“I propose to create a body of civil service, because this type of work assumes a precise, concrete value, not only to counteract the current crisis but because it is the instrument to create a future national wealth”. These are the words of the 32nd American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, in order to counter the long lines of the Great Depression, in 1933 collected 275,000 volunteers in one of the most extraordinary experiences of civic mobilization, the “Civilian Conservation Corps”. So what can we learn from this experience?
We can learn that everyone agrees on the generativity and the ability to create value of the civil service. Inevitably, however, every time we open the debate, one question – it happened at the time, for Roosevelt – splits opinions: to leave it to a free choice or to make it mandatory? Whether voluntary or obligatory, civil service is an open debate (even for our politicians, let us just think of the repeated proposals by the Lega for a return to mandatory service), which arouses growing expectations in younger generations. And this is surely positive.
There are many reasons that are for a mandatory civil service, and the reasons against it are equally many. Let's have a look.
The reasons in favor: civil service as an obligatory civic draft
- In an increasingly individualistic and liquid society, a mandatory period of equal duration for everyone would be a decisive moment for generational equity. The obligatory nature allows the civil service to distinguish itself from a "normal" volunteering experience, becoming the unifying moment for all those boys and girls who do not belong to the so-called "Erasmus generation”.
- The obligatory nature of civil service enhances empathy towards others, strengthening social bonds and national cohesion.
- Mandatory civil service brings an emphasis on duty rather than rights. In a social context that is increasingly uncoordinated and non-responsible, an obligation is the springboard for forming a new sense of citizenship based on responsibility and duties.
- The obligatory nature of the service is not an excess of statist paternalism, but rather a gentle push – a nudge- that allows young men and women to develop an experience that can be transferred into employment. In our current society we are lacking rites of passage from adolescence to adulthood; a mandatory civil service can compensate and, in the medium term, remedy this situation.
- The traditional welfare state crisis needs new resources to serve the common good. Many young people, even today, despite wanting to, cannot access the civil service. The voluntary system has therefore failed. Obligation makes it possible for everyone to take part and become a full member of civil society, while at the same time guaranteeing new forces to informal welfare and thus compensating for greater expenditure for the state.
The reasons against: civil service as a voluntary civil draft
- Instead of reducing disparities and promoting social cohesion, an obligatory civil service favors young people who already have an advantage and creates disadvantages for the least favored in social, educational and employment terms. Even today, 60% of the young people who say they want to volunteer cannot because work, social reasons, family or time. It would be better, therefore, to affect these levers through structural interventions.
- Young people encounter too many obstacles in their education and work. A year of compulsory civil service, as was already the case for military service, delays their entry into employment and hinders their school career.
- The civil service masks a form of “forced labor”, prohibited by international standards and by our legal system.
- The obligatory nature of the service involves the presence of administrative, reception and control structures which, to date, are not there. The State, given the current crisis, cannot afford them. Furthermore, the mandatory system would plunge the existing system (associations, non-profit organizations) into a profound organizational crisis, which would have to respond to more than 400 thousand applications, forced against the will, and then having to face discontent and discord.
- Finally there is a liberal reason against it: no one can be forced to be altruistic. For this reason, the value of a choice is to be encouraged, stimulated and encouraged. But the obligatory nature ends up contradicting the values (solidarity, empathy) and the potential (construction of a new awareness, of a new citizenship, that is the “future wealth” indicated by Roosevelt) inherent in the very idea of a service concretely and universally civil.