Service Nation, Part I: Time Magazine Announces Public Service Campaign.—

[UPDATE: For some of Service Nation's response, see the update below.] A relatively new group, Service Nation, is planning to kick off a campaign with a Summit for "National Service" on September 11. Time Magazine has signed on to promote the effort. The website trumpets its training of "Change Agents" in cooperation with "Change, Inc." Its blog is called ChangeWire. Does this theme sound familiar?

The website makes it clear that it is not just calling for individuals to get involved, but it is calling for a new National Service Act that will involve the government in transforming American society:

To begin this journey, Service Nation will unite leaders from every sector of American society with hundreds of thousands of citizens in a national campaign to call on the next President and Congress to enact a new era of service and citizenship in America, an era in which all Americans will work together to try and solve our greatest and most persistent societal challenges. This campaign will launch with a Service Nation Summit, Sept. 11-12 in New York City, and build with a national grassroots movement aimed at inspiring widespread public support for a new and transformational National Service Act that will encourage all Americans to step forward and take the lead in bridging our divides, strengthening our communities, and building a more vibrant democracy.

The five co-chairs of the Service Nation Summit include Obama aide Caroline Kennedy, Vartan Gregorian (President of the Carnegie Corporation and former Democratic donor), Rick Stengel (Managing Editor of TIME Magazine and former speechwriter for Bill Bradley), Bill Novelli (CEO of AARP and former donor to both Republican and Democratic candidates, including John McCain in 1999), and Alma Powell (Chair of America's Promise Alliance and wife of Colin Powell). Gregorian and Novelli were not originally listed as co-chairs when the Summit was first announced.

The 64 members of the Leadership Counsel include three [two] potential Democratic Vice Presidential candidates: Bill Richardson, Sam Nunn, Jennifer Granholm -- as well as one potential Republican Vice Presidential candidate: Rob Portman.

What is this National Service Act that Service Nation favors?

Charles Rangel's National Service Act, which is [suppoorted by some segments of the movement, but not Service Nation, and is now] languishing before Congress, provides for a universal draft with two years [service] for virtually all persons aged 18-42, with no deferment for college. The purpose of Rangel's bill is:

"To require all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service, either as a member of the uniformed services or in civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security . . . ."

Here is how the civilian service is described in the bill (sec 102(b)):

a civilian capacity that, as determined by the President, promotes the national defense, including national or community service and service related to homeland security.

Note the interpretation of community service as promoting national defense, just as in Barack Obama's July 2, 2008 speech, a juxtaposition that confused most bloggers. Under Rangel's bill, if one is selected for induction into the military, one may choose instead to do civilian service. With unintentional irony the bill calls this mandatory service "Voluntary Service."

Sec. 103(e) Voluntary Service — A person subject to induction under this title may--

(1) volunteer to perform national service in lieu of being inducted; or

(2) request permission to be inducted at a time other than the time at which the person is otherwise called for induction.

In the Wikipedia entry on Rangel's statute is this intriguing statement:

The Universal National Service Act of 2007 is primarily sponsored by Congressman Charles Rangel of New York. Advocates for National Service include Senator Chris Dodd, Time Magazine Editor Rick Stengel, and writer Jason Blindauer.

This is the same Rick Stengel who is a co-chair of the Service Nation Summit and the same Jason Blindauer, whose organization is listed as one of the 100 members of Service Nation's organizing committee and is one of the leaders of the movement for a National Service Act.

The Americans for a National Service Act (ANSA), for which Blindauer is listed as the "Coordinator," indicates that it is part of Service Nation's campaign. His organization's website gives some idea about what the goals of Service Nation are:

Service Nation Campaign

Service Nation is a 16-month non-partisan grassroots and grass top political campaign intent on pushing the issue of National Service to the forefront of American life and convincing the next President and Congress to put into law a Voluntary National Service Act by September of 2009.

The secondary goal of Service Nation is to set America on a trajectory to become a nation of universal national service by 2020.

Who is Service Nation?

At the top, Service Nation is comprised of [here 17 people are listed, the last three of which are] Caroline Kennedy, Samantha Power, and TIME Magazine Editor Rick Stengel. The Campaign also includes many active and retired general/flag grade military officers.

At its nerve center Service Nation is coordinated by Alan Khazei and the hard-working and talented people of "Be The Change." Its nerve endings are 92 different organizations from across the country including

Americans for a National Service Act.

At its roots, military, civil service, and social service veterans who have proven through action their dedication to serving America carry the message of Service Nation.

The last and most important component of Service Nation is YOU.

What are the policy objectives of Service Nation?

Currently, less than 4 million Americans are involved in full-time service, and less than 1/3 of us are involved in part-time service. The main policy objective of Service Nation is to engage an additional 5 million Americans in service by 2012.

