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Should libertarians support the BSA? Trail Life USA? (2)

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Or some other organization/alternative to the older youth organizations?

As discussed in the first part (read it here), the Boy Scouts of America are currently in deep kimchi. It’s bankrupt, hated for its political-correctness and recent actions to stay “relevant” and celebrate “diversity”, hated because it is not politically-correct enough. Shedding members (both Scouts and Scouters) in droves. And the same for sponsoring organizations.

So clearly there is a potential niche for a strong competitor to what had been a virtually-government-approved monopoly for a century-plus.

There are a good many alternatives, some nearly a century old and others dating back to the seventies and eighties. Many of these are copies of the old Boy Scouts, usually either of a religious nature (like one denomination’s “Royal Ranger” program) or of a very Progressive nature.

Those so-called progressive alternatives usually now push radical feminism, DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) and/or environist concepts. All of which are religious in nature as practiced by many or most of the adult leaders. Examples include the modern Camp Fire, Spiral Scouts, and Navigators. (Read about them here.) Of course, as the BSA itself is Woke, increasingly progressive and more and more politically correct, these organizations are not as well-known and not seriously competing. And certainly there have been some (apparently) failing attempts, like the Obama youth movement so touted back in 2008 and 2012.

On the other hand, the “conservative” and mostly religious alternatives double down on their interpretation of scouting. Not just going back a century to the concept as created by Baden-Powell (and some men even earlier than that) but establishing requirements that are often condemned by both media and the political and popular center of the population.

The most successful of those is the Trail Life organization, now just over 10 years old and claiming 50,000 youth members (BSA still claims a million). Trail Life is unapologetically christian in concept and practice – although its christianity is a modern least-common-denominator (pun intended) mix that many would not see as biblical. It copies many of the concepts, organizational and operational methods of the BSA but is not slavish. It seems to reject the more “paramilitary” aspects which seemed to dominate Scouting for much of its existence., but is still intensely patriotic.

We at TPOL have been unable to find any kind of “libertarian” scouting program for boys or girls in the United States. Several suggestions, such as Alert Cadets and Trail Life, that do have an emphasis on freedom, individual liberty and responsibility, and minimal interaction with government at any level, are both strongly christian and patriotic in orientation. Although both seem to emphasize duty to God over obedience to government, that is a challenge for some lovers of liberty, particularly anarchists and those who do not believe in God.

Perhaps there is some value in a youth organization – or more accurately, youth program – that is explicitly libertarian in its ideals and organization. That can allow for freedom of expression and association without sliding into coercing either expression or association. (If so, expect both the so-called progressive and conservative factions of society to condemn it.) Such a program might seem to be antithetical to libertarian political philosophy, of course. And such movements or programs can easily slip over the edge into very undesirable characteristics. But it is worth contemplating.

In the meantime, what about parents seeking the benefits of traditional scouting: outdoor activities and skills, practice in both followership and leadership, challenge and responsibility? Even in the BSA, local councils and troops vary in their beliefs and practices greatly. Trail Life (and others) have clearly established the platform on which they stand, and seem more supporting of ideals of liberty, of non-aggression, and of personal responsibility – and parental participation – that the BSA does today. We must each examine and decide – then participate and monitor.

Youth groups and organizations are valuable for children to grow and learn and mature. Their existence in many cultures and locations demonstrates how much valuable effort they provide. Even when seeing such things as the Communist Young Pioneers in many countries and the Hitlerjugund of the Dritte Reich and other fascist youth organizations, youth bonding with one another under guidance of adult leadership is important to building and sustaining society. And can be to liberty as well.

AFTERWOOD/DISCLAIMER: Several on the staff of The Price of Liberty, including the writer of this commentary, have long-time involvement in the BSA, including two Eagle Scouts and two who worked as adult Scouters. None of us have any direct link to Trail Life or other current alternatives.

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