Another bad idea is in the news this week as a new bill amendment has advanced in the House that would require women to register for the Selective Service system. For those who don’t know, the Selective Service system is the program that all American men are required to register with in case the US government decides that it needs to reinstate the military draft. Thus, there’s now a real possibility that this requirement will be extended to women.
This is another classic example of how the ideal of equality can be co-opted for negative ends. It also shows why equality cannot be our primary political value; if it is, we can quickly find ourselves championing the wrong position.
Before we get there though, it may be worth clarifying that the draft should absolutely be opposed. If our government theoretically exists to protect life, liberty, and property (or the pursuit of happiness, as you like), obviously it is impossible to justify that same government having the power to compel its citizens to put their lives in jeopardy. The right question is this: Who has a higher claim to your body and your life, you or the government? It’s pretty simple.
Moreover, we should note the case against the draft is particularly strong in the modern era. Today, the US military is confined to fighting counterproductive wars of choice that endanger the lives of American soldiers and local civilians alike, while only fueling more anti-American sentiments. Political rhetoric aside, the so-called War on Terror is in no way a matter of self-defense. Instead, the US continues to bomb and wage counter-insurgency campaigns, mostly against groups that had nothing to do with 9/11 or other terrorist attacks.
If the US ever encountered another serious threat to national security or experienced another major terrorist attack, there is no doubt that the US military would find itself with more than enough volunteers to fill its needs. This was evident in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when nationalist sentiments and enlistments swelled. There’s no reason to think it would not be true in the future as well.
So if the draft is equal parts unnecessary and indefensible, why is anyone trying to extend it?
This is where equality comes into play. Proponents of extending the draft registration to women see it as further recognition of women’s progress in society. But if requiring registration is unjust in the first place, expanding its influence only makes matters worse. Equal oppression is not the goal.
The problem here is that equality is a value-neutral. Things can be equally horrible or equally good. To tell which is which, you need something more. Naturally, we’d tend to suggest the nonaggression principle as a good starting point. The nonaggression principle applies equally to governments and private citizens and corporation. So just as Walmart or your neighbor cannot conscript you into serving as their security guard, the government should not be allowed to compel people to put their life on the line against their will. That is why the draft should be opposed. And if we want equality on this issue as well, the correct solution is to abolish the practice for everyone.
For on this issue, check out the recent Ron Paul Liberty Report on this subject.