James Taranto | If government may dictate soda size, why not sexual behavior?

You’d think the logic of “coercive paternalism”–of government-imposed restrictions designed to promote individual welfare–would apply more strongly when individuals are dependent on government for financial support of their welfare. To put it another way, someone who is financially autonomous has a stronger argument that he ought to be personally autonomous. We’re not sure what Conly thinks of that argument–the $95 cover price (0% off at Amazon) has nudged us away from acquiring her book–but we suspect she adheres less strongly to “coercive paternalism” than to the orthodoxies of contemporary left-liberalism.

An even better example is this observation from Sunstein’s review: “Because hers is a paternalism of means rather than ends, she would not authorize government to stamp out sin (as, for example, by forbidding certain forms of sexual behavior).”

What a staggering cop-out. The past 50 years or so have seen a massive deregulation of personal behavior in the sexual sphere, a revolution of law, technology, custom and economics, all in the name of personal autonomy. Never mind “sin”–this has had bad consequences for public health (AIDS and other new sexually transmitted diseases), for children (far more of whom are born out of wedlock and reared without fathers), and even for the future of the welfare state (since declining fertility makes old-age entitlements unsustainable).

It may be that the sexual revolution is irreversible and the concomitant problems are intractable. If Conly lacks the imagination to come up with policy solutions, so do we. But if she dismisses this enormous question as a matter of “sin” and focuses instead on trivia like soda-size regulations, why should we take her philosophy seriously?

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