The Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court unleashed hell. But what has the debate produced? Actually, it’s been a mighty distraction from the real issue: health care should be detached from employment and, further, from all coercive relationships. Health care only came to be tied together with your job because of a deep history of government intervention. No surprise, that history is now blowing up in another round of the great culture war that no one can possibly win.
Think about the rhetoric that is being employed here. People say that Hobby Lobby should not be exempt from providing contraception to women through its health plan, and this is because employees are being forced to pay. Why shouldn’t they get benefits? Defenders of Hobby Lobby say that the company should not be forced to pay for services to which its owners morally object. Why shouldn’t the company have a choice?
Can it really be true that both sides are complaining about force? Absolutely, and this is because both sides are being forced.
Employees are required as a matter of labor regulation and necessity to take their wages in the form of benefits — Obamacare wickedly entrenched and broaden this coverage — so they naturally feel that they are being ripped off when benefits are denied on an ad hoc basis. Obamacare has trained the country to believe we can and should have it all; can we really be surprised when people complain when it turns out not to be true?
On the other hand, there is no real choice on the part of the company to provide such plans to full-time employees. It’s a matter of statute, and it makes sense that it would seek every exemption.
That the Court decided as it did was entirely due to a Clinton-era law that provides special accommodation for religious objections to federal mandates. Why religion and not other grounds? That’s the way the law reads, owing to the power of the religious lobby and Clinton’s own triangulating mastery.
As a result, people are tearing themselves apart on this, with one side blaming religious puritanism and the other side blaming an entitlement mentality stemming from feminism. You get the impression that only one side can win this. Whoever wins gets the blowback and the cycle starts over again.
In the end, there is only one winner: the master of us all, the government that concocted this crazy system to begin with.
What seems like a great culture war of our time is actually a wide and growing set of conflicts that are rooted in government intervention. If government had never pushed business to get into the health care business in the first place — this all happened because of wartime wage controls — we wouldn’t even be talking about “religious accommodation” in these mandates.
So long as there is a central plan, there will be vicious arguments about whose values should prevail in the implementation of that plan. Get rid of all mandates and we would finally, at last, see the dawn of peace. It really is possible, though hardly anyone can imagine it right now.
Culture wars are a lot more exciting to fight than real wars over the nature and reach of government. This is why so many people encourage them and fight them.
The neoconservatives began this type of rhetoric in the 1980s, redirecting the Reagan Revolution away from cutting government (they didn’t actually favor that) toward hating on ”leftists” in academia, cultural centers, and the mass media. It was a form of blowback against the ascendency of the left in the 1960s and 1970s.
Ever since then, it’s been the most common trope in right-wing political organizing. You can rally up a convention center with angry rhetoric against “leftists” of all sorts who exist within civil society: academia, media, non-profit organizations, and so on. But if you actually strike the root of the real problem — the size and scope of the state itself — the results are not nearly as inspiring.
This is the way states conquer and divide. They turn a diverse group of people loose in the arena and tell them to kill or be killed. Democracy encourages this; more importantly, overweening government in every area of life would seem to require it. Government is a zero-sum game: what you get I lose.
This is the very opposite of the way the market economy works. Through market exchange, both parties win. They come away with more value than they brought to the table. It draws on our internal sense of what is valuable.
“The market economy safeguards peaceful economic cooperation because it does not use force upon the economic plans of the citizens,” wrote Ludwig von MIses. “If one masterplan is to be substituted for the plans of each citizen, endless fighting must emerge.”
Consider for a moment whether you really believe that society can only function in the presence of homogeneity regarding religion, moral values, and cultural preferences. If you really believe that, then you must also believe society is forever doomed to be fundamentally dysfunctional.
The great contribution of the liberal tradition of thought (roughly 16th century through 19th century) was to see, perhaps for the first time in history, that unity of values was not necessary for society to work. So long as everyone’s rights were equally respected, people can benefit from each other’s lives and skills.
Diversity, in this case, is not just some slogan. Tolerance is not just a rhetorical bromide. They really do exist and society flourishes — so long as no one violates anyone else’s rights. This was the idea and the dream, and it worked beautifully. Albert Jay Nock explained this beautifully in his aptly titled book “Our Enemy, The State.”
But the 20th century interventionist state shattered that ideal by pitting some against others, gradually turning society into groups of warring tribes through regulations, taxation, subsidies, and behavioral controls. This unleashed the warring tribes: blacks, whites, men, women, able, disabled, citizen, foreigner, gay, straight, and so on, without end.
If you are fighting the culture war, you are fighting the wrong war. As they say in Hunger Games, let’s try to remember who the real enemy is.