I recently wrote about Sarah Conly’s newly-released book Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism here and here, so you’d think I’d be done with the dreadful thing. But a friend sent me a video interview with the author, and I couldn’t resist posting it here for all of you to see (if you happen to be gluttons for punishment).
Remember as you watch it that this woman is a professor at the fine old institution known as Bowdoin College:
Conly’s calm, measured, affectless, humorless demeanor is exactly what you’d expect, isn’t it? She seems to be utterly unaware (or perhaps just uncaring) that :
(a) liberty is an important value for many people, and one of the foundations of our nation and our Constitution
(b) social science research is deeply flawed and should never be a guide to infringing on liberty
(c) there is a large difference between making laws to prevent one person from harming another, and making laws to prevent that person from harming his/her own health
(d) government does not make good decisions for people any more often than people do. One could even argue it makes good decisions less often, because it knows much less about the individual and it has another agenda (or agendas) as well
(e) this approach would hardly be likely to be limited to health concerns
I’m wondering whether Conly has ever read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. She’s a philosophy professor, educated at the finest of universities, so one would think so. But I wonder. Or perhaps she just missed its ironic tone and thought it was a how-to book?
Here’s an excerpt from Conly’s page, to remind you of the flavor of what she’s saying in a tiny little nutshell that encapsulates the essence of liberal tyranny:
I argue that autonomy, or the freedom to act in accordance with your own decisions, is overrated—that the common high evaluation of the importance of autonomy is based on a belief that we are much more rational than we actually are. We now have lots of evidence from psychology and behavioral economics that we are often very bad at choosing effective means to our ends. In such cases, we need the help of others—and in particular, of government regulation—to keep us from going wrong.
That thing fisks itself—but unfortunately, it’s not self-evident to everyone just how Conly goes terribly, terribly wrong. I recently had two separate discussions on the general topic of nanny-state-ism with two very good friends of mine, each of whom are liberals. The specific issue had to do with Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to control the eating and drinking habits of New Yorkers. My first friend was all in favor, and although she hadn’t read Conly’s book she seemed to be right on board with the sort of argument Conly advances, with is that we don’t make good food decisions and we need government to help save us from ourselves. The second friend was aghast, despite her liberalism. Not sure what made the difference between them, but it was marked.
Conly’s hard at work on another book to guide us to the Age-of-Government-Aquarius:
I’ve now started on my next book, tentatively titled One: Do We have a Right to More Children? We tend to think of regulating the number of children people may have as morally reprehensible. For one thing, the right to have a family is one we often think of as sacrosanct, articulated, among other places, in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. And, we think that women have the right to control their bodies, and while this right is mentioned often in the context of the right to abortion, it may also be held to include the right to have as many children as one wants. Lastly, we think of such policies as having sanctions that are unacceptable, including forced abortions of those who become pregnant with a second child. In One, I argue that opposition to population regulation is based on a number of mistakes: that the right to have a family doesn’t entail the right to have as many children as you may want; that the right to control one’s body is conditional on how much harm you are doing to others; and that nothing in population regulation entails that those who break the law can be forced to have abortions, or subject to any sort of punishment that is horrific. If population growth is sufficiently dangerous, it is fair for us to impose restrictions on how many children we can give birth to.