Navigating the Nanny State

By Leyonhjelm, David | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Navigating the Nanny State

Leyonhjelm, David, Review - Institute of Public Affairs

Nobody likes the Nanny State, writes David Leyonhjelm. But what about seatbelt laws? How much Nanny is too much Nanny?

Most people accept that some things are legitimately the responsibility of the government while others are private matters. Indeed, this distinction was well known to the ancient Greeks. Aristotle described the public realm of the polis, state, city or republic as the site where people consent to or contest the laws, contracts, covenants, or principles of community that govern personal and social conduct.

The private realm was defined by the hearth and home, remaining the place of family, comfort and individual identity. He viewed the family as the primary and immediate unit of society, forming the training ground for conduct, nature, and morality.

There has always been debate about where the border lies and the overlap between the two, but serious encroachments into the private realm by the government have traditionally been associated with authoritarian regimes. Russia's state run holiday camps, East Germany's network of community spies and China's one child policy are obvious examples, among many. In George Orwell's novel Nineteen EightyFour, party members were monitored via cameras in the walls of their homes as the regime sought to abolish the family, orgasms and the sex instinct so there was nothing to detract from love of Big Brother.

In non-authoritarian countries the encroachments take a more benign character, frequently motivated by the same sense of superior knowledge and desire to protect that we associate with mothers and their children, or at least child carers. Hence they are commonly referred to as signs of the Nanny State.

The care of a mother for a child is based on reality. A mother does in fact have superior knowledge and naturally seeks to protect her child while it is too immature to make rational choices. The ability to make such choices and take responsibility for the consequences is what distinguishes adulthood from childhood. Parents recognise this by tailoring the protection they provide to children, for example by applying warm clothing to small children when it is cold but allowing older children to decide for themselves.

Governments are not super parents with superior knowledge, but public servants and politicians acting with legal authority. Moreover, citizens are not children who are incapable of making rational choices and accepting responsibility. Yet there has been a vast expansion by the government into the private realm with the government assuming it has superior knowledge and that adults are unable or unwilling to make the right rational choices.

Two ideas of government

There are many views on the appropriate relationship between governments and the governed, but two that have particular relevance to this subject are those of the English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

Hobbes believed the natural state between people was conflict, with life being 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short'. He considered people were needy and vulnerable, easily led astray, with fragile capacity to reason. The only way to avoid a perpetual state of war of all against all', in his view, was to agree to relinquish all rights to a sovereign who could not be questioned. The sovereign dispensed justice and allowed such freedoms as it considered appropriate while maintaining civil society.

Locke's view was that people generally got along quite well when left alone, and in the natural state were equal and independent with a right to defend 'life, health, liberty, or possessions'. However, he assumed this was not enough, so they agreed to establish a civil society to resolve conflicts in a civil way with help from government. Rights were only relinquished to the extent necessary for this to occur, and if the government ever retained more than necessary he favoured a revolution to restore the balance. His views were quite influential to the authors of the American Declaration of Independence. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Navigating the Nanny State


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.