SHOULD I JOIN THE ARMY? If you haven't heard, the much-rumored Democracy: A Journal of Ideas is now up and running, with all content seemingly available online for the low, low price of a somewhat cumbersome registration process. It "will serve as a place where ideas can be developed and important debates can be spurred." So let's debate. Kathryn Roth-Douquet writes "The Progressive Case for Military Service," but I don't understand what she's trying to say.
The article starts out with a Tomasky-esque tour of the difference between rights-based liberalism and civic republicanism � la Michael Sandel, except she unhelpfully uses the term "civic progressivism" instead. What's more, she rather bizarrely identifies John Locke and Immanuel Kant with the civic republican side of this divide rather than the rights-based liberalism side. Idiosyncratic history of ideas aside, it at least seems clear where we're headed. Communitarianism + pro-military = conscription, � la the Carter/Glastris progressive case for the draft.
But Roth-Douquet turns out not to be going there. Instead, we get a tour of declining progressive participation in military service that's heavy on the idea of "anti-military sentiment" on the left and manages not to mention at all the small fact that in the early 1970s we went from being a country featuring mass conscription to the current all-volunteer force. One might consider this relevant to changing service patterns, but I guess not. Then we get page three's paean to the military, suggesting that the military is a good institution, citing Markos Moulitsas Z�niga's American Prospect column to that effect.
The upshot is the rhetorical question -- "Isn�t it time, then�as progressives rally themselves and their younger generation to engagement in the public sector�that they encourage military service as well?" -- paired with the walkback observation that "military service is not for everyone, progressive or otherwise. Nor does it need to be�the military requires only a small percentage of our population." So where are we? Seemingly back in the terrain of rights-based liberalism. It's good for some people to join the military, but not necessary for everyone to do so, and, indeed, the wrong choice for some people. People, it seems, should be left to make the decision on their own. Which is just exactly the status quo. So what was that about? I really couldn't say. I suppose I agree with the conclusion that if you're a person such that it would be a good idea for you to join the military, then you should join the military, whereas if you aren't such a person, you shouldn't. This, though, strikes me as a bit banal.