Freedom and the State: Nanny or Nightwatchman?

Public Health 129 (8):1055-1060 (2015)
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Abstract
There are two rival images often offered of the state. In one the state serves like a nanny to provide for the welfare of its members; in the other it requires people to look after themselves, providing only the service of a night-watchman. But this dichotomy, which is routinely invoked in debates about public health and welfare provision in general, is misleading. What the rival images turn on is not competing pictures of how the state should function in people's lives but competing pictures of what it is to guard the freedom of its people. On the neo-liberal theory, which has been dominant over the last century or so, providing for people's freedom means leaving them to their own devices and fortunes. On the neo-republican theory, which answers to a much longer tradition, it means democratically identifying a common set of basic liberties in the exercise of which everyone should be protected by law and, if necessary, resourced. This older way of thinking about freedom has important merits missing in the newer and argues strongly against the nightwatchman state.
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