With the House of Representatives passing the health care bill earlier this month and the Senate taking up the debate, it looks like government-run health care may eventually be passed into law. In recent months, conservatives have opposed the Democratic health care agenda in a variety of ways. Sarah Palin has attacked health care legislation by claiming that it includes “death panels.” TV and radio host Sean Hannity tried to sway Americans by showing universal health care horror stories from Canada. The conservative Heritage Foundation published studies that show the cost of accounting for Medicare is actually higher than for private insurance. Reason magazine, read by many conservatives and libertarians, cites America’s high murder rate to explain our lower life expectancy.
Whether these objections to universal health care are valid or not, they may slow the arrival of socialized medicine. But they certainly will not stop it. The conservative movement has stripped itself of its most potent, available weapon in its fight to halt and ultimately reverse government involvement in our health care. The weapon conservatives have abandoned is morality.
When it comes to the health care debate, both sides of the political spectrum have accepted altruism as the primary moral yardstick against which we should measure various proposals for reform. The popular definition of altruism says that it is moral to be consistently unselfish and devoted to others. In the case of health care, we are told that the truly virtuous and unselfish thing to do would be to vote for the bill for the sake of the uninsured. If you are really your brother’s keeper, as both the Christian right and Michael Moore believe, then the moral course of action is to sacrifice so that every American has health care. Few Republican politicians today would dare to claim that providing everyone with health care is immoral. Since they can only muster arguments that are pragmatic in nature, conservatives are dead in the water when confronted with the more powerful moral arguments of the left.
To the credit of conservatives, one often hears them alluding to the greatness of our Founding Fathers and the principles upon which America was founded. But they fail to realize that the political philosophy of our Founding Fathers was created on the implicit premise of the morality of rational self-interest. Rational self-interest says means that each person has a right to his life, and consequently must be free to take self-directed actions that support his own existence, so long as he does not violate the rights of other people. The use of force destroys one’s ability to act upon his own conclusions and violates this morality. Forcing someone to act “morally” is thus inherently contradictory and evil.
On the other hand, altruism says that man’s ultimate moral worth is based upon his service to others. The political philosophy that stems from altruist ethics is collectivism. Karl Marx famously summarized the moral underpinnings of communism in one statement: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Many people don’t realize that this is more than just a political statement. According to the ethics of altruism, it is the moral ideal.
The currently proposed health care reform bills put this ideal into practical form. Like any other good or service, health care must be provided by individuals. By making health care a right to which everyone is entitled, others are forced to provide it for those who can’t afford it. This use of force is precisely why a right to health care is a corruption of the concept of rights in the first place. A right is a freedom of action, not a guarantee to the product of someone else’s work or thoughts. The rights secured in the U.S. Constitution are the right to live your life in a way that you see as proper, the right to liberty or freedom from physical force and the right to the pursuit of happiness. Exerting force over those who can afford health care to provide it for those who can’t negates our rights.
The purpose of morality is to provide a set of values to guide man’s actions and to help him live his life. In any battle between morality and pragmatism, it is morality that will ultimately win. Those conservatives who try to integrate altruism and freedom are embracing a fundamental contradiction and in doing so, they are dooming themselves and the country to a form of collectivism. If the conservative movement embraces rational self interest, it will have reason, practicality and morality on its side in the fight to defeat socialized medicine and its attack on basic freedom.
Adam Gaglio is the president of Michigan Students of Objectivism.