I decided to start this new series to share my thoughts on various proposals to “fix” society, as I find ideas that others put forth. I have my own ideas, but they’ve changed drastically. I used to be a communist (though never a very good one), but now, I describe myself as an ancap (short for anarcho-capitalist), even though I still believe in the abolition of money, possibly a holdover from my days as an edgy communist teen-ager. That, however, is a subject for another day. Today, I’d like to address the idea of public service, mainly in the context of comments left on a recent article on Bracing Views.
“Service guarantees citizenship.” In the days of Ancient Rome, this meant military service, specifically. However, there are problems with this. Every citizen, i.e. individual who is able to fully participate in society, by voting, owning property, etc, would be a military veteran. This would, naturally, result in a very militarised society, as all those years of military service would shape the minds of citizens in exactly the same way. Furthermore, there would be little to no consideration for those who, for whatever reason, are unable to serve. Fortunately, “service” doesn’t have to mean military service, and the people I’m directly responding to seem to agree.
Public service, a means to earn citizenship, could be any number of essential services in society. What constitutes an “essential” service? Well, that depends on whom you ask. How fortuitous, therefore, that I should be writing this article during the CovID-19 pandemic, during which governors of U.S. states are issuing “stay at home” orders, and forcing all “non-essential” businesses to close. Humourously, although Pennsylvania has three times the number of cases as Maryland, as of me typing this very sentence, Pennsylvania remains open, except for the liquor stores. Meanwhile, Maryland has a very strict curfew, and violators face up to a year in jail (which is excessive, but this is the People’s Republic of Maryland we’re talking about), yet the liquor stores remain open, and for those near the Pennsylvania border, business has never been better. All this, because the governor of Maryland has declared liquor stores to be an “essential” businesses, along with grocery stores, take-out restaurants, and pharmacies. As you can see, we already have a problem, but for the sake of the argument, I shall continue.
As I mentioned, a citizen is a person who can vote and own property. However, it must be more complex than that. Additional privileges require additional responsibilities. Property owners have responsibilities that tenants do not, for instance. In Ancient Rome, there was a clear social divide between citizens and non-citizens, and the latter were little more than slaves (plenty were actual slaves, as well). In order to avoid creating a two-tiered society, then there cannot be a top-down distinction between citizens and “civilians,” as I would refer to non-citizen residents of a society. In other words, there can be no objective reason that being a citizen is better than being a civilian, it must be a matter of personal preference, much like the preference of living in an urban or rural area. Cities provide many more opportunities in certain respects, but they are much more restrictive in other respects at the same time. For example, if only citizens may vote, then citizens must vote in certain elections or on referendums. Likewise, I would also suggest imposing much harsher punishments on citizens who break the law, since they need to set an example for the rest of society.
Another consideration that is required to avoid a two-tiered society is the distinction between “rights” and “privileges.” This is particularly relevant to the United States, because the U.S. Constitution enumerates rights, it doesn’t grant rights. If a society is to be divided between citizens and civilians, then members of both groups must have the same rights. Freedom of speech and self-defense are both rights, voting and driving are not. Property ownership, traditionally, has never been considered a right, but I think it should be. Every person should have the right to set up their own self-sufficient homestead if they wish, and shouldn’t have worry about losing it because they are unable to generate sufficient revenue for their landlord (which, for property “owners” in the modern day, is the State).
Returning to the subject of public service, if service guarantees citizenship, then how much is required, and are alternatives acceptable? In the United States, there are very few public services that do not have private alternatives. Most roads are public, but some are privately owned, and the owners are solely responsible for maintaining them. UPS, FedEx, and DHL are all perfectly viable alternatives to the Post Office, and for some things, the private options are better. Therefore, does “public service” mean working for the government, or performing an “essential” service? I doubt that anyone disputes that grocery stores are an essential service, and I’m not aware of any government-owned grocery store. Working in a grocery store is also a popular summer job for teen-agers, since it’s one of the few things they’re still allowed to do under age 18, and it both teaches work-related responsibility (in theory – I worked in a grocery store once, and most of my peers goofed off at every opportunity) and gives them some money. Would such work contribute to “public service” required for citizenship? I would argue that it should, but that it shouldn’t be enough on its own. I would argue that “public service” be a collection of activities essential for the maintenance of society. This collection should include, but not necessarily be limited to, agriculture, construction, defense, education, and shipping. From there, the amount of necessary life experience serving the public good required for citizenship can be worked out, and I would argue that it be counted in hours, not years, because crises such as the one we’re living through now will see some people rising to the challenge and working 20 hours a day, while others don’t put in any more effort than usual.
I’m hoping that this article starts a discussion. Perhaps comments put forth will end up in the next entry of this little series.