So the main policy objective is a large increase in service by 2012 and the secondary goal is universal (ie, mandatory) national service for all young Americans by 2020. The ultimate goal then of Service Nation is universal service such as required in Rangel's bill, but most likely for one year rather than two.

Here are Service Nation's more specific goals as laid out in Powerpoint slides on their website (number 13 is mandatory universal service for both men and women):

Engage 1 million Americans in full-time service, leveraging an additional 100 million volunteers each year.

1. Enroll one million Americans annually in a revitalized and expanded AmeriCorps national service program. Create new corps focused on education, public health, disaster relief, and energy conservation.

2. Send 100,000 Americans overseas each year through the Peace Corps, Volunteers for Prosperity and Global Service Fellowships.

3. Engage students in service learning opportunities by expanding Learn and Serve America to reach 3 million students.

4. Engage teenagers in a "Summer of Service" to address problems in their own backyard.

5. Provide opportunities to returning war veterans who want to continue to serve their country through a civilian service opportunity at home or abroad.

6. Make permanent the Citizen Corps and engage 500,000 Americans.

7. Create a new initiative of "Encore Service Careers" for baby-boomers and seniors.

8. Offer new support and performance standards for 400 volunteer centers.

9. Create the permanent National Service Council to play a similar role as the National Security Council and National Economic Council.

Create a Democratic Renewal in our Nation.

10. Establish a U.S. Public Service Academy.

11. Convene new Citizen Congresses.

12. Create regular Youth Constitutional Conventions at the National Constitution Center.

13. Launch a debate about why and how America should become a nation of universal national service by 2020: debating baby bond, lottery draft, new GI Bill, etc.

Foster Social Entrepreneurship

14. Create a Social Investment Fund to create a research and development (R&D) arm and growth capital market for the social sector. The fund would provide the financial infrastructure and leverage needed to identify and support promising innovations in the social sector, test their impact, and take them to scale.

15. Offer social entrepreneur fellowships to graduates of national service programs who have identified a need and a creative solution to meeting that need in order to bring their program model to fruition.

16. Create an office of "Social Innovation and Results" in the White House.

This is a breathtaking set of proposals that would create a bureaucracy that indeed might be "just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as our military. It would be much larger than the military. Note the founding of a new National Service Academy like the existing military academies.

Service Nation's short-term goal may be a staggering increase in voluntary national service and the federal bureaucracy, but the ultimate goal of Service Nation is a universal draft by the year 2020, as they openly disclose.


1. In response to my posts, Service Nation has now scrubbed its list of goals (quoted above) from its website. You can still read the first 13 of Service Nation's goals on the website of one of its members (but see below).

Number 13 was: "Launch a debate about why and how America should become a nation of universal national service by 2020 . . . ."

Note that the debate is not over WHETHER it should become a nation of universal national service, but only WHY and HOW it should become one.

2. Ilya Somin has already posted on Service Nation's denial that it favors mandatory universal national service, including quoting a FAQ from their website on the issue.

As I wrote above and Ilya repeated, I don't see how a national community service program can be both universal and voluntary.

And, of course, several other countries do have programs of "universal national service" either for men or for both sexes. To my knowledge (I might be wrong), none of these systems are voluntary.

One of the advantages of blogging is that I was able to quote all of Service Nation's main goals verbatim from their website, so people could see for themselves both what they said in their own words and why I interpreted them to have as a goal mandatory service.

One has to recognize that even some universal service programs characterized as "voluntary" by their proponents are fully mandatory, as I showed regarding Rangel's plan. And Service Nation did not describe its goal in item 13 as voluntary. Proponents of mandatory universal service programs rarely describe their own proposals as "mandatory," since that word rightly carries a stigma.

Despite Service Nation's vigorous claims of having been misunderstood and of favoring only voluntary service, their email to me did not even mention item 13 or their own expressed 2020 goal. Since all of their other goals seem to be intended to be enacted in sweeping 2009 legislation or executive acts, if they intended only voluntary programs, I don't understand why they would want to wait a decade or so by setting a deadline of 2020."

I hope to get more clarification of their position next week.

3. I wrote above:

The Americans for a National Service Act (ANSA), for which Blindauer is listed as the "Coordinator," indicates that it is part of Service Nation's campaign. His organization's website gives some idea about what the goals of Service Nation are . . . ."

In an email, Tim Zimmerman responded:

We have many partners, with many different views on service. Jason is a great guy, a valued member of our coalition, and a veteran of the Iraq War who knows more than most about the meaning of service. But all facts, goals, and beliefs attributed to ServiceNation really should come from the ServiceNation website at

I cited the site of Americans for a National Service Act, coordinated by Jason Blindauer, for several reasons. As noted above, he was mentioned by Wikipedia along with the co-chair of Service Nation's Summit, Rick Stengel (of TIME). Second, ANSA is a significant player in the movement for a National Service Act in its own right. Third, ANSA, a "valued member" of Service Nation, had the most extensive discussion of Service Nation's views on the web. Fourth, the information I quoted was Blindauer's (or ANSA's) description of the Service Nation movement; it was the best source anywhere for the centrality of Alan Khazei to Service Nation, a fact that I learned from ANSA's site and that I definitely wanted to include.

