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JAMES POWELL, Anti-Militarism and Laissez Faire - Ralph Raico, New Individualist Review 
New Individualist Review, editor-in-chief Ralph Raico, introduction by Milton Friedman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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Anti-Militarism and Laissez Faire
IN THE NAME OF a pragmatic national defense, the United States since World War II has reversed its traditional presumptions against conscription. In part, of course, this reversal, and the popular acceptance of conscription as a regular feature of American life, has been a product of the major wars with which this country has been involved; peacetime conscription has been heralded from 1945 on as a way of preventing another war. That there is much support, however, for conscription as an instrument of social reform—national service—indicates that conscription is not strictly a military phenomenon, but is a consequence of the general presumptions for state-oriented over citizen-centered policy, which have guided social reform for many decades.
The state-oriented presumption in the case of conscription has been the doctrine of “service obligation.” According to this doctrine, the government defines certain occupations as fulfilling the “national interest,” and is empowered to compel people to follow such occupations. Finally, the government claims that the whole process is an uplifting experience. Thus, Lt. General William Knudsen testified before the House Committee on Military Affairs: “So I can tell you from my own experience that a period of one year in the service of the State or of the Government will have a tendency to make men more democratic. They will all be together. They will learn each other’s ways and learn to look upon the Nation as a whole. They will be more patriotic when they get through with their service, and they will never forget the time that they had working for their country.”1 General Eisenhower has stated his ideals of military service many times, as in this case:
If UMT accomplished nothing more than to produce cleanliness and decent grooming, it might be worth the price tag—and I am not altogether jesting when I say this. To me a sloppy appearance has always indicated sloppy habits of mind.
But above and beyond these advantages of UMT is the matter of attitude toward country. If a UMT system were to become a fixture of our national life, I think that resentment against military obligation would die away, that virtually every young man would take pride and satisfaction in giving a year of his life to the United States of America. After all, the good instincts lie near the surface of the young. Patriotism, a sense of duty, a feeling of obligation to country are still there. They are the noblest and the most necessary qualities of any democratic system, and I am convinced that UMT would help call them to the surface once more.2
Or consider General Hershey’s assessment of the creative potential of the threat of military service: “You are trying to use the deferment on the one hand as the carrot and the induction as the whip if you want to call it that, to keep the person channeled into scientific schools, into engineering schools, into medical schools. . . . The practice is going to be that the rare bird, if you want to call him that, is so useful that we keep the threat of service over him in order to keep him useful.”3 The idealization of compulsion which is implicit in conscription marks it as a paradigm of state-oriented policy.
However sincerely people might believe in the idea of service obligation, it is opposed to the values of a citizen-centered social order which relies upon voluntary social cooperation. That the idea of service obligation masks a policy which, however widely accepted today, is nonetheless just another kind of state-worship, is illustrated well by the following:
The Army trained men for unconditional responsibility at a time when this quality had grown rare and evasion of it was becoming more and more the order of the day. . . . it trained men in personal courage in an age when cowardice threatened to become a raging disease. . . .
The Army trained men in resolution while elsewhere in life indecision and doubt were beginning to determine the actions of men.
The Army trained men in idealism and devotion to the fatherland and its greatness while everywhere else greed and materialism had spread abroad.
The young man who practiced obedience during this time could then learn to command. By his very step you could recognize the soldier who had done his service.4
The similarity between Hitler’s statement and much Congressional testimony, for instance, should appear as no accident, but as an indication of how far state-oriented ideas have been implanted in American thought. In some situations the requirements for national defense might include conscription, but recognition that such unusual situations might occur is not at all equivalent to the general belief that conscription is a good thing.
