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?