I especially recommend your wading through commenter “kolnai’s” effort; he’s far more erudite than I on the subject.
Discussions about autonomy and government are essential in trying to understand the differences between liberals (especially the left) and conservatives, and where libertarians fit into the mix. Not a whole lot of this was apparent to me when I was younger, prior to my change experience. For one thing, I was not especially political, and I followed the news in a much more surface way.
For another, the trend regarding government regulation of health “for your own good” was easier to ignore. For example, in the New York of my youth, I can’t imagine a mayor trying to ban large soft drinks. He’d have gotten tossed out on his ear for his pains. In fact, in the New York in which I grew up—and in the US as a whole at the time—smoking was everywhere, and no one thought much of it.
And we ate huge gobs of butter, too, if we could afford to do so.
I have no doubt, however, that the left had this agenda long ago, which seems obvious in retrospect by looking at the eugenics movement, which sacrificed liberty for what was seen—using what was though of as scientific evidence—as the public good (see this and this).
Taking on a somewhat different aspect of the topic, I’d like to respond to this comment by Jim Nicholas, :
Do we want the government, whether federal, state, or local, to help us make good decisions in taking care of ourselves? For example, do we want a government to examine and license physicians or do we want the government to get out of the way and let us evaluate whoever claims to be a physician.
If we think that the government should limit our freedom of choice in even a limited way about how we care for ourselves–such as limiting who can take care of us in a hospital–then, it seems to me, it is not always easy to decide what should be within or beyond a reasonable limit.
I am not allying myself with Conly, only saying that a polar opposite stand is also not a wise course.
I think Jim Nicholas’ example is a case where it’s relatively easy to draw the line. We are not stopped from going to a quack. The only thing the law stops us from is being deceived by a quack holding him/herself out to have training he/she doesn’t have, hanging out a shingle fraudulently claiming he/she is an MD or telling that to a clinic in order to be hired (see a this typical example of the way the law against practicing medicine without a license reads).
Licensing doctors does not protect us from ourselves. It protects us (supposedly, anyway) from going to an untrained doctor holding him/herself out to be a trained one. It is meant to establish minimum professional standards for treating other people, not oneself.
The same goes for rules of the road, and vehicle driver licensing.
A much better analogy is mandatory seat-belt wearing laws for adults. Those protect us against ourselves, and as such are much more suspect. The argument for them—an addition to arguments such as Conly’s—is that we all incur health care costs when people become injured, and that society suffers. Those arguments are too broad, IMHO, and can be used to justify nearly any restriction that affects health in any way—which is just about anything (this ties into the eugenics movement, to which I linked earlier).
Jim Nicholas uses the inclusive phrase “the government, whether federal, state, or local.” But those entities are allowed very different degrees of freedom to curtail our freedom. Local governments are allowed to do a lot that the federal government (at least, so far) is forbidden to do. Seat belt laws are passed on a state-by-state basis, and you can see there’s a lot of variation among states. So theoretically you can move to another state if the one you reside in isn’t libertarian enough for you. I wonder how long that will be the case.