Politics in Minutes (2016)

Paternalistic conservatism

Some conservatives believe in a paternalistic approach to government, which provides for the needs of the people rather than granting them rights or personal autonomy. In the conservative social hierarchy, the inferior classes are not only inherently lawless, but also in need of moral guidance and even material assistance, which is provided by the leadership of a superior, educated and wealthy class. This idea was prevalent in Victorian Britain and other industrialized countries, where philanthropy and public duty were held up as virtuous alternatives to socialist ideas. Paternalism, however, assumes that the government knows better than individuals what is good for them, and has the right to dictate how they should behave. It also assumes that the disadvantaged in society should be reliant on the goodwill of the wealthy ruling class. Contemporary conservatism continues this tradition with the idea of ‘trickle-down’ economics and moral guidance in the form of ‘nudge’ legislation – encouraging people to behave in ‘good’ ways, with tax breaks for savers and taxes on alcohol.

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Are compulsory seatbelt laws an example of sensible legislation, or a case of ‘nanny state’ overprotection?