“Whether one likes it or not, it is a fact that the main issues of present day politics are purely economic and cannot be understood without a grasp of economic theory.”
Wrote Ludwig von Mises.
I think his words are true, unfortunately.
Like the human body, knowledge forms an indivisible unity. It’s interconnected and deeply interwoven. Knowledge is hierarchical and contextual: one part flows inevitably into another.
At the foundation of it all is philosophy.
Philosophy forms the underpinnings of all knowledge.
People don’t believe me when I say this, and yet it’s the truth: I don’t particularly care for politics and economics.
The reason — the only reason — I’ve spent so much of my life and my time writing about these subjects is that they’re inescapable, and because they affect our lives so immediately and extraordinarily:
One is either knowledgable about them, or one isn’t.
One is either informed or one isn’t.
One either buys into the easy platitudes of the day — right, left, or middle, it makes no real difference — or one considers the issues for oneself and forms non-dogmatic conclusions.
Package-deals — i.e. what right, left, and middle offer — do not work for philosophy. Philosophy is too vast and complex.
It requires independent thought, and a great deal of it, and it takes conscious and continiual effort.
It requires independent integration, which is what true apprehension consists of.
One either jumps in and swims, or one is swept along with the tides and the trends — until, in the latter case, one grows old and one day finds that he holds convictions — convictions he’s even willing to die for — the foundations of which, however, he’s never seriously thought about or questioned but mostly grew up with or among.
This not only can happen: it happens as often as not. People grow old and die holding like grim death to beliefs, either secular or non, it doesn’t matter, which they’ve never bothered to seriously investigate. This is a tragedy.
The unexamined life is a tragedy.
The following is for all those who think I exaggerate the dangers of socialized medicine — a very recent event and article, even though in many ways it seems like something out of the Dark Ages: a child who didn’t die when taken off his oxygen, and his fate decided by the state against the parent’s wishes.
From the online library of Law and Liberty (an excellent resource):
In the United Kingdom, a child’s fate was decided [by the government]. The boy, Alfie Evans, died on Saturday at 23 months of age. He had been hospitalized with a rare neurological condition. The doctors decided treatment was futile and recommended it be stopped. The parents went to court to continue treatment. A judge sided with the doctors, and sent the police to make sure no one would interrupt what amounted to a medical homicide. The parents, trying everything they could to save their child, saw their own powerlessness in the powerlessness of the infant even as all involved in this situation were stripped of their innocence.
The authorities removed oxygen from the boy, who, however, refused to die during the day he was left without medical care. Like all living things, the boy wished to live, even with his disease, and so the authorities put him back on life support. At that point the father went to see the Pope, who offered the boy protection in an Italian hospital. The Italian state offered the boy citizenship and to fly him to treatment. The judge refused to allow his parents to take Alfie to treatment.
It was just another event in the news, but it is also a fundamental conflict between faith and the state— between sacred law and political power. The several judges who came to be involved in the case seemed sure that the state should take the child from the family. They told his parents that he would inevitably die, and they insisted on the state’s taking responsibility for assuring death when they did not have to. The court insisted that his death en route to a hospital still willing to treat him would not be tolerated.
What does this conflict mean in terms of freedom and virtue?
The authorities thought they were doing justice. The parents thought they should be free to seek care for their child in another country. The state disagreed and insisted that it would be illegal for them to do so. Observe how each party viewed the requirements of virtue: The father thought he was doing the right thing in taking his boy to the hospital, to save his life. Everything about being a British subject was turned upside down, for he was now required to define the right thing as consenting to allow his child to die on the orders of the very authorities who were supposed to defend Alfie’s rights, starting with his right to life. This father was in the situation of a tragic hero.
What was done was done legally, with expertise, in full view of the public, all according to authorized powers to whom everyone deferred. The judges and doctors embodied a view of justice and wisdom which few seemed to be arguing against publicly—not politicians, not the high officials of the Anglican Church, not any other important organization. Nor were there massive protests over this boy’s fate. It would seem that those who represented the majority of the people of Britain decided in favor of Alder Hey Hospital, so much so that the authority of two parents over their child was denied.
This is a view of the state that would tend to make self-government impossible, for it removes the ground of the difference between freedom and obedience to authority. Theoretically, such a state cannot be legitimated by the consent of the governed, because it does not secure their rights, starting with the right to life. It is legitimated instead by its expert and orderly administration of rules of its own making. Theoretically, the state has assumed control of human life and the definition of its limits—death, ultimately. The state has secured passive consent, so that if it does not face a revolution, there’s nothing to worry about.
Kate James and Tom Evans, Alfie’s parents, argued for their freedom, and for their right to decide for their child. They obviously thought, in taking their child to the hospital, that they had certain rights as subjects of the sovereign and certain duties to their child. Had they let him die, which was what the state would later insist on doing, they might have been prosecuted for neglect. They acted freely, but at the same time compelled by necessity. They sought to match their own moral virtues with the intellectual virtues of the doctors, for the National Health Service is a public institution. This turned out to be impossible.
From Social Contract to Suicide Pact
Britons believe that the rights their government should secure for them include a right to healthcare through the National Health Service. This is the law of the land, and a man like Tom Evans is brought to his crisis because he fulfills the requirements of the laws and believes in their justice—only to find out that the community he is part of does not believe in those rights, but instead in something else.
Since it is not reasonable to expect parents—Tom Evans, other Britons who have come into conflict with the NHS over the fate of their ill children in the past, the others who will no doubt do so in the future—to respect such decisions by the government, it can make no claim to their allegiance under the right to life. Indeed the state is discovering entirely different sources of legitimacy involving not the protection of life, but the weighing and culling of lives and the decision as to what life is worth living and what life is not worth living.
This is the tragic conflict almost everyone is ignoring. We do not think any of us should be put in such a situation in any country where politics is built on human rights. We must now confront an example of one of the most prosperous, peaceful, and sophisticated countries in the world reorienting itself away from saving lives to ending them, if the life doesn’t seem worth living.
To some extent, British authority is now a suicide pact, to borrow the phrase of Justice Robert Jackson, who insisted that the U.S. Constitution was not one. Something very important has been lost if the right to life depends on circumstances ascertained by experts and decided on by judges. And if British hospital and police personnel are willing to enforce such decisions, the loss seems coextensive with the British state. It is not an exception, but the new rule.
It’s no joke and no game when in any society the state holds this sort of power over individual lives and decisions.
The root cause of this mentality is the notion that healthcare is a right that government grants — or not.
That, in microcosm, is why I’ve spent so much of my life and my time writing about political-economic philosophy:
Because knowledge is life, and knowledge is deeply interwoven and interconnected.