The Democrats, being consistent pragmatists, claim neither omnipotence nor omniscience; they simply hope their policies and actions will work. They have often said so. They are the “brave” pragmatists. The Republicans and conservatives do not challenge the Democrats on that score; instead, they protest the policies of the Democrats on the issues of speed and scale. They are the “moderate” pragmatists. Individual rights, capitalism, freedom of speech -- these issues do not exist in either camp.
In his May 2 article “National Service: Now Bigger than Ever,” Carl Horowitz questions, for example, the speed and scale of the AmeriCorps volunteer service legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama on April 21. He does not question the idea that young Americans ought to serve.
“Who could argue with so noble an idea as ’national service’? On the surface, the idea is irresistible.”
Who could? Individuals who value their freedom would find the idea not only iniquitous, but ignoble, and condemn it as slavery. Horowitz, however, questions only the cost and scope of the bill and suspects that Obama and the Democrats are preparing the way for compulsory national service, with which he is uncomfortable.
“Underlying such noble intentions…is the reality that the track record of service programs has been less than stellar. And more problematic, ‘voluntary’ service, as supporters themselves have admitted over the years in unguarded moments, contains more than a whiff of compulsion. That’s why, if fully realized, national service programs would capture an enormous portion of the entry-level labor market and, worse, militarize our national identity.”
Yes, that might happen. He does not understand that, to the Obamacrats and their allies in and out of Congress, the term “compulsion” is synonymous with “obligation” vis-à-vis “giving back,” the latter being their preferred term. The mental gymnastics of collectivists does not view paying a “debt” to society as a matter of force or extortion. “Society” is the master unit, the individual its indebted but often ungrateful servant. After all, runs the patter, if it were not for the existence of society, where would the individual be? Society makes his life tolerable and comfortable; it is only fair that he “give back” something.
The bill signed by Obama is the Senate version, called the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The House version was called the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act (GIVE). I leave to the reader to decide which name is more objectionable.
“…The law would more than triple the number of available AmeriCorps volunteer slots from the current 75,000 to 250,000 by fiscal year 2017, with 50 percent or more of these positions eventually being full time. The measure would also tie college tuition aid to demonstrated favorable community impacts….”
Horowitz discusses throughout his article the history of “volunteerism” and asserts that the trend towards federally mandated compulsion is impractical, and cites the “volunteerism” possible through private programs as being more effective and practical. He concludes:
“…The line between service and servility is often blurred. The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act would blur it further.”
He does not see that the blurring is intentional. People drilled all throughout their lives that “service” is their natural duty will not regard it as servitude. The advocates of compulsory service understand this, if he does not.
There was the War on Poverty, followed by wars on smoking, obesity, salt-consumption, ability, ageism, sexism, homophobia, and “harmful“ speech and whatever else the social engineers frowned upon. In the course of reprising the political history of “volunteerism” in this country, including the Peace Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and the role of the Clinton-inspired Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), Horowitz at least credits the intellectual inspiration for these fascist programs: American philosopher William James (1842-1910) and his seminal essay, published in 1910, “The Moral Equivalent of War” (adapted from his 1906 address at Stanford University).
James, a pragmatist with strong subjectivist, religious and deterministic elements in his world view, argues that, lacking a cause, such as war, that would unify a nation and instill it with altruist vigor, a policy of civilian conscription should be implemented. Without such a program, he argues, a nation cannot help but grow soft, degenerate, and distracted by materialism. James could be deemed the father of American fascism.
The Britannica Concise Encyclopedia offers a general description of National Socialism, or Nazism.
“It had its roots in the tradition of Prussian militarism and discipline and German Romanticism, which celebrated a mythic past and proclaimed the rights of the exceptional individual over all rules and laws. Its ideology was shaped by Hitler’s beliefs in German superiority and the dangers of communism and need for an enemy.”*
James advocated compulsory servitude -- but to oppose what enemy? He also claimed that the nation needed an enemy to rouse its citizens from the spiritual laxness of industrial civilization. Men, he said, had a natural instinct for war. James was a pacifist and abhorred war. But at the same time he asserted that the fear of being conquered could unite citizens as nothing else could in terms of being imbued with the spirit of a “peaceful” common cause. If making war was in man’s nature, he asked, why not direct that instinct to more constructive purposes?
“If now -- and this is my idea -- there were, instead of military conscription, a conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of years a part of the army enlisted against Nature, the injustice would tend to be evened out, and numerous other goods to the commonwealth would remain blind as the luxurious classes now are blind, to man’s relations to the globe he lives on, and to the permanently sour and hard foundations of his higher life. To coal and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dishwashing, clothes washing, and window washing, to road-building and tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes, and to the frames of skyscrapers, would our gilded youths be drafted off, according to their choice, to get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas. They would have paid their blood-tax….”
What injustices would be “evened out”? James mentions that the rich are rich through no credit of their own, and the poor are poor for no fault of their own. A nationalistic spirit would level everything out; the rich would not mind paying taxes to defeat an enemy; the poor would find a better purpose in life. James conceded, even in the early twentieth century, before the income tax and central banking were legislated in this country, that the country was on a path to socialism. What might help make it work would be to instill a militaristic, self-sacrificing ethic in Americans.
“All the qualities of a man acquire dignity when he knows that the service of the collectivity that owns him needs him. If proud of the collectivity, his own pride rises in proportion. No collectivity is like an army for nourishing such pride; but it has to be confessed that the only sentiment which the image of pacific cosmopolitan industrialism is capable of arousing in countless worthy breasts is shame at the idea of belonging to such a collectivity. It is obvious that the United States of America as they exist today impress a mind…as so much human blubber. Where is the sharpness and precipitousness, the contempt for life, whether one’s own or another’s? Where is the savage ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ the unconditional duty? Where is the conscription? Where is the blood-tax? Where is anything that one feels honored by belonging to?”
