Healthcare: The Rightist Mentality (Part I)

A philosophic look at how altruism (mis)informs the healthcare debate.

By: Ashley Roy

Having recently discussed the Left’s approach to whether we should nationalize healthcare, I will address what the Right considers its opposite approach. As per my prior post, it should become apparent that the Right and Left are bedfellows seduced by a common moral code: altruism.

Below is a picture analyzed by Thomas Lifson, founder of the Conservative blog The American Thinker.


In a post titled “Obama’s Revealing Body Language” Lifson sets the context for an attack on “ObamaCare” by approvingly citing blogger Rick Richman’s interpretation of the photograph above:

Sergeant Crowley, the sole class act in this trio, helps the handicapped Professor Gates down the stairs, while Barack Obama, heedless of the infirmities of his friend… strides ahead on his own. So who is compassionate? And who is so self-involved and arrogant that he is oblivious?

In my own dealings with the wealthy and powerful, I have always found that the way to quickly capture the moral essence of a person is to watch how they treat those who are less powerful. Do they understand that the others are also human beings with feelings? Especially when they think nobody is looking.

Richman’s concern might initially seem trivial and tangential to the issue of socialized medicine: how should the well-to-do treat the infirm? Yet his answer is illuminating: a man can either be a “class act” who offers “help” and “compassion,” or he can be “self-involved,” “arrogant,” “oblivious.”

This (mis)characterization of the moral alternative facing men in their dealings with one another sheds light on the broader philosophic terms of the question at issue—terms that will inform Lifson’s “opposition” to universal healthcare.

Consider that Richman ascribes goodness to men by referencing what they give others—help, compassion—and badness to men by the same altruistic standard, with reference to what they do not give others, e.g. attentiveness and an outstretched arm. His world-view exclude the man whose virtues exist independently of others. But a genuinely selfish man cannot achieve self-esteem by sacrificing himself to others, or obtain values by sacrificing others to himself. He earns them as a function of his character and accomplishments. Only selflessness necessitates others in both respects.

Nor is a self-interested man indifferent. He does not require the spurs of duty to extend himself to others. Goodwill follows from having his freedom respected, and from righteous self-regard. As pertains to the first, if a man’s life is not respected as his own but is regarded as a means to others’ ends, so too are others in bondage to him. Under these circumstances, perfect strangers are infected with chronic mutual resentment. As pertains to the second, if a man does not value himself, on what basis does he value others? By what standard, if he does not esteem the mind and character with which he holds them in regard?

Taking another instance, Richman places “others” at the center of ethics by suggesting that, to capture the “moral essence” of the wealthy and powerful we should “watch how they treat those who are less powerful.” Yet morality is a fundamentally selfish concern, for a man must confront reality on its terms and his before he deals with other men.

If a man’s thoughts, ideas, and convictions are guided by reason, and he holds the context of his life above his whims; if he regards his mind, character, and life as personal responsibilities; if he pursues the facts regardless of his wishes, hopes or fears; and if the truth motivates his every action, others can expect to deal with a man of rationality, independence, honesty, and integrity.

Likewise, if a man only and always permits what is earned; if his life is purposefully integrated and sustained by creative achievement; if his self-esteem comes from realizing his ideals, others can expect to deal with a man of justice, productivity, and pride.

Unfortunately, altruists fail to acknowledge that the primary beneficiary of morality is a man’s self, and over the course of a lifetime that it is he who suffers most by being immoral. But excepting independence (which the Left smears as an illusion), pride (which the Right condemns as a sin), and rationality (which both believe has its “limits”), Conservatives and Liberals do not reject these virtues in name. Instead, they believe morality means the selfless subordination of virtue to others.

Thus Richman singles out the “wealthy and powerful” for moral scrutiny: altruism renders them suspect for achieving selfish values (e.g. profit) regardless of the virtues employed (e.g. productivity); and he ignores such objective considerations as a man’s character, choices, and capacities when obliging us to offer help: altruism only considers what might be done to his “feelings” if someone abler “strides ahead on his own.”

By this standard, men are little more than a means to the ends of others, and ability must be sacrificed to need. Such an ethics is incompatible with individual rights, and forecasts Lifson’s failure to discredit ObamaCare on principled grounds. We will pick up here, with his futile attempt, in Part II.

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  1. […] Healthcare: The Rightist Mentality (Part I) « StudentsofObjectivism […]

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