Friday, August 7, 2009

What is Reform?

[update: I have republished this post taking out my original claim that "reform" is an "anti-concept" which a reader pointed out is technically incorrect. See the comments section for more discussion and thanks to the commenter for pointing this out.]

Every day, we hear the term "reform" used to describe various political proposals. For example, Obama calls his plan to fully nationalize health care, "health care reform", which you can read about at In fact, a recently released talking points memo from the executive director of the Democratic National Committee refers to opponents of socialized medicine as an "anti-reform mob".

So, what is reform? According to, reform means "change for the better as a result of correcting abuses". Although the term “reform” refers to "change for the better”, it leaves open ended the question of how something is to be made better as well as any standard of what constitutes "better". Therefore, to implement "reform" requires an objective standard of "better” which requires an objective standard of the good. When proponents of socialized medicine refer to their plan as "reform", they are blurring the meaning of the word by equating the notion of "change for the better" with their false view of what constitutes better. In other words, usage of the concept in this way implies that the abrogation of individual rights, and the chaos and tyranny of socialized medicine is necessarily better.

In this case, the meaning of the term "reform" is change for the better, but it actually means government intervention in the economy and the violation of individual rights. Usage of the term in this way replaces the discussion of both the means and the goal of reform with the claim that more government intervention in the economy is necessarily good.

The Left has used the term in this way for decades. Communist gulags and political prison camps all over the world were and are designed with the explicit purpose of “reforming” anyone critical of the ruling regime. Today, the Democrats are using this term to confuse the public as to the nature of their plan and to viciously smear its opponents as "anti-reform" if they oppose them. After all, if you are "anti-reform", you must be anti-moral, i.e., evil.

Any objective standard of better health care would include the idea of the best quality health care at the least possible price. As logic and evidence demonstrate unequivocally, such an outcome can only result from a fully free market built upon the moral and political foundation of individual rights, i.e., the recognition of the rights of doctors, insurance companies, and patients to voluntarily contract for services on terms deemed mutually beneficial to all parties. In fact, the cause of the so-called health care crisis is precisely government intervention in the health care market. True reform would consist of dismantling government regulations, mandates, price controls, and taxes of doctors, hospitals, employers, employees, and insurance companies and thereby, fully restoring a competitive and vibrant marketplace.

Obama only claims that he will reform health care but never actually defines what he means by "better". His pragmatism obviates the need for any explicit definition of his intentions, but his implicit goal, consistent with his default philosophy of liberation theology, is the non-objective concept of "social justice" which means
egalitarianism which means equal outcomes regardless of effort, ability, or character.

Obama's plan to increase government regulation will result in deteriorating quality, waiting lines, higher costs, and misery, but his goal is the sacrifice of the productive to the non-productive to achieve equally miserable subjects in accordance with his ethic of self-sacrifice and self-abnegation. Usage of the concept "reform" enables him to convey the impression that he is pursuing the objective virtues of morality, justice, and productivity while actually pursuing the vicious, non-objective, unjust goal of egalitarianism, i.e., the sacrifice of the doctors and the producers of wealth upon the altar of "need".

Do not let the Left get away with this smear. A more appropriate and logically accurate term for his plan would simply be socialized medicine or "health care tyranny". Somehow, I do not think we will be seeing websites with those names.


Burgess Laughlin said...

I question whether the term/concept "reform," even when used by statists, is an anti-concept. Rather the concept is valid, but the statists are using it falsely.

The term/concept "reform" is a necessary one. I need it to describe, for example, various movements in history -- such as the movement to reform a city charter that has become cluttered with outdated amendments.

Even though "progressive" statists are using the term/idea "reform" duplicitously, I can still use the same term/idea rationally. It refers to improving conditions for the better according to some standard.

"Reform," as used by "progressive" or conservative statists is a valid concept, but the standard they use for what is better is not objective. That lack of objectivity doesn't invalidate the concept of reform itself.

I see the term/concept of "reform" to be similar to the term/concept "value." The idea is valid, even though it can be used in different ethical contexts.

Two other characteristics, usually, of anti-concepts do not apply either. Most anti-concepts are neologisms. "McCarthyism" is an example. Most anti-concepts are pejorative. (That is how they drive out the valid idea.) "Polarization" is an example. "Reform" is not used pejoratively. (It can be used indirectly, nevertheless, in an argument from intimidation.)

So, in summary, I would say "reform" is not an anti-concept.

I welcome correction, as always.

The Ayn Rand Lexicon, under "Anti-Concepts," offers two pages of excerpts from Ayn Rand's comments on this subject.

Doug Reich said...


I had a feeling you were going to write in and argue it so give me kudos for knowing I was on thin ice! Seriously, I went back and forth on this one and I will explain why I chose to make the claim. I welcome and appreciate the argument because it helps clarify the issue.

The lexicon (
lists several examples of "anti-concepts":

“consumerism,” “duty,” “ethnicity,” “extremism,” “isolationism,” “McCarthyism,” “meritocracy,” and “simplistic.” and "polarization".

Quoting AR:

"Observe the technique involved . . . . It consists of creating an artificial, unnecessary, and (rationally) unusable term, designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concepts—a term which sounds like a concept, but stands for a “package-deal” of disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context, a “package-deal” whose (approximately) defining characteristic is always a non-essential. This last is the essence of the trick."

I think there are 3 essentials that make a term an anti-concept:

1. Artificial or unnecessary
2. Package deal of contradictory elements
3. Definition by non-essential

The word that set me off on this path was really "anti-reform mob" or "anti-reformer" used by the DNC chairman to refer to those who oppose their plan. The supposed meaning of this term is “one who opposes making things better” while the actual meaning is “anyone opposed to socialism”. It is a term that is being used by liberals to smear opponents of socialized medicine by "package dealing" the concept of "socialism" with the notion of "improvement" to mean reform. When used in this way, it is clearly being defined by means of non-essentials.

In this particular context, I am almost equating its usage to the term “reactionary” which I believe is an anti-concept. That term is not used anymore by the left, but it is virtually equivalent in this context. However, unlike a term such as “isolationist” or “extremist” (or “reactionary”), I agree with you that there is a necessary usage of the term "reform" as in “generally making something better”, and so you are right that this would disqualify “reform” from being considered an “anti-concept”.

My original thought was that, in the case of "reformer" (or "anti-reformer" or “reactionary”), the package deal obliterates any legitimate concept of rational "improvement or progress" according to an objective standard. According to them, if you are a reformer you are a socialist and good, but if you are an anti-reformer you are anti-socialism and anti-good.

So, in the context that the term was being used as equivalent to “reactionary”, I think it is an anti-concept but in the literal sense, I agree that it is not. In either case, the term is being used improperly, defined in terms of non-essentials, and being used as a smear. I think the effect of its usage in this way is virtually the same.

I welcome any further comments you may have and appreciate your thoughts.

Doug Reich said...


As you can see, I republished the post taking out the claim that "reform" is an anti-concept.

Thank you for clarifying this issue.