Feb 082003

Of the many intelligent replies to the New York Sun’s editorial advocacy of censorship, Arthur Silber’s gets nearest to the heart of the matter:

In effect, the Sun announces its own, newer version of preemption: let’s destroy civil liberties now, and with absolute certainty, so as to avoid the possibility that those same civil liberties might be destroyed later. To identify the nature of this argument, is to realize how truly ludicrous it is, and it would be laughable if the matter were not so serious. Yet certain conservatives make this same kind of argument with profoundly disturbing regularity in connection with a compulsory draft, for example. They say: “But if we don’t forcibly conscript people, how will we be able to save our free country?” — thus ignoring the fact that by establishing the precedent of slavery yet again, and by establishing the principle that no one has the right to his own life, they have destroyed the very concept of a free country at its core — and that once this was accomplished, there would be nothing left to save.

(Update: Silber comments on the comments.)

  11 Responses to “Killing Liberty To Save It”

  1. Thanks, Aaron! I appreciate the kind words. I did rather like that formulation myself, I have to admit.
    But about the Sun: with friends like that…etc.
    Bleecchh. (That’s the non-philosophical formulation.)

  2. I know no American conservatives who favor compulsory conscription, much less argue for it regularly. Perhaps my sample does not include the "profoundly disturbing" vanguard, but I’m in Ohio.

    I’m vaguely aware of a symbolic liberal initiative in Congress to institute a draft.

    To whom does Silber refer?

  3. "National service," which is the draft by another name, is a regular conservative initiative, beloved of the national greatness types. And David Horowitz, the Front Page Magazine guy, recently came out in favor of the draft.

  4. Is the libertarian argument, then, this?: Enough people will enlist voluntarily if and only if the country is worth fighting for. Therefore, a draft is wrong whether or not it is necessary to muster a big enough army.

  5. I don’t know if it’s the canonical libertarian argument, but I think it’s true. Any society that can’t muster enough volunteers to defend itself when attacked deserves to perish. Liberty lives in the hearts of the people or not at all.

  6. Well, we know that technological advancements have made it highly unlikely that we’ll ever face a war in which sheer numbers of bodies matter enough to necessitate a draft in order to defend the nation, but what about World War II? Was the draft morally wrong then, too?

  7. Of course, Michael. And almost certainly unnecessary. The draft was for one year, and millions of people volunteered for "the duration plus six months," when "the duration" was generally understood to be ten years.

  8. Still, Aaron, to contend that one hears this with "profoundly disturbing regularity" doesn’t ring true with me.

    Is Silber (sorry, Mr. Silber, you’re here, aren’t you?) disturbed by the very existence of the selective service system, or does he fear compulsory service a la Israel?

    Also, "national service" sounds like the TVA and shit. New Deal stuff more than boot camp, though I’ll defer to your characterization because I’m too lazy to look anything up and couldn’t envision conservatives copping material from FDR.

  9. Paul: Arthur has quite a few links in the second post of his I referenced. Selective service is bad, being one step in the direction of compulsory service, which is a horror. Arthur would express it at least this vigorously I’m sure, but you can ask him.

    "National service" comes in many flavors. What they all have in common is the presumption that the state can dispose of your life as it sees fit.

  10. A slippery slope then?

    Selective service leads to compulsory service — or could.

    Agreed. I’m dead-set against compulsory service (I live in Ohio, not Jerusalem), and would oppose selective service if it didn’t have a practical application that could help aid a true patriotic mobilization like WWII.

    I consider myself a conservative, and I’ve never favored more bodies for the military, just more dollars to attract good leaders and hire more smart-bomb-makin’ contractors.

    I’m aware of Bush’s propensity to exploit terrorism to nibble at human rights and due process, but I don’t even think Ann Coulter calls for a draft among highly visible cons. The current climate would be perfect for a pro-draft pol or pundit to make some hay, but I just haven’t seen it.

  11. Let’s go back to square one here: the USA is founded on the premise that all men are endowed by their creator (i.e. GOD) with alienable rights including life, liberty etc. and that governments are authorized only to secure them, and that whenever it becomes destructive to this end– for ANY reason– then the people are with their right to disobey (i.e. what part of the term "inalienable" don’t you understand?)

    Thus, when government usurps one person’s rights, even to secure another’s, it’s become destructive to them.

    If an enemy truly threatens the rights of Americans, then the only legitimate recourse government has to secure service from the people, is on a VOLUNTARY basis.

    And besides, if the country is really in danger, then what price would be too great? Just do like the Romans do– give each volunteer a square mile of land, and you’d have three million recruits right there!

    The people own the country, not the other way around; and the government isn’t God (contrary to the beliefs of certain secularists and theocrats).

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