Not having a son I can\’t be quite this vehement

I’ve made it crystal clear to my son that if any government ever attempts to conscript him – no matter the purpose, no matter the circumstances, no matter the conditions, and no matter the promised duration – I will literally fight to the death, if necessary, to prevent his enslavement. He is not – just as no one else is – born to serve any government.


But as
Haldane pointed out, I might for two brothers or eight cousins.

42 thoughts on “Not having a son I can\’t be quite this vehement”

  1. William Connolley

    This is just posturing and stupidity. Hobbes would have told him where to get off, though in far more elegant language.

  2. 2 stories on conscription, one personal; one a great moment in democratic history.

    1. My grandfather was one of 4 brothers of fighting age during World War II. Three had been called up, then the fourth. My great grandmother told the minstry “You have three of my sons; you may not have the fourth”. The reply she received was “We quite agree.”

    2. In the ’60s Milton Friedman chaired a committee for the US Defense Secretary. He argued successfully to have the Draft dropped and for the US military to become entirely comprised of professional volunteers. A general (it may have been Westmoorland; I don’t know) decried this as “An army of mercenaries”. Friedman replied “Rather an army of mercenaries than an army of slaves”.

  3. Ironman – Good old Uncle Milt. I hope that story is true.

    Tim adds: The Uncle Milt story is entirely true. Milt being one of those who hugely aided in shutting down the draft.

  4. Pingback: Quite Right | Longrider

  5. @Tim Newman – The Left ignore that pretty effectively, dont they?

    The Left have always been big fans of conscription – as our chum William hints above. It’s not your body and life, after all, it’s society’s and the State’s.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    Tim Newman – “The Left ignore that pretty effectively, don-t they?”

    The Left has an ambiguous relationship with the draft. Basically they love it when they do it. They hate it when their enemies do it. So no criticism of Russia using it. None for Syria. Very little for France when France does it. Except when the French fight in their colonies. Lots for the Anglosphere.

  7. Hobbes argued that children were born into the slavery agreed by their forefathers and had no right to alter the social contract with established authority.

    Hobbes can fuck off in any eloquent term he likes.

  8. Tim N

    *The Left ignore that pretty effectively..*

    In the sense “are generally ignorant of it”, I would agree. But I first read that story about the slaves/mercenaries quote on Brad DeLong’s blog, who is vaguely liberal (US sense).

    But is the Left opposed to conscription anyway? National Service began to be phased out in UK in 1957, ie under the Conservatives. Whereas it ended in Sweden in 2010.

  9. I see that while I was battling with the blog’s idiosyncrasies, others made the same point. Yet another brilliantly original thought of mine that is definitely not original and probably not that brilliant…

  10. I think you’re all being a little unfair to poor old Hobbes. He didn’t argue that unitary justice, a monopoly of violence etc. is a good thing, he argued that it was better than the alternatives. Churchill’s remark about democracy is straight out of the same tradition.

  11. @Mickey (13) – Hobbes was worse than even that – he argued that the child consented to being ruled:

    “The right of Dominion by Generation, is that, which the Parent hath over his Children, and is called PATERNALL. And is not so derived from the Generation, as if therefore the Parent had Dominion over his Child because he begat him; but from the Child’s Consent…”

  12. Hobbes’s view was coloured by the Civil War, which is understandable if wrong.

    Friedman pointed out to the General that he was a ‘mercenary General’ speaking with a ‘mercenary economist’.

  13. William Connolley

    @17: I have no intention of defending conscription.

    As to defending Hobbes: yes certainly I would, had anyone actually attacked his views. #13 attacks a caricature so is meaningless. You should try reading him some time; Leviathan is great.

    What I was attacking was the drivel and posturing that Timmy was quoting.

    Having said I won’t defend conscription: the Swiss like it, as being more democratic.

  14. “as being more democratic”. Democratic as in the State (let’s call it the Courageous State shall we) imposes this service on the individual and, when the individual complains, jsutfies it by claiming the consent of the majority. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but that is my reading of your meaning of democratic.

    Well I say that is tyranny, nothing more; nothing less.

