Who’s Life is it? The Government’s, according to Reader’s Digest

Who’s life is it?
[December 22, 2003, first published on court.com]

To the editors, Reader’s Digest (letters@rd.com)

We are writing regarding the “Wouldn’t It Be Great If…” article in the January 2004 Reader’s Digest (published mid-December 2003) which suggests forcing people to give a year of their lives to the government. The author writes, “Think of everything they could accomplish.” If forcing people to give a year of their life to serve the government can accomplish so much and is such a good idea, why not make it 10 or 20? Even 30 or 40?

It is easy to dismiss using force to compel someone else to accomplish your goals with a “Sure, but…” as the article -unbelievably- does. However, that doesn’t make it morally right and shows the shallowness of the author’s argument. If society views that it is entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those forced to serve the whims of society are deprived of those rights and condemned to indentured servitude. And lets be clear about it, when there is one who serves there must, by definition, be one who is the master. Make no mistake about that; the authors intend those in Washington to be the masters.

This country’s founding principles hold that each individual’s life belongs to that individual, not to the collective or to the government as representative of that collective. We find it appalling, but not surprising, that there are those who would advocate forcing others into involuntary servitude in a country founded on the principles of liberty and equality for all.

Ignoring, for the moment, the moral evil associated with such a service requirement, and assuming, arguendo, that such service would return $1.66 for each dollar spent as the author’s allege AmeriCorp does, means merely that they believe that a $.66 return warrants forced labor. How much individual benefit does each indentured servant lose to ostensibly benefit society as a whole? There is no taking into account the losses incurred by those serving and the ripple effects of those losses on the same society allegedly benefited so greatly from that servitude? Does the author really seek to imply that forced loss to some weighs less morally, financially, and socially because some others benefit? We hope not. In short, the authors ignore the loss to “society” that these individuals’ work would contribute otherwise.

“Involuntary voluntarism” is right out of 1984 and a stunning example of doublespeak. History shows that it is much easier to enslave a free nation than to release a nation of slaves. If we are to survive as a free nation, why would we permit an establishment of what amounts to governmentally mandated and socially accepted slavery for a very productive segment of our population? Stepping down the primrose path of “good intentions” from liberty to servitude is much easier than coming back up the path once the precedent of explicit involuntary servitude is accepted for a “good cause.”

As Samuel Adams said: “If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains set lightly upon you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”

We agree. May posterity forget that the authors were our countrymen. No man in our country has the right to enslave another man, no matter how nobly one couches one’s intentions or how “great” a need it allegedly serves.

Christian H F Riley, Esq.