The holy household

My professor and I are having a discussion about Paternalism.  What is Paternalism you might ask? Some would say it is big government. Before the Civil War and during the Jim Crow Days, some Southerners argued their social arrangements benefitted Blacks. Before Women’s Suffrage, some men argued that paternalism benefitted women. 

Below is a heavily edited version of a definition from Wikipedia.  Mostly I took out references to “for her own good” and “for their own good” because I think whether something is good or not is in the eye of the person doing the defining:

Paternalism most typically refers to behavior, by a person, organization or state, which limits some person’s liberty or autonomy, or the liberty or autonomy of some group of people.

 Some definitions of paternalism require in addition that the behavior is against the will of this person or persons, or that it is undertaken regardless of that will. Some definitions require in addition or instead that the behavior expresses an attitude of superiority towards the person or persons.

The word paternalism is from the latin pater for father. Paternalism is sometimes thought appropriate towards children and paternalism towards adults is sometimes thought to treat them as if they were children.


During class last night, I was trying to recall a book title,  ‘The Family Romance of the French Revolution, by Lynn Hunt.  Hunt says that when the French killed their king and divorced themselves from the Pope in Rome (the church father), they needed a replacement.  Their replacement was the paternal household.

 Also, Lyndal Roper‘s book, ‘The Holy Household’ ties into the same theme of paternalism or how men became the head of households after the Reformation in Germany when many of the German folk broke with Rome.

Paternalism is a European import that came to America with Protestant Evangelism, in the form of Puritans from England. 

Is Paternalism what we are experiencing today in the so-called ‘Nanny State‘ (a term the British coined)?

Although the Republicans sometimes refer to the Democrats as the Mommy party, perhaps they really are the Daddy party? Some citizens think the new Health Care Law is overreaching, invasive and intrusive. Others think it is the greatest thing since sliced cheese.

Isn’t it interesting how whether Paternalism is good or bad is in the eye of the beholder? Food for thought?




8 thoughts on “The holy household

  1. The health care issue is too complicated for me — I don’t know what’s in the bill and I have no idea what it’s going to cost. But I’m interested as a matter of principle — if the law does go through, are you in favor of the insurance mandate, or against it? I’m in favor … I think.


    • Tom, I am concerned the Individual Mandate is an overreach and would give the federal government power it does not currently have.

      A far better way to pay for the free riders would have been to use Paul Ryan’s idea and offer a tax break to those who buy health insurance. Those who do not buy health insurance would have paid for their status via the loss of tax $$. This would not fly in the current political climate however.


  2. I don’t think the Health Care Law is the best thing since sliced cheese. So much of it was modified or taken out in order to reach a compromise and get something passed. I’m just really feeling terrible for those people who are unable to afford health care.


    • Kay I don’t think there are many folks who can’t get health care, insurance or no. We don’t let people go without care in this country. The stories about various people who can’t get health insurance distorts what really happens. Janny Scott (NY Times Reporter) who wrot the excellent book on President Obama’s mother says his mom made $82,000 per year and had health insurance. The Washington Post Fact Checker gave Obama a cluster of Pinocchios for exaggerating the story about his mother.

      We have social programs in every state which provide care for the uninsured. Most of them are young people between the ages of 18-34. The poor qualify for Medicaid, the elderly for Medicare, and children are covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Programs in every state. The remaining uninsured are none of the above.


  3. Goodness, is this part of your paper? Leftover research? Life was all paternalism before I discovered ignoring it. Did I say that?

    32 years is utterly amazing. I wish he could come out here and speak to our Sunday night speakers meeting. I’m looking forward to meeting him. Please tell him I said congratulations. 🙂


    • Well, something like paternalism was going on, but the story is more complicated of course. The Nazis and Communists had paternalism, but it didn’t work well, nor was it anything like that found in the US. Women and Men bought into the US version. I am focusing on the women and their attitudes and roles in the process. Women are so interesting, don’t you think??

      I will relay your thoughts to him. Thanks, Mage


  4. Well, the media seems to feel that the Supreme Court will rule against Obamacare. Wonder what the White House will do then. All I know is, if you happen to be one of the uninsured, that will be a tragedy. What recourse do you have if you are uninsured?


    • Most of the uninsured are young people ages 18-34. I hope that somehow the part about keeping children on their parents insurance is preserved. However, the inclusion of older children on parents polices should be reflected in the insurance premium the parent and/or employer pays. This won’t be upheld I fear as small businesses will fitht it.


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