Substitute “race“ for “collectivity” and “Germany” for “the United States,” and one would discern little difference between James’s rhetoric and any one of Hitler’s public harangues to a rally of the Nazi converted. Remember that James uttered these words in 1906, when Hitler was just a “troubled teen“ and Mussolini was a twenty-something feeling his socialist oats. Indeed, as Leonard Peikoff points out, Mussolini credited James with much of his corporatist/fascist ideology. (The ultimate credit, as Peikoff points out in The Ominous Parallels, goes to Immanuel Kant and G.F. Hegel.) James wrote glowingly of what he considered to be adult sobriety:
“Martial virtues must be the enduring cement; intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command, must still remain the rock upon which states are built….”
These are some of the “healthier sympathies” and “soberer ideas” already being taught in American schools and absorbed by countless children, who have always been treated as the “rock” upon which statism is built.
James’s proposal is as far from the animating ideas of the Founders as one can go without falling off the edge of comprehension. And his notion of waging war against “nature” has been substituted with waging war against man himself. As Jon Roland of the Constitution Society notes in his introduction to James’s essay:
“This concept is regarded by some as the origin of the idea of organized national service. The line of descent can be traced directly from this address to the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, to the Peace Corps, VISTA, and AmeriCorps. Though some phrases grate upon modern ears, particularly the assumption that only males can perform such service, several racially-biased comments, and the now discredited notion that ‘nature’ should be treated as an enemy, it still sounds a rallying cry for services in the interests of the individual and the nation….The solution to the problem remains an open question, now that ‘nature’ is not to be regarded as an ‘enemy.’ The real ‘enemy’ is our own darker human nature….”
The “green revolution” and the anti-industrial movement have supplanted James’s “warfare against nature,” which means warfare against man. To the pragmatist open to the vociferous moral proposals of others (so long as they “work“), reason and reality can be dismissed as the subjectivist leanings of others and disregarded. Man is destroying the planet, those others claim, so something must be done about it, even if that means compulsion. For example, the Democrats would rather not hear the testimony of Britain’s Lord Christopher Monckton which would have shredded former Vice President Al Gore’s assertions about man-caused climate change in his movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and retracted the invitation to Monckton to appear with Gore before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.
This was more than just politicians wishing to save Gore the “climate authority” the humiliation of being trounced in a debate about climate change by a genuine scientist and consequently creating doubt about the efficacy of environmentalist legislation. If they do not hear the truth, then it can’t be real and can be ignored. (Recall Mr. Thompson’s first response after hearing Galt’s speech in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged -- “It wasn’t real, was it?”) Monckton has his assertions, the politicians have theirs, they think, but the politicians’ assertions carry more weight because they have the power and the guns and dubious opinion polls and a pliable news media, and all that comprises the “truth.” Reality is what the political elite make it. They are willing to bet the lives, fortunes and property of Americans on it.
While he is only the latest in a line of presidents and politicians who have advocated national service, Barack Obama wants to enact his own version of a “blood-tax.”
“…We need to create opportunities to serve. I’ll ask more young people to serve in uniform and expand the size of our military. And I’ll increase AmeriCorps -- our network of local, state and national service programs -- from 75,000 slots to 250,000.…That service should be directed toward pressing national challenges. We need more Americans to teach and an Energy Corps to help develop renewable and efficient energy….We need to invest in grass-roots ideas, because the ‘next great innovation’ usually doesn’t come from government [Never, in fact, but from unconquered minds and the freedom to act]. So I’ll create a Social Investment Fund Network and bring together faith-based organizations and foundations to expand successful programs across the country….We need to integrate service into education. We should help schools develop service programs outside the classroom….”
So, instead of being sent to coal and iron mines and the frames of skyscrapers, young Americans will be sent to assemble solar panels and windmills and hybrid plug-in cars, in addition to mentoring children of the poor and cleaning up public spaces and keeping the elderly company -- many of them lured by the carrot of college tuition, others by the prospect of wielding the stick themselves. Instead of adopting James’s bombastic “manly virtues,” Americans will be expected to become humble servants of society and believers in causes “higher than themselves,” especially the one that demands that restitution and reparations be paid to a despoiled planet. And if not enough Americans “volunteer” to serve, they can be made to. Obama’s and the Democrats’ “blood-tax” can take two forms: direct conscription, or a special tax on the recalcitrant and the non-volunteers to fund the $5.7 billion national service price tag of the bill Obama signed.
This also means drafting business and industry into the “army” by, among other measures, restricting CEO pay, taxing “unpatriotic“ offshore wealth, strong-arming solvent banks into participating in inflationary and risky “recovery” programs, and regulating industries and power companies to reduce “greenhouse” emissions. William James would be impressed. A whole nation has been put on a war footing -- to commit suicide.
Commenting on why Americans fell for the pragmatists’ assurances that they offered a way to live on earth, Leonard Peikoff observed that:
“…Americans…believed that they were joining a battle to advance their essential view of reality and of life. They did not know that they were being marched in the opposite direction, that the battle had been calculated for a diametrically opposite purpose, or that the enemy they were being pushed to destroy was: themselves.”**
The task before the advocates of reason and individual rights is to inform Americans and our political leaders in no uncertain terms that a volte-face is needed, beginning with the repeal of the administration’s blood-tax, before the destruction is too advanced to stop.
*See Chapter 3: Hitler’s War Against Reason, and Chapter 6: Kant Versus America, in Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America (Stein & Day, 1982) for a more thorough discussion of James’s contribution to the philosophical and political underpinnings of American statism.
**Op. cit. Chapter 6: Kant Versus America, pp. 137-138.