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 “National Service” 
And Involuntary Servitude

September 22, 2005 
Here in and around the Beltway, a local talk-radio host started the day with a bright idea: Let’s put welfare recipients to work. Today's column is "'National Service' and Involuntary Servitude" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them. This brainstorm was inspired, as you might guess, by the news footage of rioting and looting in New Orleans.

The idea of nonmilitary “national service” has a stubborn charm for many Americans who should know better. Even William Buckley has endorsed it. So do some of my liberal friends. If the government is paying people money, shouldn’t it be able to require something of them in return? Even rich people occasionally speak of “giving something back to the community.”

What we are talking about here, of course, is slavery, more delicately called “involuntary servitude” — not giving something back, but taking something that isn’t yours. Military conscription, or the draft, falls under the same heading, a violation of the unalienable right to life and liberty.

American courts have always exempted the draft from the Thirteenth Amendment prohibition against slavery. The courts do the same for taxes. If the government owns you and your labor, including your property, the thinking seems to run, it isn’t really slavery.

But the essence of slavery doesn’t lie in who owns you; it lies in the mere fact of your being owned at all. The key term is involuntary. Private chattel slavery has been replaced by state slavery, disguised by the genial rhetoric of democracy. Slavery becomes giving something back, everyone doing his part, and so on. One writer speaks loftily of “an ethic of common provision.”

All such talk obscures the essential element of force — organized state coercion under the forms of law.

One caller to the talk show got it right: “national service,” he pointed out, is unconstitutional; and so are welfare programs, which the government has no authority to create.

The U.S. Constitution was an ingenious but unsuccessful attempt to specify and thereby limit the powers of the Federal Government. By listing those powers in Article I, it implicitly (and, in the Tenth Amendment, explicitly) forbade the exercise of other, unlisted powers. This was supposed to guarantee lawful government.

[Breaker quote for 'National Service' and Involuntary Servitude: Perverting constitutional law]But the Federal Government has been trying to circumvent its own Constitution ever since. One essential method has been to make its own courts the final judge of how broadly its powers are to be construed. This allows the courts, in effect, to rewrite the contract without the consent of anyone else, making the Constitution, as Jefferson put it, “a blank paper by construction.”

And of course if the Constitution means whatever the Federal Government wants it to mean, it’s not going to inhibit the Federal Government. Its whole purpose is defeated. That government will be free to claim all the powers it wants — which is exactly what has happened.

The Thirteenth Amendment forbids slavery and “involuntary servitude.” But if Federal courts rule that the draft and confiscatory taxes don’t fall under that prohibition, then the amendment will be almost useless in protecting our freedom from the Federal Government itself.

In this way the government has been able to get away with claiming thousands of powers never constitutionally granted to it, and with ignoring most limits expressly placed on it. The Constitution has virtually ceased to exist, and the government can pass laws that are themselves lawless.

If the Federal Government violates the Constitution, there is an obvious remedy: The people should be free to defend themselves by declaring that it has forfeited its lawful authority and refusing to obey it. This simple solution is called “secession.”

But of course this is forbidden. The government claims an unconditional right to our obedience, no matter what it does or demands. In principle, we are its slaves. Yet it tells us not only that we’re free, but also that it’s defending our freedom when it wages wars and drafts us to fight those wars.

These are the simple, bare bones of the situation. Most Americans are content to be government slaves and parrot the slogans we’re taught. But a growing number, fortunately, want to think the whole business through again.

The Constitution isn’t the solution to the whole problem; it may be part of the problem itself. But it does lay down the principles the government purports to be observing, and we can begin to address the real problem by studying it closely.
P.S. Readers interested in this issue may want to visit the website of Mothers Against the Draft, which cautions us about accepting the idea of national service for our youth. Write or call them at:

Mothers Against The Draft
P.O. Box 656
Sparks, Nevada 89432
(775) 356-9009 or (775) 356-0727

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
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