William Buckley is best known as an advocate of conservatism. The founder and editor of NATIONAL REVIEW, Buckley has, since the 1950’s, achieved widespread recognition through his many books and essays. GRATITUDE differs from his earlier work in that it cannot easily be classified as conservative. Its proposal of national service cuts across the conventional political dichotomy of left and right.
Buckley suggests that citizens of the United States ought to feel a debt of gratitude toward their country. This debt can best be discharged by volunteer service at a young age in work of a charitable sort. The service might include working in old-age homes, assisting the handicapped, repairing worn-out books in libraries, and working as teachers’ aides in impoverished school districts.
Such work, Buckley emphasizes, does more than provide service to the needy and discharge a social debt. In addition, national service leads to an enhanced sense of civic pride. The young men and women who engage in it will find their altruistic impulses aroused: They will also learn about aspects of life that they are unlikely otherwise to encounter. They will come to realize that there is more to life than self-indulgence.
Many conservatives, among others, are deeply suspicious of calls for service to the state, seeing in such appeals the threat of totalitarianism. Libertarians such as the economist Milton Friedman have been especially quick to...
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