Ideologically opposed to the NHI, but knowing why

There is nothing inherently moral or immoral in the concept of “ideology”; it is only the content of an ideology that can tell us anything morality-wise. For example, if an ideology is based on coercion, it should be considered immoral. On the other hand, if the ideology is premised on individual freedom, it is moral.

Each of us have an ideology — the ideas and concepts that indicate our world view, and also serve as signs others can use to try to predict our future actions. Ismail Lagardien recently accused opponents of the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) fund of being driven by ideology (Ideology is blinding some to the merits of NHI, August 21). I will not contest this point. However, I am afraid that in his quest to defeat all ideology he sees he is blind to his own ideas and worldview — his own ideology and how it underpins his arguments.  

An ideology can, if well thought-out, understood, and applied to concretes in the world, provide one with solid principles by which one can guide one’s actions. An ideological world view can provide useful signposts for decisions and actions, especially when situations become muddled and difficult to navigate. Philosophically, there is a much bigger problem with pragmatism than ideology, but that is a discussion for another day.

Ideology is neither “bad” nor “good” in and of itself. To attempt to smear one’s opponents as blinded by ideology is, more often than not, an attempt to dodge the premises and arguments advanced by those opponents, and undermines one’s own argument. Whether you are a socialist or a liberal, your arguments are driven by an ideological world view.  

There are many reasons to oppose the NHI. In my case, Lagaardien is correct — I am ideologically opposed to the NHI. The ideological underpinning of the NHI and numerous other attempts by the state to take control of people’s lives. Free markets, freedom of speech, the rule of law, individual freedom and responsibility are the ideological motivators for opponents of the NHI.

Lagardien makes the ideological motivators of supporters of the NHI clear when he writes: “The interventions are made to advance social justice, inclusivity, rolling back some of the iniquities of the past, expanding the public or common good, promoting stability and high levels of trust among citizens.”

The words one uses indicates the concepts one holds, and act as breadcrumbs on the trail of identifying the ideology to which those concepts belong. All the concepts Lagaardien mentions — from “social justice” to “common good” — are part of an ideological paradigm that regards the state’s proper role as playing a very interventionist one in people’s private lives and decisions.

Lagardien believes the state ought to play an active role in the market, and when it comes to healthcare services, the state should play an active role in providing them (if not to all of society, then at least to those unable to afford health services and products). This is an ideological position to take — there is a normative premise at play of how the state ought to act.   

Concerns about “barely concealed ideological biases” are also raised. Each of us is biased, to a greater or lesser extent. We come into arguments with individual knowledge, assumptions, and emotions — no-one is a contextless automaton.

On this point, one hopes Lagardien is intimately aware of his own biases, lest he assume only his ideological opponents are human and he is somehow above such earthly concerns. One also hopes that anyone who argues against the NHI understands why it is a deeply flawed project both economically and morally. To understand the moral premises of one’s argument is to be better equipped to make that argument.

The NHI is an immoral ideal. It requires complete state control over doctors and nurses so that the state can dictate to them where they must work, and for how much. It increases the role of the state to a point at which it will control how we spend the money we have earned on healthcare services — this ought to be the purview of free individuals, not bureaucrats or politicians. The NHI can never be justified on the basis of charity or the common good; the use of coercion negates people’s free will and decisions, and thus undercuts any attempt at charity.

Everyone, no matter their rhetorical attempts to project neutrality, has an ideology underlying their arguments. We shouldn’t strive for neutrality in any case, as though it is some Platonic ideal we can only grasp at and never attain. The words and concepts we use indicate to ourselves and others which values are important to us — after all, if we didn’t hold any values or ideology, none of these arguments would have any moral worth for us. We are better served by understanding ideologies, and not pretending that we are above ideology itself.

Chris Hattingh 
Free Market Foundation

This article was first published on BDLive on 28 August 2019

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