters for government? Who decides what service is, or for what institute it must be done? If I choose to serve my church, or through a Boy Scout troop – is that included? What about military service? Who will decide the penalty for non-compliance?

Naturally, The State will choose. 

And what will you do when The State requires you to do something you oppose? A government with the power to impose good – has an equal power to impose evil.

Time to once again quote the great late C.S. Lewis:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

(emph. mine)

I guess so long as the slaves are “doing something good” it doesn’t count as slavery.

More on Soft-Tyranny…if anyone even bothers to care anymore.

Updated: Requirement Romoved from change.gov. 

You can take a look for yourself here:

http://change.gov/americaserves/

“Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free.”

Now this is a much more thought out and reasonable proposal, and as far as change goes – a very wise one. Obviously, how exactly all this will pan out, as well as the ins-and-outs of the idea, still have much room for debate – but this is definitely an improvement over the earlier statement.

This may not have been totally clear above, but it’s not community service that I am opposed to. Clearly, part of growing up and maturing is becoming aware of the needs of those around us. As an Eagle Scout – I spent a great deal of my childhood preforming community service – and this experience helped me to grow in even greater ways than much of what I learned in traditional school. I was taught the value in helping others and volunteering through direct experience. I believe this is a vital thing for people to learn, and greatly benefits a community in the long run.

With that said – I also don’t think that instilling the value of service on citizens is a responsibility that hangs on government mandate. The real value here is learning to serve out of your own choice – rather than compulsion.

As a side note – it bears mentioning that we currently have the luxury of being governed by a (at least somewhat) moral government. What I was writing about in the initial post may have sounded like a knee-jerk reaction – but allowing a government the power to choose how you serve comes with high risk implications in the long run. What would happen if the government decided you needed to serve in a fashion that you opposed? For instance – consider military service: I happen to see value in military service as well as community service – but I hardly think people should be forced to serve militarily. The point I was making above is that a State with the power to force it’s citizens to serve is, in a way, a return to serfdom – (albeit – a benign sudo-friendly form of serfdom. But that’s today – what about 5, 10, 15 years from now?) something America was founded to oppose. 

Back to my main point:  The greater value here for a free people, is to learn and understand the value of service – and so choose to serve – as opposed to serving under pressure. In short, compulsory service (by government) makes slaves, while service by personal volition makes responsible and mature citizens.

In a free society, Government can, and should encourage certain positive behaviors, and rightly enforce punishment (to protecting rights and freedoms) on wrong behaviors. What the government cannot do is force people to do good. Not only does this hinder society in the long run (slaves resent their masters), it also runs contrary to human nature (people will not be ruled) and potentially jeopardizes individual freedom.

I’m very happy that President-Elect Obama has wisely re-considered his policy here and made adequate changes to his proposal. Hopefully, congress can work together to come up with a reasonable application of this idea, sans-coercion.

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C.S. Lewis on -soft- Tyranny

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

This is essentially why I am against increasing the power to the State. A lot of things come packaged nicely (welfare, healthcare, environmentalism, ‘No Child Left Behind,’ etc) and they end up being communicated as moral imperatives. There is a very real danger when governments believe that they decide what’s in the best interest of their citizens, as opposed to the people themselves. (Peter DeFazio talked about this very thing in his reply to my letter about the Fairness Doctrine).

As someone who is philosophically conservative, I believe that for freedom to flourish, is vital for each person to have the power to make decisions about what is best for themselves.

I think this is often why Conservatives are perceived to have a lack of compassion in regard to social programs. For instance, I was listening to a left wing radio show the other day and the host, who was discussing global warming, stated something in the effect of, “You see, Conservatives are always opposed to people coming together to fix a problem (in this case, the problem was global warming).”  Close, but the host left out one crucial point:

Conservatives are opposed to governments forcing people to come together to fix a problem. This is because, governments are the only entities that have the power to force citizens to do anything (in America, usually through taxation and regulation). Non-governmental organizations do not, instead relying on a person’s free choice to support that organization. 

The ultimate problem is that any time we hand over power and responsibilities to The State, it is nearly impossible to get them back. Not to mention, citizens become less self-reliant, instead counting on the government to make important decisions, or provide for important personal needs.

Back to what Lewis was saying. Whether we elect John McCain or Barack Obama this year, the country is not going to immediately spiral into tyranny. However, some of the ideas that BOTH McCain and Obama are pushing are small steps in this direction. Do not be fooled into feeling guilty when it comes to social issues by the nice (morally imperative) way that they are packaged: “It’s for the children, the elderly, the environment, fill in the blank… (One real world example: Al Gore has stated that the climate problem is not a political issue, it’s a moral issue. Thus, people who disagree, or might question his position aren’t just wrong, they’re immoral. I wrote a whole post about this topic called The Cost of Disagreement.)

The bottom line is whatever the issue, (oil prices, healthcare, environment, jobs, taxes, etc), don’t buy the, “you are morally obligated,” emotional fluff. The important question should be:

Does this idea promote personal liberty – or is it handing more power to The State?

In other words, is it a small step towards, or away from tyranny?

Now, there is a great deal of talk about what should be done about certain problems in society. Those thoughts can be reserved for another time or post. For now though, my opinion is that for most things, the government isn’t the answer.