July 24, 2015

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A Conservative Missouri Service Program--Part 5

We’ve reached the end.

On Monday, we corrected disinformation about The Franklin Project.

Next, we looked at the historical conservative framework for national service.

Wednesday was a dissection of The Franklin Project’s Plan of Action (as distinguished from the group’s vision.)

Yesterday, we examined the consequences of ignoring the call for national service.

Today, we offer an oversimplified proposal for Missouri’s version of a national-service program. While inadequate, it is a start.

The Conservative Approach

Because William F. Buckley was the lone voice crying out for increased sense of duty and sacrifice and appreciation through ubiquitous national service, let’s begin with him.

National service doesn’t lend itself to conventional analysis. For this reason it pays to stress and re-stress that the market has only a tangential role, if any, in sugginsting vectors of national service concern. The idea, as viewed through the conservative looking glass, is to arouse a desire which is uniquely one’s own to help a society.

Buckley goes on to lay down a challenge:

Opponents of national service must establish, to make their case, that national service, unlike state militia or jury service, or military conscription in times of emergency, is distinctively hostile to a free society.

He points out that our philosophical and political founders were fond of the idea:

Adam Smith admired Rome and the Greek republics in which ‘every free citizen was instructed, under the direction of the public magistrate, in gymnastic exercises and in music.’ These had their purpose to ‘humanize the mind, to soften the temper, and to dispose it for performing all the social and moral duties both of public and private life.’

Buckley goes on to mention that Lincoln, Hamilton, Jefferson, and others worried about America’s ability to regenerate virtue in succeeding generations. Washington argued for universal military service for men, in part, because military service and sacrifice “heightened individual disposition in loyalty, to involvement in civic affairs, and to the identification of one’s own interests with those of the community.”

The benefit of federalism is that Missouri needs no one’s permission to take the lead in service. We can show the way. We will stumble, no doubt. Many will resist. But the benefits of beginning a program of service in Missouri will soon bear fruit. Our young people will enter careers more aware of their place in the world, more appreciative of their heritage, their freedom, their opportunity, and–yes–of their own, soft bed.

The responsible conservative solution to America’s lack of appreciation for itself will not be fixed in schools or in offices. My friends Gretchen Logue and and Ann Gassel at Missouri Education Watchdog fight tirelessly for education reform. But a new threat emerges before they can subdue the last. I applaud and encourage their work, but they need help. And a service program can provide that help.

This simple plan, as I say, is a start, not an end. If you cannot pick it apart and find its flaws, you simply are not looking very hard. Find flaws in the plan, though, does not relieve conservatives of the duty to “induce a virtuous citizenry (Buckley, 1990).”

How It Works

Volunteers would work with existing charity missions in the state, plus a few state-operated programs. While the projects would work to ease needs that the market does not address, the real purpose of the program is to instill a sense of gratitude and service in the volunteers. As Buckley wrote:

While acknowledging the good can that be done to the various beneficiaries, we reiterate that we have primarily in mind the good that is done to the volunteers themselves.

Many models exist for Missouri to follow. The Mission Continues pairs veterans with charities and service organizations, sponsoring the veterans for a time. Our program could do the same for non-veterans. The Mission Continues works with host organizations including Junior Achievement, American Red Cross, YMCA, AmVets, Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, and dozens of other local and national organizations.

The Missouri program should focus efforts on work in our state. Ferguson is still a wreck almost a year after the first riots. Volunteers could serve there to clean up the debris and beautify the streets.

Were I to try to document all the opportunities for volunteers in Missouri, this post would never end. Look around. What can we do that the market is not doing? There is the opportunity to serve.

Who Chooses Projects

Milton Friedman made a big deal out of a small issue. This is a Missouri program, and Missouri’s legislature can produce the guidelines for qualifying organizations. The legislature handles far more difficult problems every day.

