The problem that confronts the modern classical liberal, Buchanan (2005) postulates, is not the managerial socialism of the 20th century, nor even the Nanny State of paternalistic socialism, but the desire on the part of the population to remain in the infantile state of demanding a parent to protect them from the vagaries of life and provide them with economic security.
This is an interesting idea to play with. On the one hand, I think there is a lot of truth to it. Recall that George Lakoff, in Moral Politics, says that progressives believe that government should act as a “nurturant parent.” He contrasts this with what he calls the conservative’s “strict father” model of the state.
On the other hand, I am not sure that we can use this idea in everyday political arguments. Nobody is going to say, “Oh, yes, you’re right. I have wanted to remain in an infantile state, and now I see the error of my ways.”
I also do not think it will work to say that the state is a bad parent. Most people do not think that the failings of their parents are enough to justify running away from them or denying them respect. Even if you get somebody to agree that the state is a bad parent, they are more likely to hope that the state can become a better parent than to say that they want to weaken the state/parent.
One of my favorite ideas, competitive government, comes across in this metaphor as though it means competitive parents. Nobody thinks that the way to solve the problem of bad parents is to introduce competition into the process and let you choose your parents.
At an intellectual level, of course, we can try to attack the analogy between the state and parents. But it me be difficult to dislodge the analogy at a gut level.