C.L. Gray, M.D.: The Battle for America’s Soul: Healthcare, the Culture War, and the Future of Freedom; Eventide Publishing; 2011; 320 pp; $19.95 paperback.
Stroll through the “current events” or “politics” aisle of any well-stocked bookstore, and you’re likely to find several titles similar to The Battle for America’s Soul.
You can just about guarantee that the story between the covers will make a strident case that Barack Obama wants to destroy the free world — or that Dick Cheney is the Antichrist — depending on the author’s political predilections.
Grab a copy of this new release, scan the cover image of a lightning bolt striking near the U.S. Capitol, and you could be excused for expecting another tome following the tried-and-true template. If you notice that the author is an M.D. and that the first item in his subtitle is “health care,” you might predict that the book will offer a point-by-point denunciation of ObamaCare.
If that’s the mind-set you bring to Dr. C.L. Gray’s work, you’ll be surprised. The surprise should be pleasant.
Sure, Gray is concerned about the 2010 federal health care reform law and the harmful impact it’s likely to have for American patients. He’s a board-certified physician who practices hospital-based medicine in western North Carolina. He founded the group Physicians for Reform in 2006 to focus on “fiscally responsible, patient-centered” health care reform. He knows ObamaCare is bad news.
But Gray’s critique of ObamaCare represents a small piece of a larger argument. Gray treats the health care law as a symptom — if you’ll pardon the pun — of a larger malady that has afflicted American politics far longer than the most recent set of election cycles.
Rather than point his finger at President Obama and his Democratic congressional colleagues, or even the Progressives who paved the way for government-run health care in the earlier decades of the 20th century, Gray turns the clock back more than 2,400 years. He traces much of today’s debate about health care — and other hotly contested topics such as property rights, for that matter — to the “diametrically opposed world-views” represented by ancient Greeks Hippocrates and Plato.
“On one side stand the … Hippocratic physicians, where the intrinsic worth of the individual was rooted in deity and not subject to human opinion,” Gray writes. “Because of this philosophical base, neither the physician nor the government possessed the power to strip patients of their intrinsic value. These convictions set ethical standards for medicine. … A higher moral law that recognized the intrinsic worth of every human life held physicians and government in check.”
Though Hippocrates’ ideas dominated medical philosophy for centuries, they faced strong opposition from the start. “On the other side lay mainstream ancient culture and the dominant Greek philosophy,” Gray explains. “Decision-making with respect to the value of human life was not accountable to the gods. Absent a higher law to which he was subject, Plato’s philosopher king determined the value of human life.”
Substitute “elected official” or “appointed bureaucrat” for “philosopher king,” and you begin to see the problem Gray identifies.
Of course, those espousing tighter government control over health care spout terms such as “single-payer system,” “individual mandate,” and “guaranteed issue,” rather than lines translated from Plato’s Republic. Gray is not arguing that people espousing the Platonic world-view even know the sources of their arguments.
Much of this book deals with the manner in which ideas first expressed — or, at least, first expressed in forms transmitted to us — in ancient Greece have been adopted, modified, transformed, and rejected over the courses of two millennia. Gray delves into philosophy, art, and literature to explain how the views of such diverse thinkers as Aquinas, Galileo, Locke, and Nietzche contributed to the modern understanding of truth.
If there’s one criticism of an otherwise fascinating book, it’s that Gray’s desire to cover so much of recorded intellectual history in slightly more than 300 pages seems to lead to occasional oversimplification. Your reviewer admits to having read much less of the source material than the author, but it’s hard to accept a blanket statement that all of “northern Europe” and “southern Europe” adopted distinct, mutually exclusive approaches to centuries of intellectual development.
It’s far easier to believe that prominent thinkers in those different geographic areas tended to deal with philosophical arguments from different perspectives. But that is an empirical question best answered by reading more of the source material. One suspects that Gray would be happy to spark an interest among his readers in the great works of Western thought.
Without spoiling the fun of reading Gray’s text, one can note that he names the “postmodern politician” as the intellectual heir of Plato’s world-view. Near the end of his discourse, Gray warns readers how they can spot these politicians. They disregard the rule of law, favor the transfer of power to government, appoint postmodern Supreme Court justices, appeal to foreign law, fail to move against “reprehensible behavior” abroad, and accept the “concept of global governance.”
Why is it important to identify these political actors? “This is the fundamental Law of Liberty: Whoever controls the concept of Truth controls power,” Gray argues. “This law fuels the intense emotion behind America’s culture war. A government restrained by a higher law (the laws of nature and of nature’s God) allows for individual freedom; a government free to impose its will on the people — even under the banner of public benefit — ends in tyranny. If America loses her concept of a fixed point of reference, she will assuredly lose her most treasured possession, liberty itself.”