THERE ARE PROBABLY three elements of the general belief in conscription, or the doctrine of service obligation. First, conscription sanctions Executive prerogative. National defense requires professional expertise of the sort possessed by administrators, not legislators; and the presumption is that whatever aspect of defense policy receives the endorsement of the Executive agencies should be enacted substantially as proposed, particularly in a time of crisis. Each time the draft law has expired, since 1951, there have been perfunctory hearings, and the Congressional committees have reported, and Congress has voted, to extend the draft virtually unmodified. Congress has functioned more to enact than to deliberate upon the recommendations of the Executive. Or, as Garet Garrett described the government of an empire: “The word executive came to have its new connotation. For all the years before when you spoke of the executive power of government you meant only the power to execute and administer the laws. Henceforth it would mean the power to govern.”5 Conscription has illustrated the chief aspect of Executive government—the tendency of the Executive both to gather administrative knowledge and to formulate policy.
Second, arguments for conscription have invariably involved the assumption that voluntary incentives would never attract sufficient military manpower. The Marshall Commission, for instance, innocently reported that “a draft law has been necessary precisely because there have not been enough volunteers to meet military manpower needs.”6 Similarly, General Mark Clark, Chairman of the Civilian Advisory Panel, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that “a draft law will be required for national security purposes for the indefinite future.”7 There is no suggestion in the Marshall Commission Report, or in any other testimony on the draft, that incentives affect the number of people who enlist. Nor is there any suggestion that in certain circumstances the draft could—and should—end altogether; a regular feature of testimony on the draft is the supposition that we must rely, indefinitely, on compulsion to sustain our national defense.
Third, conscription has survived at least in part because of the belief that military service exacted through compulsion is more noble and patriotic than those careers people voluntarily pursue. By and large this has been the moral position which the American Legion has always represented to Congress, as in 1963: “Our nation should never be without an obligation for every youth to serve his country in a military capacity and a system for their selection so to serve.”8 Conscription is moral because it is service to the state. This idea, of course, is the first principle of any authoritarian regime, and justifies the ultimate subversion of all civil liberties.
Fortified by the idea of service obligation, lobbyists for conscription seldom have argued that their conclusions are the results of empirical investigation. Certainly no one has testified before Congress to indicate what sorts of evidence would certify those claims as humbug. Does Selective Service intend merely to acquire temporary possession of a specified quantity of people? Is the goal to encourage career enlistments? Or to allocate manpower most effectively? Or to follow those policies most consistent with personal freedom? One consequence of not stating the claims of Selective Service in such a way that the empirical implications are clear, has been to avoid the implication that in certain circumstances Selective Service should end altogether.
Many people have argued that conscription is most objectionable as an aspect of militarism, but the state-oriented ideas which justify conscription apply to non-military policies as well. Last May, Secretary of Defense McNamara offered his well-publicized proposal for universal two-year “service to country.”9 Shortly after McNamara’s speech, Senator Javits joined the crusade: “Secretary McNamara’s proposal was aimed at ‘voluntary’ service by both men and women. It is my feeling that it would be almost impossible to make such a concept work as a practical matter. I propose that universal national service be made compulsory for young men, giving them the option of selecting what form it should take within permissable categories established by the government.”10 President Johnson evidently lent his implicit support to the universal “voluntary” service idea: “The call for public service therefore cannot be met by professionals alone. We must revive the ancient ideal of citizen soldiers who answer their nation’s call in time of peril. We need them on battlefronts where no guns are heard but freedom is no less tested.”11 Again: “We must move toward a standard that no man has truly lived who only served himself. . . . To move in this direction, I am asking every member of my Administration to explore new ways by which our young people can serve their fellow men.”12 Secretary of Labor Wirtz expressed his belief in universal service, last November,13 and more recently Sargent Shriver indicated that universal service should begin at the age of sixteen.14 The popularity of the universal service idea shows how slender is the protection to civil liberties offered by civilian supremacy over the military; both civilian and military regimes have acted in blatant disregard of civil liberties, and universal service merely extends to civilian experience some of the features of state-oriented, military life.
