<< The Body Politic

Is Mandatory National Service the Answer?

Friday, June 28th, 2013

While many nonprofits enable volunteerism and are worth celebrating, Conor Friedersdorf argues that compulsory national service would be a bad policy. Leaders like Stanley McChrystal believe that national service for young Americans should be made socially obligatory to help unite the country.

Friedersdorf suggests that while there are immense benefits to public service, a mandatory system of service for 18 year olds causes more problems than it would alleviate.

For instance, many young Americans fulfill obligations that may not be considered “public service,” but still reflect a selfless commitment to others. A student helping to support their single mother or a person caring for a sick relative would both entail giving back to the community, but would not involve service to a nonprofit.

A one-size-fits-all approach to mandatory service would be difficult to administer and unfair to the public, Friedersdorf write. Instead, our focus should be on empowering young Americans towards the greater good, whether it is in the form of national service or not.

Enabling Americans to work for the greater good as they see it—whether that means peace corps or starting a business or joining the military or working for a big corporation—is a true strength of our country. Compelling everyone to follow a single path would reduce the value we create as a nation, devalue diversity, and transgress against the right to liberty.

Friedersdorf supports expanding AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps to give more Americans the chance to serve.