  15. Checked the link & it was, of course, an American Tim is quoting. And one can imagine an American father, standing on the front porch, rifle in the crook of his arm, facing down the police & the draft officers. No doubt in the UK the concern would be where the recruiting office was & should the lad’s mother make sandwiches.
    Because you really cannot get anything more craven than a Brit confronted by authority.

    As for #22 & is this a de-emmed Connolley we see before us?
    The Swiss do indeed have conscription. In fact, unless it’s changed since I last spent time there, all Swiss males are either serving or reserve. But as there’s apparently no plans for armoured thrusts out of Basel towards Sedan, the Swiss feel more of an obligation to defend their homes against foreign aggressors. And trust their people to keep the means to do so at home. The Swiss Government not being afraid of its own population, unlike others that spring to mind.

  16. BIS – in view of the US second amendment, it is ironic that the Swiss have a well-regulated militia while the US has a large standing army. It is odd to think, as you travel through Switzerland. that every house has at least one rifle inside it plus probably a nuclear shelter and a supply of canned food.

  17. Of course, I paraphrase somewhat. I have read Leviathan and the binding nature of the social contract he argues for could be caricatured as slavery.

    The caricature is a fair criticism of Hobbes which cannot simply be disregarded with the “that old chestnut” defence. It should be easy to refute then.

    Rousseau’s construction where the social contract is the means by which the state is brought into existence is more compelling to me.

    And it tells the old Courageous State when to fuck off and all.

  18. It’s interesting that Vattel, who disagreed with Hobbes about almost everything else, supported conscription in similar terms “Every citizen is bound to serve and defend the state as far as he is capable…As every citizen or subject is bound to serve the state, the sovereign has a right to enlist whom he pleases.”

    I suspect that conscription has been abandoned in recent years not out of any new-found respect for individual liberty, but because we can fight wars with fewer soldiers.

  19. The US should definitely do it. All those nerds leaving Stanford or Harvard making a decision on whether to sign up for a year, or get on with their dotcom venture will find their way to our shores followed by all the venture capital firms, and pretty soon, we’ll have silicon valley here.

  20. Paul B

    I don’t have an exhaustive knowledge of the subject, but at least in the case of Britain, conscription was a purely 20th century idea, at least other than press gangs for the Navy. In general, the gigantic mass army characteristic of the World Wars is a transient military phase.

    We shouldn’t fall into the conservative mental trap of thinking that whatever one’s grandparents did stretches back to time immemorial. Historically, military size (strength, whatever) was severely limited by the sovereign or state’s ability to get its hands on enough gold to pay them and pay for them.

    Anyhoo, the senseless carnage of the twentieth century’s conscript armies is not a good advertisement. I watched the BBC’s “Great War” documentary (1960s) recently, and just kept wishing all those young men had told their governments to fuck off. What a senseless waste it was.

    Also made me hate Lloyd George even more than I already did, but that’s another matter.

  21. Here’s a conscription tale. Late fifties.

    My dad, born 38, working in drawing office of galvanising plant in Brum, awaiting call up papers that did not arrive.

    Boss “*******, haven’t you been called up yet?”

    Dad “They seem to have forgotten me”.

    That afternoon.
    Boss “*******, I’ve phoned the draft board, you’ll be receiving your papers tomorrow”

    and he did….

  22. PaulB, “…we can fight wars with fewer soldiers”.

    That would presumably be an example of a productivity gain in a service industry?

  23. > The caricature is a fair criticism

    No, of course it isn’t, by definition. If you have to resort to caricature – deliberately using a word Hobbes deliberately didn’t use – then you’re not criticisng Hobbes, you’re criticising a strawman.

    Hobbes actual view on this are (I think; I’m in a hurry) available from http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hobbes/thomas/h68l/chapter20.html “The right of succession to paternal dominion proceedeth in the same manner as doth the right of succession to monarchy”. Children are no more slaves of their parents than citizens are of their sovereign.

  24. William, Hobbes didn’t use the word slavery, but that is what I am equating his unilateral enforcement of the social contract.

    Characterising his philosophy as one of slavery is paraphrasing my view on Hobbes, not paraphrasing Hobbes’ opinion of his own views.