Fifth, if an organization is being accused of being excessively restrictive of human freedom, it might be best not to respond by arguing that "all facts, goals, and beliefs attributed to ServiceNation really should come from the ServiceNation website . . . ."

Such an approach would be the end of journalism. If someone were doing a profile of Barack Obama, couldn't they include information provided by Obama's friends? What I quoted about Service Nation from Blindauer's site was a description of Service Nation that could have been written by a journalist. Since Zimmerman calls him "a great guy, a valued member of our coalition," and since Zimmerman does not suggest that Blindauer's description is in any way incorrect, it seems odd to complain that I quote (presumably fair) descriptions of Service Nation from one of its valued members. I think it entirely proper to quote members who know the organization about what the organization is and who is involved, especially when that information is not at all inconsistent with what is on Service Nation's website.

Last, because Service Nation has scrubbed its website of its list of goals, unfortunately Blindauer's ANSA website, which still lists Service Nation's first 13 goals above, is at the moment the best place on the web to see what the goals of Service Nation actually are — unless Service Nation has significantly changed direction in response to my expose, which is unlikely but not impossible.

4. In an email Tim Zimmerman argues that Service Nation does not support Charles Rangel's bill for mandatory universal service. In the post above, I didn't say that they did (because I couldn't tell for sure in part because Service Nation was not advocating universal service in 2009, but rather by 2020). I was describing various strands in the movement. Also, Rangel's bill (quoted above) shows that in the movement for universal service, sometimes what is explicitly defined as "voluntary service" is fully mandatory.

In an email, Tim Zimmerman contrasted his view with Rangel's bill:

We do not support mandatory national service or a universal draft. And nowhere on our web site, or in any public utterance by Alan Khazei, has this been said. Rather, we support the idea of voluntary community and national service. We are working to both inspire more Americans to volunteer their time and to encourage our leaders to create service opportunities for every American who wants to volunteer their time in their community, or chooses to serve his or her country for a year in AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, or some other national service program.

Service Nation, Part II: The Goals of Its Leader.--

According to the Americans for a National Service Act, "Service Nation is coordinated by Alan Khazei and the hard-working and talented people of 'Be The Change.'"

Last year Alan Khazei argued in a speech at Harvard that a year of "volunteer" work should be a mandatory requirement for admission to college. In return, the student would receive a year of tuition. According to the Harvard Crimson, Harvard students were cool to the idea.

Khazei has been pushing for universal national service since he was a young intern in Washington. He postponed law school to work for Gary Hart in 1984, the only candidate favoring mandatory universal national service, and himself a supporter of Service Nation.

Khazei explains his ultimate goal:

Imagine if every nation in the world had a year of full-time service as a rite of passage for all young people growing up. And imagine if we had a global service corps that united young people from North America, Africa, The Middle East, South America, Europe, and Asia. Working together as a true global generation and role modeling what the very best of humanity can be.

Imagine just how different our nation and world would be as a result.

We would have the enormous energy and idealism of each young generation put to work against the most pressing needs of our day. We would turn on each generation's "justice nerve." That inner voice that says each one of us CAN make a difference and every one of us MUST try. . . . And once a justice nerve is turned on, it rarely goes off.

We would have a nation and world in which we not only felt --- but truly were --- all of us in this together. Universal national service would, I believe, lead to developing the political will to confront and solve our most pressing challenges. It would also lead to much broader participation in our democracy, our public institutions, our military and our civic life, which is vital for a healthy republic.

And so this vision captured my imagination, and when I was 21 years old, I did what many Harvard government majors who believed in changing our country did then, I went to Washington DC to spend a summer as a Congressional Intern. I worked for my Congressperson from NH's First District, Norm D'Amours. Congressman D'Amours was a believer in bringing back the draft. I thought that voluntary [sic] universal national service with both military and civilian options was a better idea.

So, I asked my Congressman if I could prepare a report for him on national service as an alternative to the draft. And he said sure. I realize now that he was probably happy that I'd have something to do for the summer that would keep me out of his hair. Even back then, I was a little too earnest and enthusiastic. Little did I know that summer would set me on a path for the next 25 years. . . .

The solution is to develop a system of voluntary universal national service for our country and for the world. To call upon all young adults to take at least one year to learn the hard and rugged skills of practicing idealism. I have dedicated the past 20 years of my life to this dream.

In a recent article excerpted on Service Nation's website, Khazei is more specific:

Alan Khazei, CEO of Be The Change, said that the concept is to leverage the national service volunteers to help manage community volunteers. The national service individuals would be stipended through AmeriCorps or other federal programs. "It's taking to more traditional national service. The statistics show $1 invested brings back $1.50 to $3 in social benefit," said Khazei.

