Actions, Consequences, and the Law
In general, I’m not fond of the strain that I see sometimes in politics (on the right and left) that advocates policies which are kind of paternalistic in essence, whether it’s the “save you from yourself” kind or the “learn the consequences of your actions” kind. Let’s just try to do our best not to use the law to teach lessons, and simply focus on creating policy with first-degree benefits.
I am not sure, though, that this sort of paternalism can be avoided, if paternalism is the word we want. It seems obvious to me that laws will always do one of three things: They may shield people from certain of the the consequences of their actions, they may inflict additional consequences for an action, or they may allow all ordinary consequences to follow an action, exactly as might happen without a law. If all three of these alternatives are “paternalistic,” then all law is paternalistic. And the word “paternalism” has no meaning whatsoever. (Indeed, even anarchy might be called “paternalism” under this rubric.)
All three possibilities — shielding, inflicting additional consequence, and allowing things to take their course — will obviously have some influence, depending on context, on our overall wealth, its distribution, and our sense of justice about each. All three will also influence citizens’ character and their views about law, responsibility, and social obligation.
I’m not posting to make the case for any one of these approaches; they are analytical, not polemical, in nature. Even the “take no action” approach is clearly far too broad for any sane person to endorse; some actions clearly cry out for consequences that nature won’t supply. All I’m doing here is observing that all approaches to law will influence character. And if I’m right, then which ones are paternalism in the proper sense, and which are not?