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Criminal Justice Politics of the Nanny State

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Nanny believes that it knows best and that citizens should follow its centralized morality. This morality is often based on warped sociological or academic data and is enlisted in the name of utilitarianism. Of course, there is a general societal consensus that certain things are wrong and should be discouraged or criminalized, but for proponents of the Nanny State, the government should seize control of actions and issues where there is no consensus and unilaterally impose its view of morality on these issues. Why is this happening more and more these days? Many experts believe that in an increasingly complex world people are more willing to turn over power to the government in order to make their own lives easier. There is a sense the world can be and should be completely ordered and that government is the right body to do this. This is an unfortunate state of affairs as it tips the important balance between liberty and order far to the side of order.

There are so many examples of this way of thinking that it is hard to know where to begin. One of the most shocking examples from recent years is the following headline: Chicago Prohibits Foie Gras. In 2006, Chicago city council voted to ban the delicious appetizer foie gras from the city’s restaurants. Proponents of the ban said the production of foie gras was inhumane. Opponents had a different view. Government shouldn’t be dictating what we eat, said the chef at one French restaurant. The Mayor too was unhappy.

We have children getting killed by gang leaders and dope dealers, he said. We have real issues here in this city. And we’re dealing with foie gras? Let’s get some priorities.1 These opponents are right. In an era where people expect to be coddled and protected from everything that could possibly harm, they are allowing things as personal as menu choice to be dictated by the government. If an individual does not like to eat foie gras no one will force them to eat it, but the Chicago city council went a step further by eliminating this choice completely and limiting the rights of those who do like foie gras.

The reason why America has worked so well in the past is because of subsidiarity—Washington devolving power to the states and the states devolving power to the people. Too many people these days believe their lives are too complicated for them to take responsibility. This is a very sad state of affairs.