The hope is to boost the AmeriCorps stipended staff to 1 million by 2020, from the current roughly 70,000, Khazei said.

Note that Kazei describes his goal as a National Service program that is both voluntary and universal. Since we are not a totalitarian regime, a national service program can't be both universal and voluntary. It appears that Kazei means "voluntary" in the way that Charles Rangel means voluntary: service is mandatory, but you may choose which program to which to devote a year (or two) of your life. But see UPDATE below, which reaches a different conclusion on the last point.][

Coming in a few days: the political implications of Service Nation.


1. Service Nation responds. In addition to updates here, here, and here, Service Nation also responded by email specifically to the above post:

You say: "Khazei has been pushing for universal national service since he was a young intern in Washington. He postponed law school to work for Gary Hart in 1984, the only candidate favoring mandatory universal national service, and himself a supporter of Service Nation."

Alan does not and has never supported mandatory universal national service (though it is his fondest wish that that the opportunity to serve will become universal and that so many Americans will be inspired to volunteer to serve that service in America will be near-universal). Nor did Gary Hart, for that matter. In this quote from Khazei's Harvard speech (also posted on the Volokh Conspiracy), Khazei says, "The solution is to develop a system of *voluntary* universal national service for our country and for the world."

2. Gary Hart. I claimed that in 1984 Gary Hart favored mandatory universal national Service. Service Nation claims that Hart did not.

The newspapers from 1984 support my claim about Hart (though apparently he wasn't the only candidate supporting mandatory national service). According to a long, detailed 1/16/84 Boston Globe account by Thomas Oliphant and Curtis Wilkie of a Democratic debate:

Hart, McGovern, and Askew proposed a program of compulsory national service, under which a young person would have a choice between the military and other forms of public service, while Mondale and Cranston said the current system is working satisfactorily and should not be changed except in a serious national emergency.

In an August 24, 1984 National Review story on "neoliberals," they list as neoliberals Paul Tsongas, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, Robert Reich, and Lester Thurow. Among the things they supposedly share is "visions of a technocratic government in which education is 'investment in human capital,' the state and big capital work hand in hand, and 'national service' is compulsory for all."

After the 1984 fall election was over, Hart seems to have rethought his position toward making service mandatory, but the AP (11/16/1984) reported that Hart had earlier supported mandatory national service:

On another subject, Hart said he might favor reintroduction of a U.S. military draft. He has previously supported some form of mandatory national service military or civilian.

3. Khazei's view on full-time mandatory service. As near as I can tell, Alan Khazei has never advocated full-time compulsory service mandated by the government, though according to the Harvard Crimson (which may have misunderstood him), Khazei advocated that colleges require one year of service before a student could be admitted. Since students are not required by law to attend college, perhaps making a year of service a mandatory prerequisite for college would not violate an extremely cribbed view of "voluntary."

I think Khazei's views on full-time mandatory service are best expressed in his own words. He rejects it in the short run on pragmatic grounds, and is at most ambivalent about it in the long run:

Khazei: If we had a universal system of national service with this kind of GI Bill, every single young person in this country would realize: the American dream is real for me. I have to earn it. I have to serve my country. I think if we had this GI Bill, there would be hundreds of thousands of people that would sign up.

Q: . . . Why not make it conscription? . . .

Khazei: One is, you have constitutional issues, first of all, in terms of having a mandatory civilian service. Secondly, even if we all decided — it's almost a red herring right now. People like to debate it, it's sexy, it's controversial.

But we don't have the infrastructure YET. Conscription would mean 4 million people a year, and right now there are 75,000 [full-time in Americorps]. There are 1.4 million nonprofits in America, so you could absorb hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.

But what I suggest is: try this GI Bill, scale it up over the next ten years. Get to a critical mass, and then the country can have a real debate — should we make this mandatory or not — once we have the infrastructure in place, once we've seen this idea at scale, once we see how it affects the culture of the country. Right now to say mandatory, I think, it's fun to talk about, it's controversial, people like to argue, constitutional rights. I don't think the country — even practically in terms of an infrastructure point of view — is ready for that. And we don't need it.

I think if we had a GI Bill, it would become — and also if you had a real call to service — you could get the benefits of a universal system without the negatives of I was forced to do this. People who apply to City Year, they choose to do it, and they get SELECTED, and they feel special because they volunteered. And I think that's an important aspect of this that we would lose in a mandatory system.

This sounds a bit like the debate that I noted was stated as Goal 13 of Service Nation.

4. Khazei's view of Mandatory Part-time Service for School Children. In 2003 Khazei and Michael Brown wrote with seeming approval (see below) of programs in Maryland, Philadelphia, and Chicago that require service-learning for graduation or promotion (they include required hours of actual service). Khazei and Brown further wrote: "we should . . . provide incentives for states to require service-learning in every school district." They also wrote of making "service-learning an integral part of every child's education from kindergarten through college."

