An Army of the Willing

Posner, Richard A.
May 2003
New Republic;5/19/2003, Vol. 228 Issue 19, p27
The author offers observations on why conscription does not serve the greater community within the United States. In the theory of the state that John Stuart Mill sketched in 'On Liberty,' the government's role is to provide an unobtrusive framework for private activities. Since the election of former President Ronald Reagan in 1980, and with scarcely a beat skipped during the presidency of Bill Clinton, the United States--by such means as widespread privatization and deregulation, welfare reform, and indifference to growing inequalities of income--has been experimenting with a partial return to nineteenth-century liberalism. The most sweeping intellectual challenge to our reviving nineteenth-century liberalism comes not from the dwindling band of socialists, with their narrow focus on economic issues, or from the social or religious conservatives, with their narrow focus on abortion, homosexuality, religion, and a handful of other purely" social" issues, but from the communitarians. A notable omission in the communitarian criticism of the volunteer army is the failure to consider that a professional army (a term synonymous with volunteer army) is likely to be much more effective militarily than a conscript army under current conditions of warfare. As David King and Zachary Karabell pointed out in 'The Generation of Trust,' one reason for the enhanced esteem in which our volunteer military is held compared to its conscript predecessor is that when labor is hired rather than conscripted, the employer must persuade the labor pool that working for him is attractive.


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