Culture Faith & Philosophy

Conscription is Still Slavery

By Noah Mickel

While the government still pretends to be shut down, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service is considering a rollback of the one good thing Milton Friedman managed to do. According to a piece from NPR, the panel is considering a mandatory universal service program. Chairman of the commission, Joe Heck, cites creating “a universal expectation of service” as the panel’s goal.

If compulsory schooling, flag worship, and war propaganda weren’t enough to make every American “inspired and eager to serve,” as Joe Heck said, the state could just force us to. The state continues to act on the immoral notion that they own the citizen and can dictate their lives to the “greater good.” The proper response to this is an emphatic “No!”

Conscription and The Self-Ownership Principle

Libertarians believe human beings have a right to their own bodies. No one has any ownership claim to what an individual does. This principle has been put forward, albeit inconsistently at times, by many thinkers, including John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and Josiah Warren. The modern libertarian understanding of the concept didn’t come about until the 20th century.

Murray Rothbard defended the principle on account of natural law, first in his For a New Liberty, and later in his Ethics of Liberty. Rothbard explains the implications of denying sovereignty to the individual in the former work: either a certain class of people has a right to own another class, or everyone has equal partial ownership in everyone else. The first, Rothbard explains, treats one class as subhuman, but because they are, in fact, human, results in a denial of basic rights to another. The second is patently absurd and institutionally unrealizable.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe has defended the principle on grounds that one cannot argue against self-ownership. In his A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, Hoppe makes a case that individuals demonstrate preference for the self-ownership norms through argumentation. Truth claims must be discussed in the form of an argument. Argumentation, moreover, is a human action, performed through the will of the actor. Quoting from Theory, “any person who would try to dispute the property right in his own body would become caught up in a contradiction, as arguing in this way and claiming his argument to be true, would already implicitly accept precisely this norm as being valid.”

Anyone familiar with the libertarian ethic knows it not to be pacifistic. The non-aggression principle permits one to defend against aggression against himself. Institutions like the state, as it’s made up of human beings acting, must be held to the same standard as individual humans. If we own our own bodies, and cannot be aggressed against, then the state cannot exist. Coercing someone to serve it, militarily or otherwise, is forced labor; conscription is slavery.

The Social Contract

Inevitably, this view of the draft as slavery is met with the question of the “social contract.” After all, according to the powers that be, we live in a society where we lose some of our humanity for the sake of society. The social contract was proposed by philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, derived through the problematic concept known as the “state of nature.” Both claimed (falsely so) that, in a state of nature, man is free, but there is no order. As such, governments must be built, sacrificing some of this freedom, to create order. Contractarianism runs through many of the great classical liberals, including John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson, though often cited as promoting the natural law tradition, uses a contractarian justification for the formulation of a government in the Declaration of Independence. After expressing the rights of the individual in the first few lines, Jefferson says “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

In what way has there been any kind of contract? When individuals contract, they negotiate, and the contract is only binding when both parties agree. When did anyone consent to be governed? Minarchists have defended constitutionalism on the grounds that the Constitution of the United States isn’t the law that governs us, but the law that governs those who govern us. This clearly doesn’t justify the existence of any laws made by those who’ve consented to the constitution, as the individual still hasn’t consented to be governed. To the state, your consent is not required. To the anarchist, nothing short of consent binds the human being to anything; the state is merely a systematic rights violator.

All State Action is Enslavement

Conscription is a fundamental violation of our right to self-ownership, but so is the existence of the state. The state which once conscripted young men still steals, kills, and terrorizes the people who live under its boot and its enemies abroad. The humane person must not merely oppose the reinstitution of the draft, but the existence of the state itself.


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