Wednesday, January 20, 2010

the tyranny of political paternalism

“We are our brother’s keeper!” With this as the battle cry, the Democrats resolved to provide health care for all individuals. It is our responsibility to help other people, so they saw it fit to turn responsibility into law. Yet in doing so they trampled on the very morality they claimed to uphold, and therein lies the paradox of political paternalism, or moral leadership. Paternalism is tyranny, and has become our modern-day King George from which we must declare our independence.

The central principle of paternalism is moral leadership. It is the notion that an authority can make a decision on behalf of another because it is in that individual’s best interest, regardless of what he or she desires. The recent health care legislation is a prime example of paternalism. Despite the fact that the majority of Americans were against the health care bill (42% for, 54% against), Congress felt obliged to pass it anyway. They declared that we have a moral obligation to provide health care to every individual. However, a government that acts with morality as its guide is illegitimate, as it leads to excessive expansion of federal powers.

The government cannot legitimately assume a moral position because first and foremost it is an amoral institution. It is a tool of the people, and tools cannot have morals. Rather, morality is derived from the conscience of the individual. Governments, lacking consciences, also lack a moral code. While there may be an absolute standard of right and wrong, it is up to the individual to discover and accept it. Moral principles can be taught, but they cannot be forced. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then?”

In addition, the government cannot legitimately enforce a moral code. An administration forcing individuals to act a certain way on the basis of morality is contrary to morality itself. Morality is entirely based on choice. Just like you cannot force someone to accept a moral principle, you cannot force another person to take a moral action. A moral action requires the agent to act because he deems it as “good.” When coercion is involved, the agent does not act under those pretenses, as he has no choice, and the action fails to be a moral one.

For example, the current administration claims that because “you are your brother’s keeper,” you have the responsibility to help others pay for health care. To help us fulfill that responsibility they legislate their moral code into law by mandating that every individual buys health insurance. However, when it becomes law the choice is no longer ours to make, which leaves us with no means of fulfilling our obligation. We act with no thought toward our fellow Americans or fulfilling our responsibility to them, for the choice to act has been made for us. Their entire reason for enacting the policy becomes void and contradictory, defiling the very morality they declare to uphold.

There are those who may be thinking, “But there still is the choice! They can choose to not buy health insurance!” First, this contradicts their notion that because everyone has a responsibility to help a universal mandate should be established. If it were the case that they should have choice, then there would be no reason to include this mandate. Additionally, if someone chooses to not buy insurance, he will be required to pay a fine which will be revenue to fund the health care of others. Either way, the choice has been made for him, and he will foot the bill. The remaining alternative, however, is more damning: that individuals shouldn’t have a choice. I can concede that there are legitimate taxes individuals should be required to pay in order to provide public goods, like the military. The difference is that individuals automatically receive benefits directly from these, whether they pay or not, and because they are receiving benefits they should be required to pay. On the other hand, individuals do not receive any sort of benefit from health insurance by the simple fact that the industry exists, and so there is no reason why they should pay. Unless, of course, you declare that freedom is insignificant.

You cannot accept this health care legislation without conceding that freedom is not valuable, or at least not as valuable as cutting costs. Yes, we may be able to save a few lives by increasing coverage. But it seems that we have long forgotten the words of Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty or give me death.” The time has come for America to choose, and the choice was made for us, contrary to our will. Unless we rise against this modern-day tyranny of paternalism, we do not deserve the liberty our forefathers fought to protect. We the people still hold the power, and can change the political climate. Already, the Arizona state legislature has passed a bill allowing a vote on nullifying federal health care reform, and the Texas Attorney General is preparing to file a multi-state lawsuit over the constitutionality of the legislation. Massachusetts essentially had a referendum against the legislation by voting in Scott Brown. As the states build resistance a political war will unfold. It appears that the fight is not over, but has just begun.

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