As to the definition of service learning, Khazei and Brown cite the National Service Learning Website. Not only does that website define service-learning in a way that requires actual "tasks" or "service," but it states that "all seem to agree" with that core definition:

Even though there are many different interpretations of service-learning as well as different objectives and contexts, we can say that there is a core concept upon which all seem to agree:

Service-learning combines service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the activity change both the recipient and the provider of the service. This is accomplished by combining service tasks with structured opportunities that link the task to self-reflection, self-discovery, and the acquisition and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge content.

For example, if school students collect trash out of an urban streambed, they are providing a service to the community as volunteers; a service that is highly valued and important. When school students collect trash from an urban streambed, then analyze what they found and possible sources so they can share the results with residents of the neighborhood along with suggestions for reducing pollution, they are engaging in service-learning. In the service-learning example, the students are providing an important service to the community AND, at the same time, learning about water quality and laboratory analysis, developing an understanding of pollution issues, learning to interpret science issues to the public, and practicing communications skills by speaking to residents. They may also reflect on their personal and career interests in science, the environment, public policy or other related areas. Thus, we see that service-learning combines SERVICE with LEARNING in intentional ways. --- National Service Learning Website.

Despite Khazei's expressed support in 2003 for states requiring service-learning (and thus apparently actual service) in every school district in the state and his support for making "service-learning an integral part of every child's education from kindergarten through college," Khazei has never (to my knowledge) referred to his own views as compulsory -- indeed, the word appears to be taboo in some segments of the movement.

I quote Khazei's own words at length so you can judge for yourself whether he favors schools or states imposing part-time compulsory service as a requirement for graduation:

Alan Khazei and Michael Brown, New Pathways to Civic Renewal, in Shaping the Future of American Youth: Youth Policy in the 21st Century (2003):

Our vision is that one day the most commonly asked question of a young person will be: "Where are you going to do your service year?" It is time for our system of national service to evolve into a civic institution for the new century. . . .

We believe that in order to answer such a large challenge, the nation should set and meet three ambitious goals:

Make service-learning an integral part of every child's education from kindergarten through college, including a year of national service;

• Create a new "Senior Heroes" program . . .

• Expand AmeriCorps to enroll a critical mass of one million young people annually by 2020 . . . .


To build national service to scale, we need to simultaneously develop the key programs in which people will serve and the funding infrastructure required to make those programs sustainable. We recommend developing five key programmatic initiatives:


Even the youngest elementary school children can make a difference in the lives of senior citizens or help plant community gardens and provide food for the homeless. In doing so, children develop a lifetime sense of pride and ownership in their communities. Because of the excellent work of schools, community programs, universities, and such programs as Learn and Serve America, over 13 million students during the 2000-2001 school year were able to participate in service-learning activities. Service-learning combines structured opportunities to serve with academic curriculum that encourages self-reflection, self-discovery, and the development of values, skills, and knowledge. Research shows that involving young people in these activities has a positive impact on their personal development, sense of civic and social responsibility, citizenship skills, academic skills and knowledge, and career aspirations. Furthermore, service-learning has a positive impact on schools and contributes to community renewal.

Our goal should be to engage all public school students to pursue service-learning activities as an essential part of their school curricula by the year 2020. Already, the state of Maryland and several cities, including Philadelphia and Chicago, require their students to participate in service-learning activities. Seven states now permit students to apply community service or service-learning activities toward their high school graduation requirements. Ten states, and the District of Columbia encourage service-learning in classrooms. To promote greater use of service-learning in classrooms across America we should increase federal funding to Learn and Serve America, provide incentives for states to require service-learning in every school district, and leverage AmeriCorps members to help schools implement service-learning programs. The scope and impact of service-learning should be expanded by:

• Providing schools with "Community Service Coaches. Research suggests that adult leadership is crucial in communicating civic principles of tolerance and social justice to children. To ensure the success of nation-wide service-learning curricula, we should use federal and state funds to provide each public school with a full-time "Community Service Coach." They would coordinate each school's service-learning activities and run additional service programs for students, such as after-school and weekend service clubs. AmeriCorps alumni would be likely candidates to serve as co mmunity service coaches.

Thus, though Alan Khazei does not favor mandatory full-time national service at this time --- he has argued that the debate over making full-time service mandatory is premature until the service infrastructure is brought up to scale — I leave it to readers to decide if he nonetheless favors mandatory part-time service for school children.

Service Nation, Part III: Mandatory Community Service is a Basic Assault on Anglo-American Liberty.--

Every year around so-called "tax freedom" day, people talk about moving from working for the government to working for themselves. But this is too glib because it conflates paying taxes with compelled physical labor. There is a big difference, one central to the history of Anglo-American liberty.