INDEED, THE GROWTH, if it should occur, of non-military, but authoritarian, labor conscription would be the result of the confluence of socialist and pacifist ideas. These ideas have worked not to mitigate the assaults upon civil liberties which conscription entails, but to deflect the assaults from military to non-military pursuits; socialism has preserved the state-oriented—compulsory—aspect of service to a civilian rather than a military state. One of the most influential statements in the history of American pacifism, William James’ “Moral Equivalent of War,” illustrates this kind of socialist-pacifism clearly:
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 follow. The military ideals of hardihood and discipline would be wrought into the growing fibre of the people; no one would remain blind as the luxurious classes now are blind, to man’s real 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 stokeholes, 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, done their part in the immemorial human warfare against nature, they would tread the earth more proudly, the women would value them more highly, they would be better fathers and teachers of the following generation.15
Many pacifists have accepted James’ idea of national service, and have indicated thereby that however extensively war has figured in the suppression of civil liberties, pacifism as such does not provide a basis for defending civil liberties. In fact, those pacifists who favor compulsory national service as a way of avoiding wartime service promote both the suppression of civil liberties and war against individuals. The suppression of civil liberties is clear enough; war against individuals occurs through the attempts to enforce compliance with national service regulations. When human relations are voluntary, non-compliance with a contract eventually results in termination of the contract; the most effective way to enforce mutual exchange is simply to deny a non-compliant party the benefits of mutual exchange. When, however, a contract is compulsory, enforcement by termination of contract obviously cannot occur; instead, government must administer punishments to enforce compliance. Moreover, such punishments conceivably could occur indefinitely, for non-compliance could occur indefinitely. To enforce national service on everyone, government must extend to civilian experience the discipline of military-type law.
The implication of national service is that the loss of civil liberties and the war against recalcitrant individuals is worthwhile because compulsion is the most effective way of developing and allocating human resources, and thereby of resolving social problems. Of course, nowhere in the national service literature is there a demonstration that this contention is true, and certainly there is never any indication of what sorts of evidence would confirm or invalidate the contentions. By not weighing the claims of national service scientifically, people have opted to bear the costs—or rather shuffle the costs upon others—without securing comparable benefits. The losses, as with military conscription,16 would occur as (1) budgetary costs, (2) welfare costs to the nation as a whole, and (3) the implicit forced labor tax borne by the service-conscripts. As in the case of military conscription, one result of not stating the claims for national service scientifically is avoidance of the implication that in certain circumstances national service should be abolished—if it ever should be established in the first place. Certainly the shoddy, unscientific way in which national service is usually advanced does not separate moral and empirical arguments; and it is never clear whether people favor national service empirically as a method of resolving problems, or whether they favor national service as a matter of principle.17 If the former is true, then the arguments should be regarded as sheer hokum until they are presented scientifically so they can be evaluated. If the latter case is true, then the conflict between libertarian, citizen-centered ideas, and state oriented ones, is abundantly clear; and it is clear that only from libertarian, and not from pacifistic grounds, can one develop principled opposition to oppression.
AS A WAY OF fostering exploration of libertarian ideas, we reprint in this issue three articles by men who have illustrated two aspects of the libertarian tradition. One is that the presumption for voluntarism requires exhaustion of voluntary incentives before adopting conscription. Taft, for instance, conceded that on certain rare occasions the requirements of national defense might include conscription, but he added:
I did oppose the Selective Service Act of 1940, and am still opposed to the compulsory draft of men in time of peace until every voluntary method has been tried to obtain the men necessary for the force required for defense.18
Great Britain followed this presumption and did not resort to compulsion in World War I until mid-way through the hostilities, in 1916. The other point is that for each of these people anti-conscription was but one element of their libertarian points of view; compulsion in the case of conscription was more overt but not much more serious than compulsion in other areas of life. Hopefully, reprinting these articles will illustrate by example that there is indeed a coherent tradition to which people can refer for a principled opposition to conscription.
