By Ryan McMaken*
As the Ukraine regime has imposed martial law in the wake of the Russia invasion, it has also apparently imposed a new near-universal conscription order. USA Today reports:
The Ukraine State Border Guard Service has announced that men ages 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving the country, according to reports.
“In particular, it is forbidden for men aged 18–60, Ukraine citizens, to leave the borders of Ukraine,” a statement from the service said, according to CNN. “This regulation will remain in effect for the period of the legal regime of martial law. We ask the citizens to take this information into consideration.”
Naturally, in order to enforce this on unwilling conscripts, Ukrainian officials will have to physically force men into service and ship them where the regime deems them to be necessary.
On Twitter, for example, some videos have surfaced purporting to show men being kidnapped by Ukrainian officials and forced into service. According to one source posting photos and videos from Ukraine,
UA soldiers were stopping cars and busses and yanking out any man aged 18–60 to conscript in the Ukrainian Army. In one place, a commissar was shouting “say goodbye to your daughters, mothers, and girlfriends; you must turn back and fight the Russian invader!”
Or as another government agent more directly put it: “Forget your wife, forget your daughter, fight for Ukraine.”
The phrasing of this call to arms helps highlight the true nature of conscription imposed on the unwilling: the state feels itself entitled to override the interests of men and their families. Translation: your wife and daughter are less deserving of your attention than affairs of state.
This situation is so dramatic because it so clearly puts on display the fundamental conflict between the interests of families and the interests of the regime.
To side with the regime in this case requires us to accept that government technocrats and politicians ought to be in a position to override a man’s judgment on how best to serve his family. Many people, of course, believe this. This attitude is what makes lockdowns and vaccine mandates possible. with both conscription and covid, the state becomes the institution that makes intimate decisions about what you must do with your family “for your own good.”
In truth, however, state agents lack both the moral authority and the information necessary to make such decisions.
The State Does Not Take Precedence over the Family
In the state’s efforts to seize men for regime “service” we find a clear conflict between the state and the family.
If a husband and father in a family has decided it is best for him to accompany his family to a neighboring country—or anywhere, for that matter—this prerogative is among the most fundamental found in civilized society. No institution on earth is better suited to make such decisions than the family itself. No institution is in a moral position to coerce a man to abandon his children and wife in the name of serving the vague, undefined group of people that is “the country.”
Not only does no politician or technocrat in a moral position to demand such a thing, but no government agent even possesses the specific knowledge necessary to make a judgment about what is appropriate for countless families, each of which has their own specific, unique needs.
In truth, for some men, the right course of action is accompanying their families to safety across the border, and supporting them there. For others, it might mean fighting in a military operation. For still others, emigration may not be preferable, and the man might be needed to secure food and shelter for the family during a time of unrest.
No doubt, some men—and even some women—may voluntarily leave their families behind so as to engage in military service. When made freely, this is a legitimate choice that people can make if they think this is appropriate for their families.
Yet there is an enormous difference between these voluntary choices and the edicts handed down by government bureaucrats in order to serve whatever goal the state has decided is “best” for all families in the aggregate. In Ukraine, this is especially to be highlighted, since the regime is notable for being one of the most corrupt in the world.
The Ban on Emigration: An Especially Dangerous Act
What adds an especially interesting dimension to the Ukrainian example is the fact that many of these men are being seized while in the process of attempting to leave the country.
In essence, these men have been stripped of the fundamental right to emigrate. A ban on emigration—one of the most fundamental human rights—has long been a scheme employed by despotic regimes such as North Korea, Cuba, and the old Soviet Union. Many other despotic regimes have restricted emigration for military purposes.
The fact these men are kidnapped while in the process of emigration also calls into question the common logic employed by supporters of conscription who claim that everyone owes some sort of “duty” or debt to his or her nation-state. This attitude, of course, is premised on the rather absurd idea that people gain grand benefits from inhabiting a particular place and therefore owe something to the regime that happens to be ruling over that place. Moreover, keep in mind that most of the people have already been paying taxes for many years to support the regime financially. But after being squeezed for their wealth year after year, they’re still lectured about what they “owe” the state.
Yet when a person decides to emigrate, that person is choosing to leave behind all those presumed delightful “benefits” gained from living in that place—and from paying all those taxes. Consequently, it no longer makes sense to insist that that person must then be forced to continue to do his or her “duty” in regard to a place he or she wishes to leave.
Naturally, supporters of conscripting emigrating men will claim that some of these people plan to return and are not really emigrating permanently. We’re told these men might return later and “free ride” on the supposed benefits gained from the military “service” of others. Therefore, these potential emigrants owe the state military service now to “pay” for future benefits received upon reentry. To buy this argument, we must first ignore the fact these men have already paid taxes for purposes of military defense. But on top of this, the argument relies on a claim that border agents can predict the future. They don’t know who will attempt reentry later. The argument also relies on the idea that a future possibility of attempted reentry justifies kidnapping conscripts now.
Other proponents might further try and muddy the waters of this issue by insisting that the conscript is not performing a service to the regime, but to the “community.” This presumes that the interests of each and every community coincide with the interests of the state—an outlandish claim at best. Moreover, what is a community if not a collection of families? Communities are not best served by substituting the will of a draft agent for the will of family members.
Also often forgotten is the fact that a lack of willing soldiers demonstrates a lack of confidence in the regime itself. It’s entirely possible that if the Ukrainian regime were less corrupt and less inept, more people would volunteer to take up arms for it. If the rightness of the Ukraine regime’s position is so self-evident, then conscription shouldn’t be necessary at all. The lack of true support for the regime is always a harsh reality for a regime to face. History is full of delusional monarchs who imagined “the people” would flock to protect the king from usurpers. Many of these monarchs have been bitterly disappointed, as it turned out the people long taxed and abused by “their” king had other priorities. Many other types of regimes have faced similar unpleasant surprises. It may very well be that many citizens don’t value the regime as much as it values itself. That’s too bad for the politicians in power, but such a state of affairs hardly justifies kidnapping fathers on the street.
*About the author: Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and Power and Market, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in public policy and international relations from the University of Colorado. He was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.
Source: This article was published by the MISES Institute