Saturday, September 19, 2009

Obama's Impossible "Balance"

The Associated Press reported on 9/18/09 that “President Barack Obama said Friday that angry criticisms about his health care agenda are driven by an intense debate over the proper role of government — and not by racism.”

This is very true, and I think that Obama is being sincere here. But a message of much more significance was buried in the article. Reported AP:

"There's been a long-standing debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition, or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes," Obama told CNN.

To NBC News, Obama put it this way: "It's an argument that's gone on for the history of this republic, and that is, What's the right role of government? How do we balance freedom with our need to look out for one another? ... This is not a new argument, and it always evokes passions."
(Emphasis added.)

When Obama talks about "our need to look out for one another", he is not referring to the act of helping a person who is a value to us, which is motivated by self-interest. He means it in the sense of someone’s need … anyone’s need … being a moral claim on the lives and property of anyone who has achieved the satisfaction of their own needs (We are all our brothers’, and our sisters’, keepers). He speaks of altruism.

When he speaks of a “balance” between freedom and altruism, he speaks of government social programs that trample our rights in order to enforce that moral dictate.

I don’t know whether this was an unintended slip-up in a fit of honesty on the President’s part, or a simple statement that he feels comfortable making because he is secure in the conviction that its meaning will go unchallenged. But, either way, when he speaks of a balance between freedom and socialism, it is an explicit acknowledgement by the highest political figure of the collectivist American Left that socialism is destructive of freedom, and that altruism is incompatible with individual rights.

I have said often that President Obama is philosophically astute, and these comments are more proof of that. A key issue in the healthcare debate is the question of the proper role of government. More deeply, it is fundamentally a moral debate.

And in classic Obama fashion, he has snuck in an insidious idea … that there is a proper balance to be identified between our freedom and freedom-killing socialist government programs, and that our history has merely been one long argument over where the balance between the two should lie.

But he is utterly wrong that “It's an argument that's gone on for the history of this republic”. While it is true that America never achieved in practice a society fully consistent with its ideals, our Founding Documents are nevertheless crystal clear:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

A government that confiscates the wealth of some, for the unearned benefit of others, is a tyranny to some degree. The extent to which forced wealth redistribution takes place is the measure of the distance a nation has traveled on the road from freedom to dictatorship. Our rights are unalienable, declared the Founders. When, in the 20th century, our government commenced with the practice of wealth redistribution, our rights … which includes our vital property rights … ceased to be unalienable. They became, instead, a grant of privilege from “society” (i.e., the government).

Freedom means freedom from the initiation of physical force by any person, group, or the government. Once that principle is abandoned, no matter on how small a scale, the journey towards tyranny begins. The “balance” between tyranny and freedom thus becomes an unstable, ever-shifting demarcation line along that road of growing government control and ever-shrinking freedom. There can never be a “balance” between tyranny and freedom, between a gun and voluntary association among people. Once force is accepted as a proper means for men to deal with one another, there is simply no objective way to determine when it is proper, by whom, and for what. When Obama talks about a “balance”, he means to give that balance a huge shove in the totalitarian direction it has been moving for the past century or so.

The president has given us another clear demonstration of the moral nature of the healthcare debate now raging. The view that the individual is a sacrificial animal whose primary moral purpose is the satisfaction of the needs of the “less fortunate”, and who simultaneously may lay moral claim to the lives and wealth of those above him on the economic ladder, is a view that leads to Obamacare socialism. The view of man as an individual being for whom his own life and happiness is his proper moral purpose leads to capitalistic freedom.

There is not and can never be any balance between those two moral views, or between their respective logical political implications.

2 comments:

Doug Reich said...

"But, either way, when he speaks of a balance between freedom and socialism, it is an explicit acknowledgement by the highest political figure of the collectivist American Left that socialism is destructive of freedom, and that altruism is incompatible with individual rights."

That is a great observation. You hit the nail on the head.

I think you are right that Obama is philosophically sincere. I think as a pragmatist, he does not even realize that, in principle, his position is antithetical to freedom. He is typical in believing there is some "balance". I have found that this is an incredibly common sentiment amongst Americans - even those who are on the right.

I think your identification that this is an impossible position to hold logically and morally is spot on and is the fundamental issue. Advocates of freedom will never succeed if this is not made the explicit issue.

Mike Zemack said...

"He is typical in believing there is some "balance". I have found that this is an incredibly common sentiment amongst Americans - even those who are on the right."

This is all to true, Doug. We have our educational work cut out for us!