Who they are, what they do, etc.
I can’t remember who originally linked Cass Sunstein’s review of Sarah Conly’s book, Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism, in the comments here, but I did take the opportunity to make note of it on my facebook page. And rather than re-write what I’ve already written on this in another venue, I’ll just repeat here what I’ve already noted elsewhere, albeit with some expansion.
And that is this: even the title of this thing gives me chills. And I’m a one-time academic well-immune to such provocatively pedantic titlings.
Essentially, what we have here is a favorable review of Conly’s book by the man who gave you Nudge. But who now wants to give you Okay, nudging didn’t work. So would somebody please hold them down for me until we’re done fixing them? After all, it isn’t molestation when it’s for their own good. Conly is a mere opportunity. She is a third-rate educator engaging in authoritarian masturbation fantasies. And yet Sunstein, who has a degree of public renown, is hoping to give her cloistered musings an air of great intellectual seriousness. Here’s how he puts it:
Sarah Conly’s illuminating book Against Autonomy provides such a discussion. Her starting point is that in light of the recent findings, we should be able to agree that Mill was quite wrong about the competence of human beings as choosers. “We are too fat, we are too much in debt, and we save too little for the future.” With that claim in mind, Conly insists that coercion should not be ruled out of bounds. She wants to go far beyond nudges. In her view, the appropriate government response to human errors depends not on high-level abstractions about the value of choice, but on pragmatic judgments about the costs and benefits of paternalistic interventions. Even when there is only harm to self, she thinks that government may and indeed must act paternalistically so long as the benefits justify the costs.
Conly is quite aware that her view runs up against widespread intuitions and commitments. For many people, a benefit may consist precisely in their ability to choose freely even if the outcome is disappointing. She responds that autonomy is “not valuable enough to offset what we lose by leaving people to their own autonomous choices.” Conly is aware that people often prefer to choose freely and may be exceedingly frustrated if government overrides their choices. If a paternalistic intervention would cause frustration, it is imposing a cost, and that cost must count in the overall calculus. But Conly insists that people’s frustration is merely one consideration among many. If a paternalistic intervention can prevent long-term harm—for example, by eliminating risks of premature death—it might well be justified even if people are keenly frustrated by it.
A natural objection is that autonomy is an end in itself and not merely a means. On this view, people should be entitled to choose as they like, even if they end up choosing poorly. In a free society, people must be allowed to make their own mistakes, and to the extent possible learn from them, rather than facing correction and punishment from bureaucratic meddlers. Conly responds that when government makes (some) decisions for us, we gain not only in personal welfare but also in autonomy, if only because our time is freed up to deal with what most concerns us […]
When people are imposing serious risks on themselves, it is not enough to celebrate freedom of choice and ignore the consequences. What is needed is a better understanding of the causes and magnitude of those risks, and a careful assessment of what kind of response would do more good than harm.
— Or, to put it another way, with slavery comes freedom. With surrender comes relief from battle fatigue. Because you’ve agreed to let your betters run your lives, you have time to amuse yourselves in ways of your choosing. And there’s a comfort in conformity that can never come with the uncertainty that flows from risk, autonomy, and unbridled free will.
This, I shouldn’t have to point out to putative “intellectuals”, was essentially the message of the technocrats. It was the message of the communists. It was the message of the socialists. And it was the message of the fascists.
Only now, it is being presented as an antidote to liberty — not as an antidote to want, or to the restrictions of some arbitrary caste system. With Sunstein, like Conly — and one imagines an entire hoard of progressive thinkers whose masks are now fully off (recall Amanda Marcotte’s attempts last year to frame self-reliance as an untenable posture in the state of nature) — all on board the bullet train back to serfdom.
Remember: When it’s for your own good — and God bless your betters for recognizing their betterness so as to help you understand how deeply you need them (provided you want to be better like them, in their better eyes) — it isn’t “fascist.” It’s “coercive paternalism.” Or, if you prefer, “the State as replacement parents for the ones whose authority you finally got away from once you turned 18.”
Yeah. Thanks, but no thanks.
And as an aside: fuck you.