The Nanny State: The Challenge from Autonomy

Julian Le Grand and Bill New

in Government Paternalism

Published by Princeton University Press

Published in print January 2015 | ISBN: 9780691164373
Published online October 2017 | e-ISBN: 9781400866298
The Nanny State: The Challenge from Autonomy

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This chapter examines the argument that government paternalism harms or inappropriately restricts individual autonomy. More specifically, it considers the criticism that the paternalist government is actually a “nanny state”: the state is seen to treat its citizens as a nanny treats her charges, instead of as autonomous adults. After elaborating on the notion of autonomy, the chapter explores the relationship between paternalism, autonomy, and motivation. It then assesses the claim, associated with soft paternalism, that the individuals affected in fact have little autonomy to be violated. This position is based on the so-called autonomy failure—that is, the justification for paternalism depends in large part on a prior diminution of the individual's capacity for autonomous decision making, so that autonomy is therefore not offended by the intervention. The chapter describes the various circumstances in which this autonomy failure takes place and concludes by analyzing hard paternalism.

Keywords: government paternalism; autonomy; nanny state; motivation; soft paternalism; autonomy failure; decision making; intervention; hard paternalism

Chapter.  12525 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Public Policy

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