Nanny-state nationalism is a threat to parental rights
Religion & Liberty Online

Nanny-state nationalism is a threat to parental rights

On a recent episode of this Fox News show, Tucker Carlson called on Congress to ban smartphones for children.

Those who assume Carlson is still a conservative might be confused by his abandonment of limited government and his embrace of a nanny-state policy. But this latest call for government to intervene in the lives of Americans is in keeping with Carlson’s drift from conservatism to nationalism—a shift that is becoming all-too-common on the right side of the political spectrum.

Because it is tied to specific nations, nationalism takes on a variety of forms. But what they share in common, as David Koyzis explains in his theological definition of nationalism, is that they’re a form of political arrangement in which the people deify the nation, viewing their nation as the Savior that will protect them from the evil of being ruled by those who are different from them.

There are two main aspects of this definition that need to be clarified. First, most people have a natural fear of “being ruled by those who are different from them.” This in itself is not necessarily wrong. Where it becomes problematic is when we exclude people from our county or from taking positions of leadership because of such benign factors as ethnicity rather than ideology. Second, nationalists trust the nation-state—or rather the nanny-state—to be their Savior and protect them from all forms of evil. This requires an inevitable shifting of rights and power from the people to the government.

Because the movement tends to focus on issues such as immigration and protectionism, we tend to associate nationalism with external threats. But that is merely the outer layer of nationalism. There is an inner core that is similarly focused on having the state protect us from ourselves in ways that are unnecessary for ordered liberty and antithetical to moral freedom.

What separates nanny-state nationalism from other movements that believe in reasonable regulation, such as conservatism, is the impetus to infantilize the public. Notice how Tucker says “in real life it’s just too difficult” for parents to limit their children’s smartphone use. Not only are the children helpless to do anything about the problem, their parents are equally helpless to manage what is going on in their own home.

For nanny-state nationalists like Tucker, the protective role of the nation-state is not limited to threats at our borders. For them, the government should have a nearly unlimited say in how we manage any affairs that might harm the deified nation. Nationalists are willing to sacrifice the God-given rights of parents because government leaders (assuming, of course, they too are nationalists) know what is best for us.

There is a concept in political science known as the horseshoe theory that claims the far left and the far right, rather than being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, closely resemble one another, much like the ends of a horseshoe. That certainly appears to be true for nanny-state nationalists who seem to be closer to nanny-state progressives than they are to conservatives or libertarians.

Conservatives and libertarians spent most of the twentieth century opposing left-wing statism. While that is likely to continue, it appears we will also be forced to spend the twenty-first century opposing forms of right-wing statism like populism and nationalism.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).