A trust-based argument against paternalism
This essay addresses the role of trust in political philosophy. In particular, it examines the idea that trust is necessary for a particular type of government action — paternalistic action — to be justified. Liberal theory and liberal democratic practice are characterized by a large degree of anti-paternalism, understanding paternalism to be the restriction of individual liberty for a person’s good, instead of to protect or benefit others. It would be a mistake to think that liberal democracies have no paternalism; seatbelt, motorcycle helmet, and drug prohibition laws, for example, are probably at least partly motivated by paternalistic reasons. But it is easy to imagine more pervasive paternalism. Society could, and does in some cultures, restrict people’s choices of occupation, marriage partners, and where to live, with the rationale that these restrictions are for people’s good. Many people believe that the liberal position is the correct one, that more pervasive paternalism would be unjustified, but what is the philosophical justification for anti-paternalism?