Gratitude: Reflections on What We Owe to Our Country

The dean of American conservatism makes a provocative argument for universal national service. William F. Buckley, Jr., argues that national service would be good for the country—as good as for those who receive its benefits, renewing his call for a year of voluntary national service for young people eighteen and over, in areas such as health, day care, and the environment, to strengthen their feeling and appreciation for their nation.  •  Google Books  •  GoodReads


Long the dean of American conservative thought, Buckley here surprisingly–and eloquently–espouses a new government program: voluntary, nonmilitary National Service. Previously suggested in his 1973 book, Four Reforms, Buckley’s National Service proposal envisions an analogue of military service in which participants would do environmental work, health care, care for the aged, child care, and other kinds of work. Buckley’s rationale for National Service is that it would constitute a fitting expression of gratitude by young people (Buckley intends his program primarily, though not exclusively, for people of college age) for the liberties they enjoy and would simultaneously provide valuable services for the community. At the same time, he argues, the work undertaken by program participants would give them a sense of pride and a stake in their country. Buckley (unlike other proponents of similar programs currently under consideration by Congress) does not favor conscription, but he does favor both positive and negative reinforcement as less insidious forms of coercion. For instance, he argues that participants should receive tax credits and access to student loans and federal subsidies, while nonparticipants should be subject to such sanctions as rescission of deposit insurance and the privilege of driving. Also, he opposes federal financing of the program but endorses financing by states. Thus, although Buckley is proposing what at first blush seems a “liberal” program; his idea reflects his conservative concern for preserving the initiative of the states and for minimizing government coercion of the individual. While one may argue with the specifics of Buckley’s proposal, one cannot deny that he has written a provocative apologia for a timely idea.  – Kirkus Reviews

There is a growing debate in the United States as to whether the young should be encouraged or even compelled to give a year of “national service” to help the nation cope with its social problems, e.g., health care and illiteracy. While not advocating compulsory service, Buckley does argue that the young should be encouraged, through various rewards and sanctions, to give a year of service out of gratitude for civil liberties inherited and protected. While the idea seems to have merit on the surface, criticisms (cited by Buckley) that it smacks of totalitarianism, as well as the question of how this would be paid for on top of the national debt and the savings & loan crisis make the idea less attractive. An intriguing essay; recommended for academic and public libraries.  – Library Journal

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