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Conservatives and National Service

Michael Gerson lauds the idea of national service:

The conservative instinct — and America’s shared republican tradition — heads in a different direction, toward gratitude for our patrimony and affection for our traditions and institutions, expressed in service to the country and to one another.

As he tends to do, Gerson takes admirable ideals and makes a mockery of them. Conservatives should feel gratitude for our inherited traditions and institutions, and conservatives should want to contribute to the common good, but that doesn’t mean that they should want or support national service organized by the federal government. A person forced by law or social convention to do such service isn’t going to feel gratitude or affection. It is more likely that he will be made to resent the authority or the convention that so compels him. National service isn’t a “devolution of responsibilities.” It is an unwelcome redefinition of what a “responsible” citizen is expected to do.

Of course, there is nothing stopping anyone interested in this sort of work from doing it. What worries Gerson is that Americans are becoming too concerned with their “little societies” and lack sufficient enthusiasm for things on a national scale, but it is very difficult to see how this is something that needs to be remedied at all. Conservatives should reject the idea because they value those “little societies.” National service is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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