Beware the Nanny State: Neoliberal Ideology and American Health Law

37 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2019

See all articles by David Ray Papke

David Ray Papke

Marquette University - Law School

Date Written: August 13, 2019


Like other ideologies, neoliberalism offers a potentially inspiring normative vision and also employs a pointed rhetoric that tells us what to love and what to hate. When neoliberalism turns its attention to health law, it warns us that the nefarious “nanny state” will arrogantly treat us like children. In particular, according to neoliberal thought, laws restricting the size of sugary soft drinks, requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, and mandating graphic warnings on cigarette packages will deny our freedom of choice. In each of these controversies neoliberalism has in fact played an important role in thwarting law reform, much to the detriment of the public’s health. The neoliberal position regarding health law is not so much “right” or “wrong” as it is disturbingly obtuse with regard to the social context and socioeconomic ramifications of contemporary health problems.

Keywords: ideology, ideological rhetoric, neoliberalism, nanny state, health law, sugary soft drinks, motorcycle helmets, cigarette packaging

Suggested Citation

Papke, David Ray, Beware the Nanny State: Neoliberal Ideology and American Health Law (August 13, 2019). Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 19-10. Available at SSRN: or

David Ray Papke (Contact Author)

Marquette University - Law School ( email )

Eckstein Hall
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics