Nancy McDermott in Spiked:
Paternalism has emerged as the dominant form of authoritarianism in our society. Across the world, policymakers are quietly working behind the scenes to save us from ourselves, nudging us towards Jerusalem with smaller fast-food cups, architecture intended to make us climb more stairs, and maternity wards that encourage bonding and breastfeeding. These policies are seldom debated or even noticed. When they are, the routine argument is not whether they are a good idea but how ‘hard’ or openly coercive should they be. Why value autonomy at all when people, left to their own devices, continually make poor choices that foil their aspirations and create a social burden in the process?
This denigration of human rationality is sobering for anyone who believes that autonomy lies at the moral, intellectual and philosophical centre of our humanity. But it is also interesting that this new, nudging paternalism takes the form that it does. This is not the direct, father-knows-best style of paternalism of earlier eras. It is indirect and manipulative. It has nothing to prove and no one is claiming moral authority. On the contrary, paternalists are decidedly non-confrontational and anti-ideological. They seem almost reluctant to assume a moral standpoint; their interventions are merely ‘evidence-based’. It is a modus operandus that can hardly be called ‘paternal’ at all. To use the metaphor of the traditional family, the contemporary paternalist’s style is more akin to that of a wife, who defers to her husband publicly while quietly managing every aspect of her family’s life behind the scenes. This new style of paternalism – let’s call it ‘maternalism’ – is part of a peculiar state of affairs, characterised by the declining fortunes of men, the emergence of ‘zombie feminism’, and a widespread cultural denigration of masculinity.