THE LIBERTARIAN tradition thrived not as antimilitarism, although that was one element of libertarian thought, but as a general presumption for personal rights, civil guaranties, private property, and constitutional, republican government. Militarism and conscription have thrived not so much because these particular ideas are popular, but because state-oriented ideas generally are popular. The most peaceful, non-militaristic century in modern history—the nineteenth—was also the century in which free trade flourished more than it ever had before, or since; in which the rule of law was extended, at least in part, to many European countries and in which libertarian ideas governed the major features of state policy. The British Empire, at the zenith of its influence during the nineteenth century, never employed conscription. And the growth of imperialism toward the end of the nineteenth century was but one part of the movement of ideas that embraced higher trade barriers, the growth of state monopolies, of special labor laws, of compulsory health insurance, and other policies which marked a more vigorous role for government.
Decisive to the continuation of conscription is the general presumption that government is morally and technically qualified to administer the lives of citizens; only by overthrowing this presumption, and reviving libertarian ideas, can conscription be ended. Merely opposing compulsion in the case of conscription promises only a futile, rearguard harassment of government. Non-libertarians who are anti-conscription have reason empirically to doubt the possibilities of ending conscription without wholly reversing the presumption for state-oriented over citizen centered policy.19
[* ] James Powell is Associate Editor of New Individualist Review. He received his A.B. in History from the University of Chicago in 1966, and is currently doing graduate work there.
[1 ] Statement of Lt. Gen. William S. Knudsen, House Committee on Military Affairs, Nov. 27, 1945.
[2 ] D. D. Eisenhower, “This Country Needs Universal Military Training,” Reader’s Digest, Sept. 1966, p. 55.
[3 ] Statement of Lt. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, Director, Selective Service, Senate Committee on Armed Services, March 5, 1959.
[4 ] A. Hitler, Mein Kampf (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943), pp. 280-81.
[5 ] G. Garrett, The People’s Pottage (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 1965), p. 130.
[6 ] National Advisory Commission on Selective Service, Report, 1967, p. 12.
[7 ] Statement of Gen. Mark W. Clark, Chairman of the Civilian Advisory Panel on Military Manpower Procurement, Senate Committee on Armed Services, April 12, 1967.
[8 ] Statement of William C. Doyle, Chairman. National Security Commission. American Legion, Senate Committee on Armed Services, March 12, 1963.
[9 ] R. S. McNamara, “Address before American Society of Newspaper Editors, Montreal, Canada,” Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), May 18, 1966.
[10 ] J. K. Javits, “Administration Should Support National Service Concept,” Office of Jacob K. Javits, May 22, 1966.
[11 ]The New York Times, May 12, 1966, p. 14.
[12 ] “Remarks of the President at Montgomery County Fair, Dayton, Ohio,” Office of the White House Press Secretary, Sept. 5, 1966, pp. 4-5.
[13 ] W. Wirtx, “Policy for Youth,” Vital Speeches of the Day, Jan. 1, 1967, p. 162.
[14 ] Statement of Sargent Shriver, Senate Subcommittee of Employment, Manpower, and Poverty, March 23, 1967.
[15 ] S. Lynd, ed., Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966), p. 147.
[16 ] See the article by Walter Y. Oi in this issue.
[17 ] E.g., D. J. Eberly, ed., A Profile of National Service (New York: Overseas Educational Service, 1966), passim.
[18 ]A Foreign Policy for Americans (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1951), p. 124. Emphasis supplied.
[19 ] For a fine introduction to antimilitarism in America, see A. A. Ekirch, The Civilian and the Military (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956). A useful general survey is A. Vagts, A History of Militarism (New York: Norton, 1937), and since reprinted. There are many articles of one sort or another dealing with conscription, and one of particular interest, on the efforts exerted by the military to reverse traditional American presumptions against conscription, is H. Baldwin, “The Military Move In,” Harpers, Dec. 1947, pp. 481-89. The Nation is probably the only publication which has preserved a long tradition of opposition to conscription; see in particular the issues during and shortly after World War I—when its editors were both anti-conscription and libertarian.