I’m trying to meet a deadline on a big project, but meanwhile experiencing various subcultures. The Supreme Court, which I visited on Monday, was one. It offers a striking combination of grand and lush architecture, palpable power and respect, and a professorial style epitomized by Justice Breyer, who acted as if he were teaching smart law students.
That same afternoon, I taught a three-hour class on leadership for young Naval, Marine, and Coast Guard officers. They are different in superficial ways from their civilian counterparts. (For instance, they call professors “Sir”). But they are also different in more important respects. Almost all of them thought that voting was a duty, a moral obligation created by sacrifices in previous wars. In contrast, when we surveyed a national sample of youth in 2002, 34 percent said that voting was a choice; 20 percent called it a responsibility; and only 9 percent said it was a duty. For better and worse, the broad US society has moved from citizenship-as-duty to citizenship-as-choice. The military remains different in that respect.
Finally, I had an intense conversation yesterday with an Egyptian, a proponent of liberal democracy and civic education. He was passionately pro-Western and hostile to political Islam. He had come to get my advice, but I kept resisting, doubting that I have ideas relevant to Mubarak’s Egypt. As I told him, there’s nothing worse than advice that begins “In my country ….” But he insisted that the US has models and ideals that Egypt should adopt.