The Best and the Brightest: A Modest Proposal
What the United States needs most of all is to develop a sense of community and commitment among its elites. Too often, it seems that our elites think and act primarily for themselves and their cohorts. They display a passion for their own well-being that is “peculiarly intense” – to quote Tocqueville – that makes this passion “the prominent and indelible feature” of their lives.
Therefore, to moderate and redirect this passion, it seems to me necessary and beneficial that the offspring of our elites – social, economic, political elites – be made to perform national service for two years, one year of military service and one year of domestic service in some needy place in the homeland. These two years would best occur prior to enrollment in college and after high school and would of course be compensated in a way that would reduce the burdens of college tuition, at least marginally. And because wealthy and prominent families now can afford what is called “a gap year,” that is, a year off between high school and college, this proposal can hardly be pronounced radical.
This chance to serve our nation would be, of course, “means tested.” That is, it would be limited to young persons of wealthy and socially or politically prominent families. For example, the children of congresspersons, of presidents, of high-level bureaucrats, of governors and other state officials, as well as those of federal justices and judges would qualify for this opportunity for national service.
To the objection that such a program would be discriminatory against the wealthy and the prominent, it has been said many times, “From those who have much, much is to be expected.” Moreover, allowing these young people the opportunity, the compensated opportunity to serve the homeland seems sufficient to redeem whatever discrimination might exist. And given the appropriate rituals, like reciting the pledge of allegiance and honoring the national anthem, along with enjoying thoroughly patriotic movies like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Saving Private Ryan, Forest Gump, and Apollo 13, these youths would emerge from their two years of service as patriotic Americans capable of appreciating just how exceptional America is.
They would also be ready, even invested in something other than their own well-being. And because some would not complete the two years – let’s be honest here – either by resigning or by being dismissed, it might even be said that this program is a way of transforming a socially based elite with a naturally based elite. At the very least, it would allow us to produce and identify “the best and the brightest.”