Under the medieval system in much of Europe, serfs or peasants owed obligations of actual physical labor (beyond military service) to their political overseers. As English liberties grew, this obligation of physical labor was replaced by the right to pay taxes instead, with the chief exception being obligations of military service for males. Free men were increasingly free to choose their line of work and pay their political overseers with money, rather than owing an obligation of service to whatever physical tasks happened to be thought important or profitable to the upper and the political classes.

Service Nation is an organization devoted to stripping away this bulwark of Anglo-American liberty, hoping by the year 2020 to require every young American man and woman to be drafted into either military or community service.

[4th UPDATE: Service Nation has emphatically stated that it does not favor mandatory service, favoring only voluntary service. My characterization of their goal for 2020 was based mostly on their 13th stated goal, which used to be on their website, but has since been scrubbed: "13. Launch a debate about why and how America should become a nation of universal national service by 2020: debating baby bond, lottery draft, new GI Bill, etc." Their email to me did not explain what they did mean by their 13th goal, but I hope to speak with them next week. Their more immediate goals include passing a National Service Act in 2009 (which would probably not require universal service).]

But they do not even discuss the Constitutional Amendment that ought to be required before they can mandate community service and take away the hard-won Anglo-American liberty from involuntary servitude. The Constitution gives the Federal Government the power to raise a military, which in the 18th century contemplated an obligation of male citizens to serve in the military. In my opinion, the Constitution does not give the Federal Government the power to compel community service.

Let's hope that the Supreme Court would not permit Service Nation's move backwards to a more feudal relationship between ordinary people and the people who govern them. One senses that de Toqueville understood American values of volunteerism and freedom of association much better than the people behind Service Nation, an understanding that was also concerned about the tyranny of the majority.

UPDATE: Service Nation's coordinator, Alan Khazei, argues that doing community service turns on one's "'justice nerve. . . . And once a justice nerve is turned on, it rarely goes off."

It seems to me that, if it really turned on one's justice nerve, one would have a good enough sense of justice to oppose Service Nation's unjust goal of state-mandated public service. I wonder whether instead forced community service would tend to turn on one's "collectivist nerve."

2d UPDATE: Comments below helpfully point to Butler v. Perry (1914), in which the Supreme Court upheld a Florida statute that required EITHER 6 days of labor a year on local roads OR the provision of an able-bodied substitute OR the payment of $3 to the road repair fund.

Although the statute allowed the payment of a tax to avoid service (which made service not mandatory), from reading the case my guess is that the Court would probably have upheld the statute even if it were truly mandatory.

Whether requiring a full year, rather than 6 days a year, would be allowed and whether one could expand services beyond road building duties is unclear.


1. Philip Hamburger points out that the federal government is one of enumerated powers, while the states have more general powers. This wouldn't affect the involuntary servitude argument, but it would affect whether the Constitution gives the Federal Government power to compel participation in an "army" of domestic service workers several times larger than the US military.

2. Ann Althouse comments:

Service Nation. It sounds like the title of a dystopian novel.

You'd think before naming your movement, you'd check the etymology of your key word:


ETYMOLOGY: Middle English, from Old French, from Latin servitium, slavery, from servus, slave.

But as Lindgren notes, one man's "justice nerve" is another man's "collectivist nerve." Something might sound so right to you, that you don't even notice how it sounds to others.

3. I came across these quotations from De Toqueville:

a. Every central government worships uniformity: uniformity relieves it from inquiry into an infinity of details.

b. Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.

I very much doubt that the highest and best use of ALMOST EVERY American for a year of his or her life is to spend it in a government program.

4th UPDATE: See the 4th UPDATE embedded in text above.]

The Mainstreaming of Forced Labor:

Co-blogger Jim Lindgren has done an excellent job of criticizing the "Service Nation" proposal for up to two years mandatory "national service," eventually to be imposed on all Americans.

As Jim explains in his first post, Service Nation is backed by a wide range of prominent politicians, activists, and philanthropists, including several potential 2008 vice presidential candidates. This impressive list of backers heightens my previously expressed concern that proposals for government-imposed forced labor are entering the political mainstream and may be on the road to enactment. Other prominent supporters of mandatory national service (cited in the post above) include Charles Rangel, the late Bill Buckley, Rahm Emmanuel, and Bruce Reed, President of the center-left Democratic Leadership Council. Republican Presidential candidate John McCain has endorsed mandatory national service in the past, though (as far as I know) he has not reiterated this view in recent years.

The fact that mandatory national service is attracting the support of numerous mainstream, centrist politicians and activists is a sign of its political viability. These people are unlikely to endorse any major proposal that could damage their political prospects. Another political factor in its favor is the fact that the targets of such proposals are almost exclusively young people - a group with very little political influence. The combination of powerful backers and weak victims is always a political advantage.

