Monday, November 30, 2009

Public Service

From The Social Contract (1762), written by Enlightenment political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778):

As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather reserve their money than with their persons, the state is not far from its fall. When it is necessary to march out to war, they pay troops and stay at home . . . In a country that is truly free, the citizens do everything with their own arms and nothing by means of money; so far from paying to be exempted from their duties, they would even pay for the privilege of fulfilling them themselves. I am for taking the common view: I hold enforced labor to be less opposed to liberty than taxes.

Rousseau's robust notion of citizenship, and his wary view of markets, may seem distant from the assumptions of our day. We are inclined to view the state, with its binding laws and regulations, as the realm of force; and to see the market, with its voluntary exchanges, as the realm of freedom. Rousseau would say this has things backward - at least where civic goods are concerned.

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