The familiar phrase, “No man is an island,” originated with English poet John Donne in 1684. Everyone is connected, and what happens to one person affects all others, directly or indirectly. In his words, “Every man’s death diminishes me.” Most of us can latch on to the meaning, but not everyone takes the same lessons.
We must extend the expression: “No man is an island, therefore….” It is the “therefore” that is contentious. Everyone benefits from roads, even if they don’t own a vehicle. Everyone benefits from the steel industry in multiple ways, even if they are not steel workers. Everyone benefits from successful farms, even if they live in large metropolitan areas and never see or understand what goes on there. The list is endless. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that, therefore, government must provide them or that people have an unalienable right to the produce of others.
There is a continuum of such views, from those who view individual sovereignty as the highest good, who might identify as anarchists, promoting self-rule and absence of coercive force from any form of organized government, to the other end of the spectrum, who believe that the individual good and rights are absolutely subservient to the greater good, and that a powerful, formal government is thus needed to enforce such greater good and suppress individual greed, even if individuals are literally sacrificed.
Healthcare is a good proxy for most contentious issues, because it highlights quite dramatically the implications of “therefore” for opposing groups. Many people view healthcare as a right that must be provided without question or cost, with the assumption that, without such right, people would “die in the streets,” because they wouldn’t be able to get care. Universal healthcare is, for them, the solution. On the other side, people assume that, regardless of whether or not people will “die in the streets”, governments should not have the right or power to force people either to get specific care or to pay for that of others. Most people fall somewhere in the middle.
The political scale of left versus right doesn’t seem to fit. The right is usually associated with promoting individual liberty and small government, whereas the left is associated with the common good end. The Republicans, considered to be the embodiment of the right, however, has proven over and over that they like big government and lots of spending and that they have little regard for individual rights. Some of the biggest expansions government programs and federal power have occurred when Republicans were in control of both the legislative and executive branches.
That fact that government doesn’t provide a service does not mean that it will not get provided, and when it does provide a service, that doesn’t mean that it does it well or fairly or efficiently. The most dysfunctional segments of the economy and society are those most most highly controlled and funded politically, under both the contemporary Republican and Democratic versions of big government. While America is still among the economically free societies of the world, it has been falling in the rankings and is becoming less and less competitive. Things have gotten marginally better with President Trump’s program to cut regulations and some of his pro-business actions, but the cutting seems to have stalled, and he doesn’t seem serious about the scope of federal interference.
No man is an island, but there is no evidence that forcible relationships help society or the individuals in it. Voluntary association and commerce, where the rights to life, liberty, and property are protected and cherished, have, in nearly all circumstances, produced far better results than massive government intervention and abuse of those rights by politicians.