    I’m quoting G D H Cole here with regards to Hobbes’ social contract theory:

    “It is clear that, if such a theory is to be upheld, it can stand only by the view, which Hobbes shared with Grotius, that a man can alienate not only his own liberty, but also that of his descendants, and that, consequently, a people as a whole can do the same.”

    That can fairly be portrayed as slavery on account of the lack of liberty. It is not slavery per se, you are correct in that respect, but it is tantamount to it to those that value the elements of their liberty that has been alienated.

  25. So Much For Subtlety

    Ian B – “but at least in the case of Britain, conscription was a purely 20th century idea, at least other than press gangs for the Navy. In general, the gigantic mass army characteristic of the World Wars is a transient military phase.”

    Well yes and no. Mostly no. Originally being a freeman in Britain meant being required to serve in the military and by extention in various law and order capacities as well. The Hundred system grouped freemen together and they were obligated to serve in the military. They were also obligated to serve in posses to track down criminals. And of course in juries. We have kept the last one and ignored the rest.

    Even in the Napoleonic wars while the Press Gang is famous, the Army also staffed its units, especially militia units, via conscription. The counties had quotas to fill and fill them they did.

    The only reason mass armies were a transient phase is that nuclear weapons were invented. Nothing else stopped the gradual increase in State power and hence the State-s military power.

    But I am with you on Lloyd George. Perhaps the only PM of recent times to get away with murder.

  26. William Connolley

    > Hobbes didn’t use the word slavery, but that is what I am equating

    Which is to say, you’re making things up. You can’t just redefine words and expect to make sense.

    > I’m quoting G D H Cole

    Yeah, but Cole is talking bollocks too. Hobbes clearly distinguishes slavery (forced, no covenant, no obligations on the part of the slave) from servanthood (unforced, obligation of contract):

    “Dominion acquired by conquest, or victory in war, is that which some writers call despotical from Despotes, which signifieth a lord or master, and is the dominion of the master over his servant. And this dominion is then acquired to the victor when the vanquished, to avoid the present stroke of death, covenanteth, either in express words or by other sufficient signs of the will, that so long as his life and the liberty of his body is allowed him, the victor shall have the use thereof at his pleasure. And after such covenant made, the vanquished is a servant, and not before: for by the word servant (whether it be derived from servire, to serve, or from servare, to save, which I leave to grammarians to dispute) is not meant a captive, which is kept in prison, or bonds, till the owner of him that took him, or bought him of one that did, shall consider what to do with him: for such men, commonly called slaves, have no obligation at all; but may break their bonds, or the prison; and kill, or carry away captive their master, justly: but one that, being taken, hath corporal liberty allowed him; and upon promise not to run away, nor to do violence to his master, is trusted by him.”

    http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/hobbes/leviathan-d.html

    And from the same source:

    Dominion is acquired two ways: by generation and by conquest. The right of dominion by generation is that which the parent hath over his children, and is called paternal. And is not so derived from the generation, as if therefore the parent had dominion over his child because he begat him, but from the child’s consent, either express or by other sufficient arguments declared.

    There is nothing special about a parents “rights” over children (as far as Hobbes is concerned).

  27. So by Hobbes’ own definition, where an individual does not enter into the contract willingly, it is slavery. A bit like conscription, eh?

    Is a subject of Hobbes’ state capable of rejecting the social contract enforced upon him?

    If not, then how would you define the social contract envisaged by Hobbes?

  28. Funny, really funny, seeing a weasel like Connolley talk about someone else making things up, as he is consistently made things up his entire internet “career”. All in a good cause of course…

  29. ‘And is not so derived from the generation, as if therefore the parent had dominion over his child because he begat him, but from the child

  30. What an amazing comments’ system.

    And is not so derived from the generation, as if therefore the parent had dominion over his child because he begat him, but from the child’s consent, either express or by other sufficient arguments declared.

    What a load of piffle – our children freely consent to being bossed around by their elders and betters!

  31. I don’t support conscription for any number of practical reasons, but if we allow governments a claim on our money in the form of taxation, what is the justification for objecting to a claim on our time in the form of conscription?

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