“It is a Western conceit,” O’Donovan writes, “to imagine that all political problems arise from the abuse or over-concentration of power; and that is why we are so bad at understanding political difficulties which have arisen from a lack of power, or from its excessive diffusion.” He cites the example of Somalia, admitting that “such power as there has been has, as a matter of course, been abused.” But a more crucial problem is that “political power was never strong enough to cope with the daunting natural obstacles.”
Disease and famine, he suggests, are as crucial “enemies” as tyrants and invaders, since they are “depoliticizing forces” that “prevent people from living in communities, from coordinating their efforts to the common good; from protecting one another against injury and maintaining just order; and from handing on their cultural legacy to their children.”The above is a short blog post from Peter Leithart, where he is summarizing some of Oliver O'Donovan's thoughts from his 1996 book, "The Desire of the Nations." The skepticism of nation-state power that O'Donavan bemoans is relevant to the current debate over reforming health care. One of the main criticisms that is lodged against pursuing the option of a public health care plan is that health care is not a right, it is actually a commodity, or a privilege. Therefore, the American government, with a public health care plan, would be providing something that it does not have business or authority to provide. This has been shouted to the world via televised town-hall meetings with the threat that if we go this route we are wittingly lifting up the dust ruffle and inviting the boogy man with the S branded on his chest into our bedroom to have his way with us.
Beyond the obvious ridiculousness of such alarmism there is a more subtle problem with this warning. As O'Donovan is aptly pointing out, can it honestly be maintained that the tyrants that our military defends us from are more "depoliticizing" than the immobilization of our citizens from untreated disease? We have picked and chose randomly where we want government to interfere with our lives- a product of the post-enlightenment skepticism of everything authority. Yet, in the wake of increasing awareness of the things that threaten our health, and the technological wherewithall to combat them can these arbitrary distinctions be maintained? Why do we consider health care a commodity? Seriously, why? Why is this proposed plan any different from the preventative care I get from the United States Marine Corps? Why am I owed one (as a U.S. citizen) and not the other?