Despite the successful (kind of, sort of) passage of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi health care bill, the debate is far from over, it seems, and the underlying issues will only become more incendiary: the health care fight has served as a proxy for a deeper debate over the ongoing transformation of the United States into a European-style “soft despotism,” to use Tocqueville‘s astute description.

Quoted in an article in National Review Online this morning, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) of Wisconsin identified very well the way the health-care debate has exemplified the vast difference between two cultures in the United States today:

Health care is really the issue that speaks to the relationship between the citizen and the government in America. It shapes the fiscal trajectory and the economic trajectory. This whole debate has been a proxy fight about what kind of country America will be—whether we’ll become a cradle-to-grave welfare state or stay a free-market democracy. The Democrats who are being told that the wors[t] is over should know that the battle has not even begun. It’s up to us to now bring the case to the American people—a real moral, philosophical, and economic case— asking about our values, our founding principles, and if we really want to move toward a Western European–style system. . . .

What’s really happening here is the president is saying to the American people that you’re stuck in your current station in life, you’re frozen, and the government is here to help you cope with it. But that’s not who we are. We are a dynamic society where people have the will and incentive to make the most of their lives, to reach their potential. With this bill, that whole mindset, the American idea is upended.

Matt Peterson put it succinctly in an essay in The American Thinker:

In November 2008, Americans elected a socialist as their president. In March 2010, they woke up stunned to find themselves living in a socialist country.

He goes on to explain the enormity of this power-grab:

Health insurers–once private companies–are now organs of the federal government. Every citizen is a ward of the state, which can now compel you to have insurance, punish you if you don’t; determine if your insurance is acceptable, punish you if it isn’t. Thousands of new federal bureaucrats will soon spill from the D.C. Beltway and flood the country, scrutinizing our finances to verify compliance with this new law.

A government that grants itself this kind of power over us can conceivably do anything to us.  For our own good, of course. Such a country is in no meaningful sense “free.”. . .

There’s a reason why Democrats were desperate to ram this through at any cost–once enacted, such things are all but perpetual. Former freedom-loving peoples begin to tell themselves that it’s really not so bad. Sure, government is forcing you to eat state-approved gruel, but hey, at least they hold the spoon, and they even pour a little sugar on top when you’re good.

Tarren Bragdon, president of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, notes that the health care overhaul legislation has energized the opposition to a degree that hasn’t been manifested by non-progressives in many years—perhaps more than a century:

Last night’s vote was an assault on the fundamental American values of freedom, individualism and limited government, but this fight isn’t over.  The unprecedented level of activism and engagement among Americans to oppose the president’s health care takeover will carry through to the November elections and beyond.  We will not be silenced.  We will continue to fight to protect Maine families from an intrusive, unaccountable, and now, greatly expanded federal government.

This issue indeed lays bare the great divide between two cultures in the contemporary United States: a European-style, “progressive” rule by elites, versus a consumer-oriented, reformist coalition based on the premise of natural rights embedded in the Declaration of Independence. Like the Tea Party movement, the “unprecedented level of activism and engagement among Americans” in opposition to Obamacare is evidence of a long-delayed recognition by much of the public that what’s wrong with progressivism is not the particular policies it espouses but its assumption that rule by elites is better than freedom of choice.

The passage of this health care bill is a great triumph of progressivism. Under the spell of progressive ideology, for the last few decades public schools across the country have increasingly refused to educate children in the founding values of the nation and in fact have often openly taught contempt for them. In turn, a public without a strong understanding of what individual freedom really means and the reasons why it is precious has little defense against the ever-increasing encroachments of government—until something as obviously grotesque, wrongheaded, and overweening as this health care bill comes along.

That’s what makes this fundamentally an issue of culture, and it’s why those stubborn souls who persist in believing in individual rights must engage the culture, especially by wresting control of the public schools from the hands of the progressive myrmidons who have debauched it.

Certainly the particulars of the health care bill energized many people, both for and against, insofar as they actually were spelled out and became known to the public. Nonetheless, it’s clear that the real concern was that the option of personal choice was being taken away from individual citizens in this vital area of life. The power to control people’s health care, in addition to the hegemony over the one-sixth of the economy which it represents, conveys to the government an enormous amount of control over individual lives, a level of control surely unprecedented in this nation.

This is not regulation; it is rule. And the public finally realized that the current government does not intend to be gentle in its rule.

The revolt against the Tyranny of the Majority has begun. Whether it will succeed over the long term will be decided in and through the culture.