I don't expect mandatory national service to be enacted in the near future. But it might well be adopted through a slow process of accretion over the next few years, perhaps by the Service Nation target date of 2020. For example, one can imagine an initial proposal that merely requires mandatory service as a condition of receiving federal student loans (as many national service advocates propose). Once that law is enacted, critics will claim that it is "unfair" for relatively affluent students to escape this obligation by paying for their tuition with private funds. The law could then be amended to cover all college students. At that point, many would consider it unfair that college grads are required to serve, while other young people are not. Eventually, the law could be expanded to impose mandatory national service as a condition of getting a high school diploma. Obviously, these requirements would have to be imposed on students in private schools and colleges as well as public ones. Otherwise, they would not be truly "universal," as national service advocates insist they must be. Other slippery slope paths to mandatory national service are also possible. The scenario I outline is just one of several plausible possibilities.

Why Mandatory National Service is Unconstitutional under the Thirteenth Amendment:

The debate over the Service Nation proposals for mandatory national service raises the issue of whether such an imposition is constitutional under the Thirteenth Amendment. In a series of posts last year, I explained in detail why I believe that mandatory national service violates the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition on "involuntary servitude." To briefly summarize my argument, the key point is that the text of the Amendment forbids all "involuntary servitude," with the sole exception of forced labor imposed as punishment for a crime. For reasons explained in this post, the explicit inclusion of this exception strongly suggests that no other exceptions are permitted, including for government-imposed "service" obligations.

In this post, I discussed and criticized the Supreme Court's 1916 decision in Butler v. Perry, the case (noted in Jim's most recent post) that comes closest to holding that mandatory civilian service is constitutionally permissible. Butler upheld a Florida law that required all adult males to either pay a small tax for the upkeep of roads or report for mandatory road repair work six days per year. The option of paying a tax potentially could have been grounds for upholding the law on the basis that a law that simply required all citizens to pay a small road tax would surely have been constitutionally permissible, and adding a labor option doesn't make the law more coercive than it was before. Unfortunately, the Court upheld the law on broader grounds that might also apply to mandatory national service. This aspect of Butler's reasoning is, I think, severely flawed, for reasons that I explained in the linked post.

I am far from certain that today's Court would endorse Butler's reasoning. But even if it did, that might not be enough to uphold a mandatory national service program that imposed a lengthy forced labor obligation on all young people. Justice McReynolds' opinion for the Court claimed that the Thirteenth Amendment's ban on "involuntary servitude" does not extend to "services always treated as exceptional, and certainly was not intended to interdict enforcement of those duties which individuals owe to the state." This suggests that only longstanding traditional service obligations and "duties . . . owe[d] to the state" are exempt from the Amendment's otherwise categorical ban. Obviously, there is no longstanding tradition (or any tradition) of civilian mandatory national service imposed for a lengthy period of time. Therefore, a modern court could strike down mandatory national service without overruling Butler or even cutting back on its more expansive reasoning.

Other precedents cut against the constitutionality of mandatory national service. For example, as I noted here, in the Peonage Cases of the early 1900s, the Court used the involuntary servitude ban to strike down laws that imposed significantly less coercive labor obligations than those that would be required under mandatory national service.

In future posts, if time permits, I intend to consider the legal and policy issues raised by the Service Nation proposal in more detail.

UPDATE: The law upheld in Butler was a Florida law, not an Alabama law as I initially stated. I have corrected the mistake in the main body of the post.

McCain Campaign "studying options for national service."--

Just over a week ago, Ben Adler reported that John McCain had not yet come up with a national service plan:

John McCain, who's predicated his presidential run in no small part on his distinguished military record, frequently exhorts Americans — and especially young Americans — to serve their country. Despite that appeal, he has yet to offer any proposals to expand or transform national service outside of the military. . . .

Although McCain joined most congressional Republicans in 1993 to oppose the creation of the Americorps program when President Bill Clinton proposed it, he later became a prominent supporter. He teamed with Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) in 2001 to introduce legislation to expand service programs, and again worked with Bayh and other Democrats to convince President Bush not to cut funding for the program in 2003.

"John McCain has constantly spoken to the need for young Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest," said McCain spokesman Joseph Pounder. "McCain's campaign is all about a cause greater than yourself," echoed Jessica Colon, chairwoman of the Young Republican National Federation.

But the McCain campaign will not commit to releasing a plan for expanding service opportunities. A senior policy adviser said only that they are "studying options for national service." When asked why he does not have a service proposal, Pounder would only say that McCain is proud of his past support for service programs and has exhorted audiences to serve in this campaign.

The leading Democratic candidates all released service plans last year, and Mike Huckabee frequently articulated a general intention to increase national service opportunities.

Others running in the Republican primary, including McCain, said little about service programs, which some members of the Republican base consider unnecessary spending that interferes with more effective private sector efforts.