I would hope the enabling legislation provides limits to administrative discretion in approving or rejecting organizations and projects. As Buckley said, we probably don’t want people watching television 10 hours a day to find incidents of latent sexism. At the same time, the law should restrain the administration from rejecting an organization simply because the foundation’s aims irritate a Jefferson City bureaucrat.

What Qualifies as a Service Year and Who May Serve

I would like to see provisions for certain activities to qualify for a service year beyond the more traditional method of working 12 consecutive months for a charitable organization. For example, many people work as volunteer firefighters and EMTs while working toward placement on a fire department. Efforts like that should earn points toward fulfillment of the certification.

Military service under honorable conditions of more than one year would certainly qualify.

Beyond that and a few other exceptions, the service year should be sacrosanct. The young person works full time for little pay, living in a host home, hostel, or dormitory. Most meals are communal. Basic equipment and clothing is provided, along with a small stipend. A one-week vacation and accommodations for worship would be provided, as would accommodations for disabilities.

My impulse is to allow application to any Missouri resident between the ages of 18 and, say, 28. If they have dependents, they must solve that problem themselves. Volunteers may apply to a specific program, or they may apply for best fit. The administration will make final assignments, and no one will be assured of admission to a particular charity or corps.

Volunteers who drop out of their own accord may not reapply. They must simply live with the stigma of having failed to serve. Hardship cases can be handled the way the military handles them.

How to Pay For It

In 2014, Missouri generated $48.4 billion in federal taxes.

In 1968, Ronald Reagan, then California Governor, proposed to the National Conference of Governors, that states should keep a mere 2 percent of federal taxes raised in the state.

Suppose Congress were to allow states to keep that 2 percent. Remember, there’s no change in taxes. Just 2 percent of federal taxes raised in Missouri stay in Missouri.

That would be a windfall of $968,264,940 for Missouri.

If Missouri applied one-third of that amount to a service program, that would allow $19,000 per volunteer for up to 20,000 Missourians annually. In 10 years, 200,000 Missourians could complete a service year. (There are, coincidentally, about 800,000 Missourians 18-28, so this formula would accommodate 25 percent.)

That $19,000 figure includes both cost of operating the program and providing humble living arrangements and a small stipend to volunteers. No one would consider this volunteer service year a job. The stipend would be minimal.

This funding method is part of the process of keeping more money in the states. Like the Transportation Empowerment Act, it’s a small first step toward checking Washington’s growth.


I am far less conscientious now than I was when I left the Navy 20 years ago. Perhaps it’s the effect of aging. I suspect, though, that it has  more to do with service. The Navy instills conscientiousness in its sailors, as the Army does in its soldiers, the Marines in Marines, the Air Force in airmen. Conscientious, unit pride, fixing problems are all side-effects of the military.

Sure, some people are immune. Some people enter the service jerks and leave the same way. Pointing out an exception doesn’t debunk the case; it points out an exception.

Our form of government depends on virtuous, informed citizens with a strong sense of purpose for their communities, not just for their individual lives. Service might instill that ethos. The faithful young whose church sends them on missions returned different. They are both more human and more connected to their world, their community, their family, and their faith.

A year of service will fix a few problems, sure, or give temporary relief. But the problems the volunteers work on will return. Problems always do. As Eric Greitens wrote to his buddy Zach in Resilience:

There’s no point at which you’ve cleaned yourself so well that you never have to shower again.

The point of service is not to end social problems; it’s to reverse spiritual problems. Our lack of gratitude for America, for Western Civilization, for great music, for the Constitution–symptoms of a spiritual deficit enabled and aggrevated by a society that’s developed an unhealthy and depraved appetite for distraction, isolation, and independence. We detached from our community, and government has filled the void.

Alexis de Tocqueville saw our isolated emptiness 200 years ago.

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Tocqueville wrote those words in 1838. They could have been written yesterday. We can prove Tocqueville wrong, and service is a way.

Thank you for following this journey.