The Culture Warrior

Responsibility, Nationhood, Tolerance, Enterprise

*waves flag and thumps rostrum*

So, David Cameron is proposing a "twenty-first century equivalent" of National Service. What a good idea.

Under the system, sixteen year olds would sacrifice their summer holidays and instead take part in "one week's residential course, four weeks of community service and a week's physical challenge." The latter part would apparently include something like moutain climbing or Army training. The programme, dubbed 'Citizen's Service' (I'm not sure if I like that phrase) could also include caring for the elderly and visiting developing countries.

Cameron proposes to take children out of their "comfort zones". According to the Daily Mail and ConservativeHome, graduates of the scheme would receive a cash payment (split halfway between themselves and a charity of their choice), employers would be encouraged to take note in the way they do of the Prince's Trust and Duke of Edinburgh, and, at the end of the course, the teenager will have to make a pledge of allegiance to Queen and Country and explain what they have learnt. I particularly like that part.

There are some problems, though. Cameron says that he would consider it a failure if, at the end of a Cameron Government, not all sixteen year olds were taking part. However, he's recommending this as a voluntary scheme. The problem is, those that need it most (though everyone in this country needs it to a degree) are the least likely to volunteer. Criminal, violent, disrespectful youths are not going to be first in the queue. They are driven by nihilistic self-indulgence and apathy towards authority - a renewed, updated National Service is, by its nature, a contradiction of that.

At the same time, just skimming over comments at ConservativeHome, there are some who oppose this as statism. My answer to that would be simple: conservatives are not antistatist. We have not been, and should not be, hostile to the state - leave that to libertarians. The state should not do much in the economic sphere, but if conservatives are for anything, it is for social order, nationhood and duty. There is no reason - certainly no ideological reason - why a conservative should oppose what some would dismiss as social engineering. Conservatives cannot support a morally neutral state in the way a libertarian does. We recognise that the state should promote and conserve British culture, history and nationhood. That needs proactive engagement. It is New Left liberal laissez-fairism that has delivered the social breakdown we have today.

My recommendations would be these then. First, the state should regulate and establish the programme of National Service, but where possible, contract its administration to the voluntary sector. Second, it should start voluntarily, but the waters of public opinion should be tested to see if, eventually, it can be rolled out to be a compulsury programme. Third, the scheme will not meet its aim of creating a sense of national identity and responsibility if the very people who need it most can simply refuse to attend. I would recommend compulsury participation for any youths ever convicted of a criminal offence, and would also give schools the power to refer pupils to the scheme.

This is certainly a step in the right direction. Society is a collection of individuals and institutions that have an identifiable connection (usually cultural or historical). In recent times under the New Left but also, I must say, under Thatcherism, too much attention has been paid to the individuals and too little to the institutions and the sense of belonging that comes with them. A sense of belonging is needed: of belonging to a nation, to a historical legacy, and to a community. Ideally this would be operated mainly by the voluntary sector, but I think there is significant room for state involvement, and maybe even compulsion. Ultimately, this is only one piece of the puzzle - I think a very heavy reintroduction of British history, politics and citizenship is also necessary in the education system. But David Cameron is right to identify the problem, and I very much welcome the basic premise.

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Published by The Culture Warrior on 6 Sep 2007 at 10:31. 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Bring Back National Service!”

  1. # Blogger cxx_guy

    So I think this is parody, but it's hard to tell these days.  

  2. # Blogger The Culture Warrior

    It is not, cxx_guy. I see you are a libertarian so naturally you and I are going to disagree on many things, but what exactly are your main grievances?  

  3. # Blogger Thersites

    Let's see... State interference, state bullying, and state assumptions of what is good for us mere peons. Can you see a pattern here?  

  4. # Blogger The Culture Warrior

    Do you oppose compulsury education? Because that is state interference. Do you believe in freedom of speech to the point that you think someone should be allowed to print known lies about you? If you do then you're consistent.

    The state can't be morally neutral. It is bound to reflect somebody's moral perspective. A sense of moral agreement (I would limit it to civility) is necessary for society to remain ordered. Would you oppose the state teaching (assuming you don't oppose state education) that theft is wrong?  

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    The Sixties saw the rise of the New Left - Cultural Marxists who knew that their economic theories were dead, but understood that they could still disrupt culture and society by covertly infecting its institutions. Sadly, they succeeded, and the result is the Permissive Britain we see today. Conservatives must wage a culture war to bring back the values of respect, duty, nationhood and prudence that, when coupled with enterprise and freedom, are the surest conditions of progress and stability.


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