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Slavery – Even Temporary – Is An Offense Against Humanity

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Gen. Stanley McChrystal joins the discordant chorus of anti-American voices calling for mandatory national service (“Lincoln’s Call to Service – and Ours,” May 30).

Of course, Gen. McChrystal is convinced that government coercion of young people to “serve” in programs designed by politicians and operated by bureaucrats is pro- rather than anti- American.  But he’s mistaken.  What’s more central to the American creed than the manifesto in the Declaration of Independence that every individual possesses “unalienable Rights” which include “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – and that government’s sole purpose is “to secure these rights”?

Not even the most twisted reading of the Declaration can make Jefferson’s words consistent with a practice of robbing young people temporarily of their liberty.  That foundational declaration of American principles simply leaves no room for any policy of enslaving, even if only for a year, young people to serve Gen. McChrystal’s (or anyone else’s) notions – however high-minded in principle, if always arrogant in practice – of “citizenship” or “service” or “commitment” at the expense of these young-people’s pursuit of their own happiness as they themselves judge it.

Slavery, even for a limited time, is an atrocity.  Gen. McChrystal’s proposal deserves the same scorn that America’s founders unleashed on their would-be masters in Britain in 1776.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

I’ve made it crystal clear to my son that if any government ever attempts to conscript him – no matter the purpose, no matter the circumstances, no matter the conditions, and no matter the promised duration – I will literally fight to the death, if necessary, to prevent his enslavement.  He is not – just as no one else is – born to serve any government.