Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On PJ O'Rourke

Ian Dunt broadly approves.$21385811.htm

But given the quality of his reasoning, I wonder whether O'Rourke is glad of this.

For example, Dunt writes:

'Ultimately "entitlements" [why the scare quotes?] like free [now 'free' deserves inverted commas] healthcare for all maximise freedom because health is the prerequisite for all other freedoms'.


Not only does this circular little rejoinder sidestep rather than, as intended, confront O'Rourke's distinction between 'gimme' rights and 'get out of here rights', it begs questions which make a mockery of it.

For starters, is health the prerequisite for freedoms or does it maximise freedom? For they are not the same thing at all: freedom is an absolute value. It is incapable of being maximised. On the other hand, if I have no access to a car, my ability (which is what Dunt calls 'freedoms') to participate in the Paris-Dakar rally is non-existant.

Second, does having a cold limit my freedom? Obviously not. Having Alzheimer's might diminish my abilities, but there's little contemporary medical science can do about that anyway, and healthcare free at the point of demand, such as the NHS, tends only to say, 'Sorry, the best drugs are too expensive'. So much for healthcare entitlements maximising freedom. Or abilities.

Third, excessive drinking will damage my health. Is excessive drinking an enemy of freedom? Seriously? Is it not in fact an exercise of freedom, albeit a poor choice, which may ultimately diminish me?

In short, Dunt seems incapable of distinguishing the absence of others' coercion (ie freedom) from factors inhering to us as individuals which may prevent us reaching our full potential (ie disabilities). 'Free' healthcare may assist us in overcoming disabilities, but only at the expense of our freedom.

He goes on:

'Similarly universal free education allows people to assess choices. There is no real freedom under ignorance'.

Put aside the deplorable quality of universal 'free' [my scare quotes, as before, because of course someone has to pay for it] education, particularly by comparison with its voluntary predecessors, is he really suggesting no one ever made good choices before universal free education was introduced in the 1870s? Is the philosophers' State of Nature, then, a tyranny? The logical reductio of this claim is just this: the absence of coercion (ie liberty) is tyranny when combined with an absence of reading and writing! At the very least, Dunt's conception of tyranny would surprise a free-thinker in present-day North Korea.

And then there's this:

'There is also, I would have thought, a strict minimal benchmark of material possession, under which political freedoms become irrelevant. After all, what use is the right to privacy if you have to sleep on the streets?'

In point of fact I should think rough sleepers would welcome a bit of privacy on their chosen doorsteps, but I'm no expert on the matter. In any case, is Dunt saying that mediaeval peasants should not in principle have been freed from serfdom? Jaysus! On that analysis, a man living in what passes for poverty in 2010 Britain should be indentured to, what...? the state?

If he's on welfare, one might say he already is.

Dunt's case, then, is that if you are poor you have no wish to be free. How odiously condescending.


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