Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Manifesto for "Coercive Paternalism"

"You're too stupid to know what's best for you. I'm from the government; I know better; and I'm here to straighten you out...for your own good."

Insulting, eh? The essence of everything we, as Americans hate, right?

Well, comes now a $95 tome titled--are you ready?--Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism.  

No, I am not making this up. 

The book's product description on Amazon notes that, in America,

to respect autonomy is often understood to be the chief way to bear witness to the intrinsic value of persons. In this book, Sarah Conly rejects the idea of autonomy as inviolable.... Thus in many cases it would advance our ["our"?] goals more effectively if government were to prevent us ["us"?] from acting in accordance with our ["our"?] decisions. Her argument challenges widely held views of moral agency, democratic values and the public/private distinction.
Quoth the author from her own faculty page listing:
I argue that autonomy, or the freedom to act in accordance with your ["your"?] own decisions, is overrated—that the common high evaluation of the importance of autonomy is based on a belief that we [including her?] are much more rational than we actually are. We now have lots of evidence from psychology and behavioral economics that we [her too?] are often very bad at choosing effective means to our ends. In such cases, we [her too?] need the help of others—and in particular, of government regulation—to keep us [ditto] from going wrong.

This apology for naked totalitarianism was written by one Sarah Conly, an assistant professor of (what else?) philosophy at Bowdoin College--at least nominally an American institution of Higher Learning. A wet dream for dictatorially minded "progressives," her book naturally earned the honor of publication by the Cambridge University Press, and spotlight review treatment in the New York Review of Books--the reviewer being none other than Cass Sunstein, Barack Obama's very own former Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Prof. Sunstein, it should be noted, is author of his own nanny-state tribute to technocratic governmental manipulation of the citizenry: NUDGE: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Sayeth Sunstein, on his own book's Amazon product page: "We think that it's time for institutions, including government, to become much more user-friendly by enlisting the science of choice to make life easier for people and by gentling nudging them in directions that will make their lives better." 

Why, how kind and thoughtful of him!

Of course, those writing and enforcing government regulations (and books like these) are NEVER part of the "we" who are irrational, the "we" who are making so many "wrong" choices. Oh no: The progressive nanny statists are always the epitome of uber-rationality, higher education, dazzling expertise, superior taste, and sound judgment in all things. Yes, what a wonderful utopia we would inhabit...if only us rubes would surrender to them our damned autonomy. Who needs that Bill of Rights with such technocrats to (their words) "coerce" and "nudge" us?

When I say that the ultimate objective of "progressives" is to impose totalitarian control over every aspect of our lives--that they are motivated by an unquenchable lust for unlimited power--some of you undoubtedly think I'm wildly exaggerating. 

But how, then, to deny their own words, as they spell it out so clearly and ominously?

(A hat tip to my friend Bob Hessen for calling my attention to this, and you also might give Ann Althouse's brief blog about it a look.)