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Smiling Daggers

February 11th, 2009 by Galileo Blogs · 5 Comments · Culture

Paul Hsieh has an interesting commentary on President Obama’s embrace of something called “libertarian paternalism.” Obama appointed Cass Sunstein, who authored this concept, as a senior regulatory official in his administration. The concept says that government should “nudge” us with coercive measures to do “good things” such as eating better foods, saving for retirement, encouraging our children to do their homework, etc.

The nudges involve handing back our tax money to us in the form of credits or deductions, or even paying us for performance, again using the tax money already taken from us. The “nudge” may also be more direct, such as New York City’s ban on the use of trans fats in restaurants.

All of this is for our “good.” But who determines this good? Answer: Cass Sunstein or sundry other regulatory officials who make it their life’s work determining what is good for me, or even President Obama himself. Accepted in this premise is that the judgment of these individuals must forcefully supplant my own judgment about my own life. I am not permitted to make my own decisions on topics that these officials have determined are worthy of their attention.

These nudges come at the expense of my personal liberty. A society where people are nudged about is one where individual rights are absent. That is the society we are being nudged to accept.

As Mr. Sunstein and his cohort of regulators, led by the regulator-in-chief, President Obama, prescribe and proscribe in the minutest detail how we are to live our lives, don’t be fooled by confusing phrases such as “libertarian paternalism,” or by the broad smile of President Obama as he appoints Mr. Sunstein to take on his duties. “Libertarian” is seemingly based on “liberty”; “paternalism” derives from the Latin word for “father.” There is nothing “fatherly” in government ordering adult Americans about; we are not children. Moreover, liberty cannot exist where government is telling us what to do. These terms are meant to confuse. In such confusion, government power is rationalized and expanded. It is a tactic that has been used by dictators throughout history.

In George Orwell’s fictional 1984, the dictator “Big Brother” said, “Freedom is slavery.” In the same oxymoronic manner, “Liberty is paternalism.”

Don’t be fooled.


Posted from Galileo Blogs.

5 Comments so far ↓

  • Chuck

    Obama is the Brave Apollo who is needed by the sheep turned out by our public education system. It’s a self-perpetuating machine. They are intellectual and moral children, and need a paternalistic government to face a universe they never made.

  • Justin

    Remember when we were all ‘nudged’ into achieving ‘the American dream of home ownership’? Yeah, that’s the inevitable result when those who presume to know what’s best for everybody cross that ethical boundary and translate their ideas to policy, in order to ‘make society work.’ i.e., ‘make people behave more like I want them to.’

  • Madmax

    This also shows the worthlessness of libertarianism. Its compatible with everything apparently. Libertarianism doesn’t even seem to stand for something resembling laissez-faire anymore. I wonder what it is exactly that makes Sunstein think he is a “libertarian.” What does that word mean to him if anything?

  • Jim May

    I wonder if the term “libertarian” will end up co-opted into a meaning opposite of its original.

    If so, that would be very ironic; “libertarian” was likely coined in order to designate the advocacy of individual rights and limited government which was once known as liberalism, before the Left co-opted that terms to mean the opposite.

  • Galileo Blogs


    Your point is a good one. Regarding “liberalism,” that is why I never use that term to describe the left. They unjustly took it, and do not deserve any of the implied meaning of “liberty” that the word conveys.