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News Link • Political Theory

Mandatory National Service: A Bad Idea That Won't Die


Another presidential election, another proposal for mandatory national "service." This time, two Democratic candidates hope to turbocharge their otherwise dubious electoral prospects by proposing to draft all young people to spend a year or two working for Washington's political elite.

That's not how they put it, of course. But that is what the national service movement is about.

Service, real service to real people, is baked into Americans' DNA. Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French classical liberal, cited civic activism as one of the new republic's distinguishing characteristics in his famous Democracy in America. He wrote: "I have seen Americans making great and sincere sacrifices for the key common good, and a hundred times I have noticed that, when needs be, they almost always gave each other faithful support." The resulting vibrant civil society was very different from the enervating monarchies and aristocracies that still dominated Europe. This commitment to service permeated the nation—transforming people, creating institutions, and strengthening America.

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