When Time magazine last month asked both candidates to contribute an essay on patriotism, McCain wrote on the obligations of the citizen and gave pride of place to "the communal spaces where government is absent, anywhere Americans come together to govern their lives and their communities — in families, churches, synagogues, museums, symphonies, the Little League, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Salvation Army or the VFW. They are the habits and institutions that preserve democracy." While he later brought up military service, he made no mention of Americorps or any other national civilian service program.

Although Adler never criticizes McCain for not having a grand national service program like Obama's, reading between the lines of the article I suspect that Adler thinks that McCain ought to have one. Certainly, McCain needs to have a position, though the one McCain expressed in Time Magazine might just be the right one for him.

McCain's Time Magazine Essay on Patriotism Touches on Service.--

John McCain on Patriotism in Time Magazine (tip to Adler):

Patriotism means more than holding your hand over your heart during the national anthem. It means more than walking into a voting booth every two or four years and pulling a lever. Patriotism is a love and a duty, a love of country expressed in good citizenship.

Patriotism and the citizenship it requires should motivate the conduct of public officials, but it also thrives in the communal spaces where government is absent, anywhere Americans come together to govern their lives and their communities —- in families, churches, synagogues, museums, symphonies, the Little League, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Salvation Army or the VFW. They are the habits and institutions that preserve democracy. They are the ways, small and large, we come together as one country, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all. They are the responsible exercise of freedom and are indispensable to the proper functioning of a democracy. Patriotism is countless acts of love, kindness and courage that have no witness or heraldry and are especially commendable because they are unrecorded.

The patriot must not just accept, but in his or her own way protect the ideals that gave birth to our country: to stand against injustice and for the rights of all and not just one's own interests. The patriot honors the duties, the loyalties, the inspirations and the habits of mind that bind us together as Americans. . . .

And those of us who live in this time, who are the beneficiaries of their sacrifice, must do our smaller and less dangerous part to protect what they gave everything to defend, lest we lose our own love of liberty.

Love of country is another way of saying love of your fellow countrymen — a truth I learned a long time ago in a country very different from ours. Patriotism is another way of saying service to a cause greater than self-interest.

If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you are disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. I hope more Americans would consider enlisting in our armed forces. I hope more would consider running for public office or working in federal, state and local governments. But there are many public causes where your service can make our country a stronger, better one than we inherited.

Service Nation States that It Does Not Support Mandatory National Service:

I recently had a conversation with Tim Zimmerman, a spokesman for Service Nation, in which he emphasized that he and the organization he represents do not support mandatory national service. Co-blogger Jim Lindgren and I had previously interpreted their position as supporting such an agenda because many of the organization's leaders have previously expressed support for mandatory service and because the organization's list of 13 objectives includes "Launch[ing] a debate about why and how America should become a nation of universal national service by 2020." As Jim pointed out in one of his posts, it is impossible to have national service that is both universal and voluntary because under a voluntary system at least some people will choose not to serve, thus rendering the system non-universal.

However, Zimmerman suggests that this passage (which has since been removed from Service Nation's website) was merely intended to indicate the group's support for the idea that service opportunities should be universally available to those who want to serve. He agreed that Point 13 was poorly worded and thought that Service Nation should use different terminology in the future. He also points to this recently added statement on Service Nation's website (which was apparently added as a result of Jim's post):

Does Service Nation support mandatory national service?

No. We support the idea of voluntary community and national service. We are working to both inspire more Americans to volunteer their time and to encourage our leaders to create service opportunities for every American who wants to serve their community and country. We do not support mandatory national service requirements.

Obviously, definitions of what counts as "voluntary" may vary. Some national service advocates seem to believe that a system is "voluntary" so long as participants can choose what kind of government-mandated service they are required to perform (while being denied the option of refusing to serve altogether). Zimmerman assured me that this is not Service Nation's view.

As a general rule, I think we should assume that people are telling the truth about their agenda unless there is clear proof to the contrary (as there isn't here). So I think I should accept Zimmerman's and Service Nation's assurances on this point, as there is no clear proof that they are in bad faith.

At the same time, I continue to be troubled by some of the statements made by Service Nation leader Alan Khazei, who has argued that "every nation in the world [should] ha[ve] a year of full-time service as a rite of passage for all young people growing up," and that we should have "universal national service." There is no way that "a year of full-time service" can be a rite of passage for all young people unless it is mandatory. Khazei has also said that a year of national service should be a requirement for admission to college, though it is not clear whether he means that government should mandate this requirement or whether he merely hopes that universities will adopt it voluntarily. Khazei's views don't necessarily represent those of Service Nation as a whole, and I am willing to accept that the organization doesn't endorse all of his positions.

I also worry that the enactment of a massive government program for even genuinely voluntary service (which Service Nation does seem to favor) might eventually transition into a mandatory system even if that wasn't the original intention. Like Jim, I continue to oppose Service Nation's proposal to enormously expand government-sponsored service programs, eventually enrolling up to 1 million people every year (more than ten times as many as currently).