The Texas Legislature is currently considering a bill that will mandate “volunteer” work for all college and university students in the state. The result of this bill will be to introduce “volunteerism” as a component of college education. The grave implications of such a measure for education and freedom are as obvious as they are ominous. It would establish as a goal of education the indoctrination of young Americans in the philosophy of serfdom, which holds that the individual is the property of the collective and should thus be disposed of as the collective sees fit. If this drive is not stopped, its logical culmination will be to transform America into a slave nation.
This is the latest incident in the recent crusade towards servitude in the form of “volunteerism,” which started about a decade ago. A number of public school districts require “volunteer” work by their students. Some colleges and universities have followed suit, making such work part of student orientation and/or a requirement for graduation.
Ironically the city where America declared its Independence and the inalienable rights of man also witnessed the federal government’s involvement in this frenzy commemorated with a “volunteerism” summit held in Philadelphia in 1994. The standard-bearers of this movement include America’s most prominent political figures, including Bill Clinton, George Bush, Sr., and Collin Powell.
The concept of “mandatory volunteerism” is patently self contradictory. Since true volunteerism consists of freely choosing to help others, the only purpose of a concept as absurd as “mandatory volunteerism” is to conceal the fact that such measures impose involuntary servitude. This phenomenon flies in the face of America’s founding principles and violates its Constitution and it is at first sight astounding how such a flagrant contradiction arose in a country built on the premise that all men possess inalienable rights and whose political system was centered on the protection of those rights.
Sadly, the history of the United States is essentially an account of the disintegration of its political system and its collapse from man’s inalienable rights to the forced “volunteerism” of the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century.
The founding of America was a unique event in world history. Unlike other countries, America was not created on the basis of ethnicity, conquest, or geographical proximity. It has been the only country in history to be founded on a set of principles. The cornerstone of the original American political system is the idea of individual rights, which the Founding Fathers took from John Locke, the greatest thinker of the Enlightenment. This principle established the individual as sovereign and the government as his servant, deriving its powers from the just consent of the governed.
This revolutionary concept was contrary to all the political systems that had existed prior to the founding of America and all the ones that have appeared since. In all those regimes the role of the individual and the only justification of his existence was to serve his masters. The identity of the masters underwent many changes through the centuries, ranging from the absolute monarchs of the antiquity to one’s race or social class in the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, but the principle of servitude remained at the core of all those systems. The America of the Founding Fathers was the lone luminous exception to humanity’s worship of tyranny and oppression. This is precisely why in its founding principles America has been the only moral country in history.
The one glaring contradiction in the original American system was Southern slavery. As regrettable as this institution was, it was not the fault of the Framers, who were adamantly opposed to slavery and fought to abolish it. Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration condemned slavery as “war on human nature” and other leading figures in the Independence Convention (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin) were staunchly against slavery as well. However, the Convention had decided that the vote on independence would have to be unanimous so that the American colonies would be united against England. This unanimity rule gave the Carolinas and Georgia veto power on the issue of slavery, thus leading to the elimination of the anti-slavery clause from the Declaration.
While slavery flagrantly contradicted the principle of individual rights, there were more fundamental problems with the American political system. The discovery of man’s rights was the crown jewel of the Enlightenment, but Locke and other thinkers had failed to provide a factual basis for individual rights. Rights were either considered a grant from god or were just asserted as an indispensable part of human nature, but without identifying their link to the facts of human life. Those two false views on rights are expressed in the same sentence of the Declaration of Independence, where it is stated that the principle of individual rights is self-evident and all men are endowed with rights by their creator.
As monumental as the discovery of man’s rights was, their basis was tragically flawed from the outset. To assert that man’s rights are a gift from god is to contaminate the philosophy of the Enlightenment with an element of mysticism. Instead of tracing rights to man’s rational faculty, this approach places them in an ineffable realm that is by its very nature beyond rational inquiry and justification. Similarly, the contention that the principle of man’s rights is self-evident defies the obvious need for their explanation.
The biggest reason for the failure to identify a reality-based, rational foundation of the concept of man’s rights was the fact that, despite its undeniable grandeur, the Enlightenment was unable to shake off the primordial altruist morality. With the exception of the egoistic ethics of Ancient Greece, all moral codes in history were variants of the ethics of sacrifice, which was thoroughly entrenched as the only approach to morality during the Dark and Middle Ages. With the Renaissance and the Enlightenment occurring in a Christian world where religion monopolized morality, they were unable to break free from the Christian influence. As a result, holdovers of religious ethics can be found even in the ideas of thinkers who renounced Christianity in favor of deism, like most of the Founding Fathers, or outright atheism.
The Enlightenment’s failure to develop an egoistic morality left it with no choice but to adopt a secularized version of altruism, where the standard of morality is man’s sacrifice for his “neighbor” rather than God. As Ayn Rand noted, this morality was America’s fundamental contradiction, as it is impossible to reconcile the right to the pursuit of happiness declared by the Framers with altruism’s view of man as a sacrificial animal. The only proper basis for man’s rights is a morality that upholds the pursuit of rational self-interest as the essence of a virtuous life. Without a selfish moral basis, man’s rights were left without ethical justification.
The missing foundation of man’s rights played directly into the hands of its enemies, enabling them to appear as champions of reality and reason and condemn the concept of rights as irrational. In the nineteenth century the philosophical climate that gave rise to individual rights was supplanted by a militant revival of mysticism spearheaded by Kant and Hegel. By putting forth a supernatural and inexplicable view of man’s rights, Locke and the Founding Fathers played into the hands of their philosophical enemies.
The implications of the Enlightenment’s failure to provide a proper basis for man’s rights also became apparent in the ideas of thinkers who posed as defenders of capitalism, such as Jeremy Bentham. Bentham’s utilitarianism denounced rights as “nonsense on stilts” and tried to defend liberty on the grounds of social welfare, arguing that it serves “the greatest good of the greatest number.” Thus the conflict between the morality of altruism and man’s rights grew like cancer, leading to the grotesque and self-contradictory attempt to justify individual freedom on collectivist premises.
The American political system remained predominantly grounded in individual rights for the first half of the nineteenth century, but it was only a matter of time till the seeds of altruism came to fruition and the cracks at the foundation of America started widening.
The event that sparked the reversal of America’s course was the Civil War. While this war was allegedly fought for the goal of ending slavery, more importantly it introduced for the first time in US history a new form of slavery, the military draft. It also featured other forms of oppression that directly violated the Constitution such as the first federal income tax in US history, debasement of the currency through inflation, widespread economic controls for the purpose of confiscating resources for the war effort, and repeal of habeas corpus so that supporters of the South could be arrested and imprisoned without due process. In fact this war was a major step towards the enslavement of all Americans. The war had the side effect of abolishing slavery, but at the cost of effectively repealing the Bill of Rights and putting America on the road to statism, as aptly noted by economist Walter Williams in a FOX News interview.
The abolition of involuntary servitude came with the Thirteenth Amendment, which was ratified at the end of the Civil War. However, later events showed how ineffective the Thirteenth Amendment was in protecting Americans from slavery. When the military draft made its return during the First World War, it was challenged as a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. However, the Supreme Court blithely ignored the fact that the draft is the most egregious form of involuntary servitude and sanctioned the enslavement of the American youth, claiming that it was their duty to sacrifice their life and limb in a war declared by “the representative body of the people.”