There are only two things people seem to take away from Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein: Power Armor and “Service Guarantees Citizenship” (unless you are James Cameron, in which “bug hunt” is also a takeaway). For those who focus on the latter, Starship Troopers might as well be Heinlein’s only work, which is not so much an indictment of the readers as it is an acknowledgment of the power of that idea compared to Heinlein’s other ideas (which were often quite liberal, by the way).
This has led many people (mostly older people to whom the prescription does not apply, and who also tend to resent the younger generations) to suggest that compulsory “service” be part of every young person’s life.
There are several problems with this idea. Let’s go through them in order:
- “Service guarantees citizenship” is presented as a solution to the ills of a selfish and decadent society. Heinlein presents this more as a filter, but boomers want it to be a prescription – something universally compulsory, and that this will improve young people. This is like thinking wet streets cause rain. Forcing someone to do acts of service does not cause them to be virtuous (or qualify them as a “good citizen”). It’s the opposite – acts of service are an expression of virtue. It’s backward thinking, like believing putting a man in a chastity device will cure him of lust by forcing him to be celibate. Virtue occurs through what is voluntary. That leads to point 2:
- We do not have a virtuous and well-ordered society, and we have a corrupt and evil state. Making state service a requirement today for citizenship will have the OPPOSITE effect of what is desired, by filtering out all the people who refuse to participate in a corrupt and evil system and filtering in everyone who agrees with what the state is currently doing, thus only perpetuating the evil state and what it does. That leads to point 3:
- “Service” has no definite meaning, and the meaning will be defined by the state (which you don’t control). In Starship Troopers, the only service we see (that I recall anyway) is military service. Military service is, at best, conditionally good – it is good because it preserves your society (if the society is good) against foreigners (if they are bad). But our current military hegemon doesn’t do this. In fact, it’s hard to know exactly what the last 20 years of endless war have even been directed toward; as near as I can tell, there is no leadership at any level that has had any idea of what exactly the war machine has even been doing in Afganistan (it’s quite the rabbit hole, which explains why the media doesn’t even mention Afganistan anymore). Service outside of the military could by anything the state decides is service – assisting in a state-funded abortion clinic, for example.
- Your enemies are in control. You are handing your children to the devil like a blank check. Why do you think it would be good for them? 13 years of compulsory government education doesn’t educate children, why would 1 year (or more) of compulsory government service suddenly do anyone any good? Not only is it enslavement of the young, but in government fashion probably won’t help anyone else out, either.
“Service Guarantees Citizenship” is something that can only function in a society that is internally united, well-ordered toward its own preservation and some semblance of the good, and has a republican state that is in harmony with those ideals. In such a society with such a state, a dictate of “service” is moot because the people will perform service (military or otherwise) of their own volition. So where it is possible, the dictate is unnecessary, and where it is necessary, it is bad.
All of this is really circling the realization that has been building through the 20th century to today, that our republic is non-functional because the voting base and the politicians they elect are vicious and unfit for the task. I agree with this sentiment, and the problem is not that people need to be taught to be good, it is that we allowed people without any skin in the game to participate in the republic. Land ownership was the original skin in the game, and after this government collapses and we re-think what the state is, perhaps we can revisit this idea (among MANY others). If you own land, you have enough intelligence and conscientiousness to have a political opinion, and state matters more directly affect you, since you pay that taxes and have risk. Furthermore, if we use the Roman Republic as an example, the landless mob was originally excluded from military service – only those with land did service to begin with.
In any event, trying to make the voting base more virtuous, or simply less stupid and vicious, is not going to be accomplished without a significant reset. That ship has long since sailed.