Dr. Anton Chekov on Obamacare

Anton Chekov, a late 19th century Russian physician and famous short story writer, proves there truly is nothing new under the sun.  In his short story The House with the Mansard, Chekov’s prime characters spend their days idly discussing topics of philosophical interest.  Two of these characters, Lida (an aristocratic land owner) and the Artist (a Bohemian), encounter a government official who “promised to raise the question of [ having the government build] a medical station in [their town].”  Lida and Artist then enter a debate as to the merits and faults of government provided healthcare.  Lida is all for it, feeling that if they had had a “medical station” in their small town the life of her friend who had died in childbirth would have been saved.  She concludes, “the highest and most sacred task of civilized man is to serve his neighbor, and [in supplying universal healthcare] we are endeavoring to serve as best we can.”  Artist, on the other hand takes a “principled” position in which he argues that if all civilized man does is to provide basic needs to the proletariat (remember they were Russian), the proletariat remain stuck in nothing more than subsistence living.  Thus the crux of the debate; are good intentions enough to truly improve the lives of others or do they (good intentions) only appease one’s individual conscience? Or, are good intentions a starting point, when coupled with principled action truly move a society in a better direction?  I think most people agree that good intentions are a starting point.  The real debate should focus on how we “principle” those intentions.  Chekov, through Artist, shares some odd ideas in the story, but the overall point is worth considering.


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