Why Progressives Kill

Alfie Evans is being killed by the British government. Specifically, the plan is to hurry the gravely ill child to death by forced starvation. How forced? Pope Francis has a Vatican jet on standby to take the boy to Rome and feed him, a plan both of Alfie’s parents prefer — but a British judge has declared that Rome has “no jurisdiction” over Alfie.

That’s a very clever judge. All high-ranking apparatchiks of totalitarianism are clever. That, we may say, is the one intellectual virtue essential to totalitarianism: cleverness, i.e., the ability to use language so deliberately distorted by euphemism, half-truth, and misdirection that the hearer/victim is left speechless and the truth left obscured.

Lord Justice McFarlane says the Vatican has “no jurisdiction” over decisions related to Alfie’s life or death. That’s half-true. The other half is revealed if we ask, “Then who does have jurisdiction?”

The normal answer, the one all semi-free peoples accepted as an unquestionable fact of human nature for thousands of years, is that the parents have jurisdiction. But that, of course, is not what Lord Justice McFarlane means. He means the British government, in the form of the — euphemism alert — “National Health Service,” has jurisdiction. And the British government is now asserting its jurisdictional rights by killing Alfie prematurely, despite the desperate pleas and life-corroding legal struggles of the boy’s parents, the offers from the Vatican, and in theory the opinion of all marginally moral humans throughout the world.

Alfie is extremely unwell, a fact no one disputes. He is almost certain to live a severely abbreviated lifespan, and to live that lifespan at far less than optimal human functioning.

Britain’s socialist healthcare system’s response to these facts is to kill him. Their justification for this cold-blooded act is that it is “in the best interests of the child.” That is the constant refrain from the state killers in this case, and from their legalizing defenders in the courts:

That no one has ever explained — or, I dare say, ever could explain — how a judge, doctor, or bioethicist is qualified or able to determine with certainty that being starved to death is in a child’s best interests, is of no importance here. For we are not in the realm of explanations — that is, of rational accounts or logical arguments — but rather in the realm of tyrannical authority. Death by starvation is “in the child’s best interests” simply because the government’s utilitarian calculus for determining whether any given human life is worthwhile to the state has turned up a result of “kill it.” So Alfie is being killed. Case closed.

They say dead men tell no tales. Dead men also have no best interests. A person’s best interests are conditions or results judged advantageous or inherently desirable for that person. By default then, the natural impulse of life being to continue living, it is unnatural to conceive of the forced deprivation of life as being in one’s best interest, since this would mean that a person desired a condition in which desirable conditions are no longer possible. That is to say, insofar as life itself is a pursuit of best interests, and it would seem one has to have a life in order to have best interests, it follows that it cannot be in one’s true best interests to cease living per se.

I add the qualification “per se” to account for the fact that there may be circumstances in which one’s own physical survival becomes less important in one’s scale of interests than other considerations, such as the survival of a loved one, or the fight to preserve liberty. Granting that qualification, however, I think it is fair to presuppose that no one would reasonably judge a needless and purposeless death by forced starvation at the hands of state authorities as being in his best interests, whether in a qualified or unqualified sense.

State authorities, on the other hand, if they be authorities of a totalitarian frame of mind, would be expected to pass just such a judgment, as in fact the totalitarian NHS has done, as the totalitarian British Parliament has done, and as the British court system has done — in this case as in last year’s Charlie Gard case, and in principle in all similar cases. The reason, of course, is that when they speak of Alfie’s “best interests,” they mean something different from what John Locke might have meant, what Aristotle might have meant, or what you might mean in your own life.

For Locke, Aristotle, and you, a person’s best interests are the advantageous or desirable outcomes of life as defined from the point of the view of the person whose interests are at issue. For totalitarian statists, a person’s best interests are the advantageous or desirable outcomes of his life as defined from the point of view of his owners, i.e., the State. Thus, for the rest of us, declaring death by forced starvation to be in a toddler’s best interests is so absurd that it sounds like satire, whereas to a totalitarian mind, the statement seems quite normal, almost reasonable, because the totalitarian mind has a different set of priorities from the rest of us.

Let us state this as straightforwardly as possible, and not for the first time: For the British government, the one result that would be absolutely unacceptable in this situation is that Alfie should survive, and this is why they will stop at nothing to preserve their authority to kill him.

The fact that the NHS is in a head-to-head battle over Alfie’s welfare with the Vatican is of great symbolic value, as is Lord Justice McFarlane’s lovely pronouncement that the boy’s fate is outside the Pope’s “jurisdiction.” The one essential property that progressive totalitarianism shares in common with the Catholic Church is the principle of infallibility. Progressivism, as I and many others have argued thoroughly on many occasions, functions properly only on the basis of collective faith in the State’s authority, righteousness, and truth. Having knowingly supplanted omnipotent divine authority in the popular mind in favor of omnipotent state authority, it is basic to the illusion that supports modern tyranny that the people never learn to question the judgments or theories of the government. That is, in all matters of principle and official decree, the government must never be perceived to be wrong.

Progressive government error must never even be a possibility, and the government’s certainty must never be subject to question, for this would presuppose a standard of reality beyond the State’s own judgments, and thereby undermine the fundamental premise of progressivism itself — stated as clearly as can be by progressivism’s greatest theorists, from Fichte to Dewey — namely that The State is Truth.

If Alfie’s parents were “permitted” to take their son to Italy for treatment (i.e., if they were granted their parental rights, rather than denied them by a draconian government), there would always be a chance, however slim, that the boy’s condition would improve, or at least not worsen, for a considerable period of time. One in a million is far too great a chance to take for the NHS death panelists; for anything short of a quick, painful, and empty death for Alfie would fully expose their decision to kill him — excuse me, I mean to “palliate” him — for what it really is: the product of a cynical cost-benefit analysis based on statistical probability and utilitarian collectivism, rather than on the Hippocratic oath or any notion of the value of an individual life. 

A child is sick enough that the NHS regards his life and its maintenance as too costly judged against the likelihood that his life will be in any way valuable to “society.” They have therefore employed their carefully designed structural authority to abduct the child from his parents, restrict their access to him, and then kill him. The rest — the court battles and public sympathy campaigns — are just nuisances the government has to put up with occasionally in order to preserve the illusion that their calculus is, and always must be, correct. 

In other words, in these extraordinary situations, in which recalcitrant citizens refuse to submit to the State’s infallible judgment, the blandly administrative economic calculations of the social value of a life become secondary to a much more important principle: the survival of the progressive faith. If the public saw an error in one case — that is, if Alfie could, by some small miracle, be kept alive and his condition improved, by a non-British hospital — then all the thousands and thousands of similar cases, in which the State chooses death rather than the value of a life, on the same “best interests of the patient” grounds, would be fully exposed for what they were and are: a cynical and unnecessary choice to save precious State resources at the expense of individual human lives.

“People before profit” is a standard Marxist slogan for denouncing capitalism. In fact, as Alfie Evans’ kidnapping and murder at the hands of the British government amply demonstrates, it is progressivism that puts economic considerations above human life. All in the name of preserving the totalitarian illusion that the State alone has the moral authority to provide health care — which, in practice, means that only the State has the authority to determine whether your life, my life, everyone’s life, is worth living. And if the State’s judgment is that your life is not worth living, then death at the State’s hands becomes “your best interest.”

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