Alain de Botton Suggests That A Nanny State Maybe Good For Us After All

According to Philosopher Alain de Botton we should not completely reject the nurturing attempts of those in power who supposedly have our best interests at heart (doesn’t stop them raising taxes though).

Personally, this is all well and good at the best of times and I’m all for listening to wise advice from somebody else, as long as I have the freedom to take that advice (after careful consideration) and apply it to my life for the better.

But the problem I have is when that very same person giving the advice is found not to have practiced what they preached, which makes me ever more sceptical about what they told me to begin with.  In other words, their credibility goes out the window once their actions and words go opposite ways.  Maybe a tad extreme on my part but that’s how I feel – but that does not mean that I cannot learn something of worth from their original advice.

“Learn from man, but do not follow him” comes to mind at this particular juncture.

As for the Government or the Clergy deciding for us what is good for our individual welfare, I for one will respond by saying, “Keep your advice to yourselves.  I wish nothing more but to nanny myself, thank you very much!”

The reason for my apparent reluctance to being told what to do by the people who run the state and church? Simply said: both the government and religion go hand in hand with hypocrisy – end of.

Anyway, here is an excerpt of de Botton’s interesting article:

“Some people hate the idea of a nanny state, but might actually benefit from a little paternalistic nudge in the right direction, says Alain de Botton.

A key assumption of modern politics is that we should be left alone to live as we like without being nagged, without fear of moral judgement. Freedom has become our supreme political virtue.

It is not thought to be the government’s task to promote a vision of how we should act towards one another or to send us to hear lectures about parenting, chivalry or politeness. Modern politics, on both left and right, is dominated by what we can call a libertarian ideology.

Sections of the public grow more or less apoplectic at the idea that governments might want to teach us anything. Even modest measures like trying to get people to eat less fatty food or drive less petrol-guzzling cars tends to provoke howls of protest that this is going simply too far.

It is a sign of this climate that the current government has almost given up all attempts to tell us anything. It seeks just to nudge us in extremely modest, quiet ways to donate our livers if we have a car crash or to file our tax returns on time. But that’s about as far as it dares to go.

All this concern with freedom can be traced back to thinkers like John Stuart Mill, who in his famous book, On Liberty of 1859, explained: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.”

In this scheme, the state should harbour no aspirations to tinker with the inner well-being or outward manners of its members. The foibles of citizens should be placed beyond comment or criticism, for fear of turning government into that most reviled and unpalatable kind of authority in libertarian eyes – the nanny state.

Compare this with how religions handle things. Religions have always had much more directive ambitions, advancing far-reaching ideas about how members of a community should behave towards one another.

Consider Judaism, for example. Certain passages in the Jewish legal code, or Mishnah, have close parallels in modern law. There are familiar-sounding statutes about not stealing, breaking contracts or exacting disproportionate revenge on enemies during war.[…]”

~ Alain de Botton, A Point of View: In defence of the nanny state

Read more: A Point of View: In defence of the nanny state


  1. mr blobby says:

    Thank you for posting this article.

    “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

    Beuatiful stuff… also true in matters of law. If there is no evidence of an ‘injured party’, who has a valid claim?


  2. Jason Cooper says:

    Great to see you back, Mr Blobby 🙂

    I applaud John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian sentiment and at most times I would totally agree, but the problem lies with this delicate thing called “POWER”.

    The following quote comes to mind:

    “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

    There is no doubting that power can corrupt a man – and even if that man is personally immune to it’s dark side, he may eventually sell his soul to the devil of a corrupt organisation in order to keep in line with company policy (as well as keep his job).

    “It’s not you who changes the system; it’s the system that will eventually change you.” ~ Immortal Technique – Lyrics from ‘Poverty of Philosophy’

    Governments for example will use the pretext of needing to unilaterally exercise power over another sovereign state so to protect the civilized community from the tyrant in power, whilst at the same time giving them the right to vote.

    “Democracy, liberty and peace for all!”, they cry with a conscientious demeanor…whilst in the background they rape, pillage and murder the very same people they swear to protect.

    Sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it?

  3. Jason-agree with you 100%. No one knows what’s best for anyone else. To assume you do is sheer arrogance and presumption. Yes, the church and the politicians and the do-gooders can keep their good advice to themselves.

  4. Jason Cooper says:

    Agreed NP, mind your own business – that’s the best advice I can give.