The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Cameron’s National Service

Posted by rantingkraut on September 6, 2007

Cameron announced (again) that he wants all 16 year olds to do a voluntary national service lasting six weeks. The actual proposal so far seems to amount to little more than an extra layer of work experience. So long as this is voluntary for all participants, it should be unproblematic too It is unlikely though that such a scheme, whatever the details, will do much to “mend our broken society”.

The whole project sounds less pleasant once one focuses on a few details. Cameron is quoted as saying “Ask anyone who did national service and they all say the same thing: ‘It was something we all did together.’” Ask any German of the same generation and you will find out that they too did something together –although they will be less likely to boast about it. The point, of course, is not that Cameron is planning to invade Poland but simply that ‘doing things together’ is a pretty poor criterion for desirability.

People can do pretty stupid things together. If coordinated by government, an awful lot of people can do incredibly stupid things together: government directed taxpayers have subsidised French cinema and subsidised women’s studies departments among other things.

No such sinister projects can be directly attributed to Cameron as far as I know but the rhetoric of national service doesn’t bode well. The supposed importance of defining the individual as part of a uniform collective has an eerie feel to it too. I may just be paranoid about this or this may be the thin end of a wedge. I can’t help wondering though whether Cameron won’t be tempted to make his scheme compulsory if he finds that this is something only some people do together.

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