The Real Culprit in Paternalistic Legislation?

December 16, 2011

by Mario Rizzo

Christopher Hitchens, the great journalist and essayist, has died. Mr. Hitchens was not always right but he often was. I saw at the Cato blog a brief piece, posted by David Boaz, that Hitchens wrote on Mayor Bloomberg’s Nanny State. (HT: Dave Johnson). It was in reaction to smoking restrictions, but could easily apply, more generally, to paternalistic legislation. My favorite part is:

The old slogan of the anarchist left used to be that the problem is not those who have the will to command. They will always be there, and we feel we understand where the authoritarians come from. The problem is the will to obey. The problem is the people who want to be pushed around, the people who want to be taken care of, the people who want to be a part of it all, the people who want to be working for a big protective brother.

I think about this almost daily as I come in contact (one way or another) with people who think they have a moral obligation (as distinct from a legal obligation) to obey every intrusive regulation that strangles us in the ordinary business of life. All because they were enacted by some legislative body or, as increasingly likely, by an unelected administrative body created by a legislative body populated by those who act as if they are the worst of us.

If more people shared a notion of the outrageousness of these intrusions (especially when you begin to view them in the aggregate and move beyond compulsory paternalism to compulsory beneficence), there could be no question of enforcing them in any “economical” way. But as things stand now, there is a collective action problem even among the many who hate these regulations.

Commentators and journalists, much less intelligent and courageous than Christopher Hitchens, often remark that Americans believe the country is moving in the wrong direction and that they feel helpless. There are many reasons for this. Let me suggest that one reason is that we have become the playthings of social planners who want to take from us all moral responsibility — except that to obey.

12 Responses to “The Real Culprit in Paternalistic Legislation?”

  1. Pete Says:

    Chris Hitchens helped move the country in the wrong direction. He was a horrible man. He was arrogant, boorish, mostly wrong, and loved by loads of morons. His popularity is emblematic of much that is wrong in this world.

    But the fact that he loved smoking is truly fantastic.


  2. “But the fact that he loved smoking is truly fantastic.”

    hahaha

  3. Eric Hosemann Says:

    Pete-

    That Hitchens might have been “mostly wrong” doesn’t separate him from you or anyone else in a free society. That is the beauty of emergent order- it provides general well being even if its constituent parts are boorish, arrogant and mostly wrong. Hitchens understood this at some level.

    You do distinguish yourself by being boorish and arrogant about the man on the hour of his death.

  4. Mario Rizzo Says:

    There is a certain arrogance permitted if one is intelligent enough. Hitchens was.

  5. Pete Says:

    Eric, he was a virulent statist. There is nothing to celebrate here. He celebrated the deaths of many. He wasn’t intelligent enough to know war, in general, is bad. Celebrate his life all you want. I will laugh at your ignorance.

    Mario, you are better than this. You have read all the right books, know all the right things. Get right.

  6. Mario Rizzo Says:

    I am not celebrating Hitchens’s life. However, I am taking this occasion to celebrate (if you will) his position on state paternalism.

  7. Bill Stepp Says:

    Speaking of state paternalism and the nanny state, the weekend Wall Street Journal has a chilling front pager, “Federal Police Ranks Swell to Enforce a Widening Array of Criminal Laws.” What both the left (Krugman, DeLong et al.) and the right (Max Boot, Karl Rove et al.)
    don’t understand is Hume’s point about liberty not being lost all at once, but rather in small increments that compound on each other.
    If the State is going to grow, it’s inevitable that it will reduce out liberties, and make those of us outside the locus of state power poorer.
    I don’t know if Hitchens understood this, but he appeared to sand firmly against the nanny state.


  8. If a person is an ally on an important issue, I will make common cause with him. Paternalism is an important issue. So, I endorse Mario’s post.

    I certainly had problems with Hitchens on other issues. But I also follow the old maxim, don’t speak ill of the dead. Just remember, we will all eventually fall into that category.

  9. Tor Munkov Says:

    Must all we cogs be of one great wheel?

    Hitch was a great talent, and will be greatly missed. Though I’ve never smoked in my life, I will offer what ever assistance is asked of me to keep those foul people in their own sections. I speak of course of the paternalists, maternalists, rights, and lefts.

    Those who prefer paternalism, let them tend their part of this land as they prefer. Those who prefer maternalism, let them have the other part. Save only that the few of us who prefer orphanism be permitted to attempt to buy some secluded parcels from the two with money we earn autonomously. We misfit toys and red nosed reindeers, we will do our sundry imaginable and unimaginable lives apart peacefully and discreetly.

    The parents of naked teens smoking during their shifts at the animal shelter slaughterhouse. The polygamous transvestites selling our blind great-grandmother to a cannibal as a favor to help her earn a little pin money for hemlock club sisters before she succumbs to a long illness A place With only one iron law of strict non-maleficence to enforce, there is little regime uncertainty nor safety nets to ensnare us in.
    Amber waves of white and dark slave plantations team with willing slaves and masters. The jungles hum with smiling illiterate hunters.
    Upon hearing of this tragic death, we silent ones smoke, drink, and everything else to endure and emerge the better for the passing.
    To those who bravely muse in public I ask to join at a harmonious distance and strive to endure and outwit the legions of legislative culprits one sees everywhere nowdays.


  10. […] The Real Culprit in Paternalistic Legislation? […]


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