Mandating community service

Paradoxically, as Steven Waldman points out here, Ameri Corps, a Democratic initiative, fitted in neatly with the Republicans’ emphasis on faith-based programs.

Democrats were acknowledging the need to strengthen programs outside of government; Republicans, that voluntary programs could use government’s help.

That national service has become a bipartisan goal is an important achievement.

Citizenship and Service Citizenship cannot be reduced to service.The civic republicans valued freedom, too, but stressed that self-rule demanded a great deal from citizens. The civic republicans stressed obligations to a common good and, as the philosopher Michael Sandel has put it, “a concern for the whole, a moral bond with the community whose fate is at stake.” In our time, the clash between these older traditions lives on in the intellectual wars between libertarians and communitarians.When it comes to national service, the libertarians lean toward skepticism, the communitarians toward a warm embrace. Respect for service soared as the nation forged a new and stronger sense of solidarity in the face of deadly enemies.Yes, a difficult economy may have pushed more young Americans toward such endeavors.Nonetheless, their choices point to the power of the service idea.

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