Categories: Paternalism

Paternalistic legislation – laws and regulations directed at the individual for his or her own benefit – are, it is claimed here, different from conventional statute in more ways than the obvious difference in principle. The case studies, compulsory motorcycle helmets, seat belts and cycle helmets, are shown to be the expression of a majority opinion rather than a result of a policy with proven beneficial results.

There appears to be an academic reluctance to apply political theory to political science and, conversely, to test political theory empirically in the arena of contemporary politics. The thoughts of John Stuart Mill and Wilhelm von Humboldt can be seen in the application and outcome of paternalistic legislation in the case studies of this thesis.

The thesis therefore considers the literature on political theory in the passage of legislation and collective action of issue groups in relation to this peculiar area of policy and the literature in political science and collective action. Archival evidence, principally from Hansard, the Public Records Office and the Modern Records Centre, together with interviews with principle actors in these cases and statistical assessment of policy outcomes, are used to illuminate the analysis.

It is concluded that this peculiar type of legislation is supported by an element of cultural judgement which is powerful enough to overcome resistance from the groups affected and draws further justification from continued resistance. This popular wisdom is so strong that post-legislative review is deemed unnecessary. It is shown that, not only does paternalistically supported legislation fail to produce the results claimed, but has other unforeseen consequences that a full utilitarian assessment would be obliged to take into account.

Paternalistic Legislation: Political Theory and Practice in Road Safety,

Steve Parlour, University of Sussex DPhil thesis

The thesis may be accessed via the British Library EThOS service