What’s wrong with dependency? My response to the health care debate

I have no problem with people disliking to the health care bill, but I do wish that the  Right-blogosphere would be more precise in stating its objections.  I don’t like the tone of most of it.  For example, there’s the title to Mark Steyn’s piece Happy Dependence Day!  The article itself makes some valid points, but I always object when one speaks of dependence as if it were intrinsically bad–as if we conservatives had embraced the view of abortion and euthanasia advocates that to depend on another person is to be subhuman.  Dependency is the most basic fact of human existence.  The independent man is a fantasy, an imaginary creature like the Tooth Fairy, the noble savage, the state of nature, and the social contract.  The project of conservatism is precisely this:  to moralize and dignify the dependence of man on his fellows.  Nor is dependence on the government an inherently bad thing.  We are supposed to depend on the government after all; that’s what it’s there for.  Conservatives only object to dependence on the government when it undermines other meaningful dependency relationships, e.g. dependence on one’s family or local community.  From this perspective, Obama’s bill is far less wicked than federal incursion into the education of children (e.g. No Child Left Behind), which more directly usurps the role of parents and cities.  I for one would much rather the federal government control which doctor I see than control the beliefs of my children.  So my question is this:  what dependency structure does the new government regulation of health insurance jeopardize?

There are three types of dependency:  personal, corporate, and impersonal.  In personal dependence, one individual relies on another qua that individual.  The main example is the nuclear family, but other examples might include the lord-vassal, priest-parishioner, or master-apprentice relationships, depending on social context.   In corporate dependence, the individual depends ultimately on some corporate entity, and only on other individuals qua agents of that corporation.  The relationship between the state and its subjects is of this kind.  In impersonal dependency, one depends on other men ultimately as an unincorporated aggragate, by trading to get what one needs at a price set by the aggragate supply and demand.  This is the realm of what Hegel called “civil society”, what is now called the “market”.  Impersonal dependency comes about because of the division of labor in advanced societies.

The dependence of person on person is moralized by the ascription of reciprocal rights and duties, and its culmination is love.  The dependence of person on corporate person is moralized in the same way, and its culmination is community/patriotism/justice.  In both cases, the ascription of duties depends on an ideological construct–the ends of marriage, gender roles, constitutions, legitimating founding myths, etc.  Our job as conservatives is to defend these communal understandings.  Impersonal dependency cannot be moralized in this way.  If some good is distributed through the free market, and someone can’t afford to buy it, it’s no one’s fault in particular that he can’t get that good.  As long as it remains in the impersonal sector, there’s no way to assign responsibility.  As Hegel pointed out, civil society can only be moralized from outside:  from the personal side from guild associations and from the corporate side from state regulation.  Conservatives have no reason to want civil society left unmoralized.  Quite the contrary.  And since health insurance is not a traditional function of family, church, or local community, none of these things are undermined even by a complete government takeover.  Why should we conservatives care?

Another complaint is that President Obama will be forcing young people who don’t want health insurance to buy health insurance.  Good for him–they should be forced to buy insurance.  Everybody knows that if one of these bright “nothing bad could happen to me” lads were to stagger into a hospital with a knife in his back, the doctors would save his life whether he had insurance or not.  It’s a free-rider problem.  If somebody can get care who could have payed for it but didn’t, that makes the people who did pay for it suckers.  We also force people to buy car insurance, but nobody calls that tyranny.

Actually, the one good reason to oppose government in health care is the reason that’s been subject to the most ridicule:  the danger of state-sanctioned abortion and euthanasia.  “But that’s not in this bill!”  cry the Democrats, with some justification.  However, this legislation will create a bureaucratic apparatus that will push for these things year after year–twisting language, redefining words.  Even if I believed that President Obama is sincerely dedicated to opposing public abortions and public euthanasia, I don’t believe that he or Congress or both together are capable of stopping it.

One Response

  1. […] group of people with a really stupid name–they’re anarchists and satanists as well (see here).  When did we decide to accept that the only form of human dependency is the dependence of […]

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