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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

Paternalism, "helicopter parenting" and captive voting

Tue, 16 Jul 2019 12:22:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The term "paternalism" is of Anglo-Saxon origin. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "the principle and internship of paternal administration; government as a father; the pretension or attempt to supply the needs or regulate the life of a nation or community in the same way that a father does for his children".

The first signs of the use of the term appeared in some English newspaper articles at the end of the 19th century. Paternalism is a mechanism of substitution of decisions, in which a person imposes on others to perform actions that the latter would not necessarily perform. It basically consists of applying the traditional forms of protective and controlling authority of the father of the family to the social relations of another subject and in other areas: the world of work, politics, etc. It justifies itself on the grounds that many people do not know what is really good for their own welfare and how to achieve it, as in the case of the parent who makes decisions for the child who cannot yet decide for himself.

Paternalism was always a much contested expression, because unsolicited and imposed intervention was considered authoritarianism in disguise. For a current author "when liberal paternalism is used as an excuse to increase state interventionism, it becomes a direct threat to our freedoms". (Juan R. Rallo). But there are much older objections, such as, for example, the following: "A government erected on the principle of benevolence towards the people like that of a father towards his children, that is, a paternal government in which the subjects are forced to behave in a purely passive way, like incapable children who cannot distinguish what is truly beneficial or harmful to them... is the greatest despotism thinkable" (Emmanuel Kant, 1793).

The disadvantages of paternalism would be less if the reference letter used had been that of participatory authority that promotes autonomy manager, instead of authority as mere control. The latter is back in fashion, perhaps as a pendulum reaction to a long period of permissiveness educational. It is observed in "helicopter parents", a metaphor that expresses the attitude of constantly hovering over their children to spy on them in order to protect them from any difficulties they may encounter.

This parenting style is becoming epidemic in some countries, especially in the United States. It involves parents who are overly protective of their children, to the point of replacing them in the resolution of all their problems, which curbs their autonomy and damages their current and future mental health (Glass and Tabasky, 2013).

 In a humorous cartoon, a mother is doing her son's homework, which consists of writing on a blackboard 40 times the phrase "I must learn to do things on my own". When she reaches 39, the mother submission gives the chalk to the child and says: "Here, you write the last one!

Today's paternalism is considered a return to the enlightened despotism of the 18th century, whose motto was "Everything for the people, but without the people". It occurs in different spheres: political, business, medical and legal.

Political paternalism occurs when the State intervenes in all subject decisions, assuming the role of a father who establishes the rules of his household. It promises citizens that it will look after their interests in exchange for their vote, which creates a relationship of dependence and subordination. A research by economist Gustavo Lazzari revealed how the submission of social plans and public employment contribute to foster clientelism or captive vote, in which public resources are used as electoral assets.

What is inadmissible is not always the message, but the imposition, treating adults as if they were not yet adults. Two examples of political paternalism: 1/under the pretext of encouraging the virtue of saving, all citizens are encouraged to subscribe to a private pension plan to supplement the meager state pension; 2/under the pretext of making it easier for students to go to school, parents are forced to send their children to register to the school closest to their home, even if it is not their preferred one, which goes against the freedom of teaching.

The most worrying thing is that the citizen becomes accustomed to these paternalisms, accepting that the government knows better than he does what is in his best interest.

 To prevent paternalism, it is essential to educate freedom within each family, which entails learning to be informed, to choose and to decide; it is also necessary to exercise a dialoguing authority that promotes the autonomy manager of the children.