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the attitude or policy of a government or other authority that manages the affairs of a country, company, community, etc., in the manner of a father, esp in usurping individual responsibility and the liberty of choice
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


a system by which a government or organization deals with its subjects or employees by deploying an authoritarian family model of relationships, i.e. the directive but benevolent father dealing with a child. In such a relationship, the more powerful seeks to legitimate social, economic and political inequality by claiming that domination is in the best interests of the oppressed. The dominated are said to be child-like, i.e. immature and unable to look after their own affairs, therefore the government or organization must act in loco parentis (in the place of parents).

Paternalism is used widely as a legitimating ideology in pre-industrial societies, in colonial regimes and in personal relationships. Examples would include PATRON-CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS, the ‘civilizing’ mission of European powers in Africa, master-slave relationships in chattel slavery and some teacher-student relationships.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



in labor relations in the bourgeois states, a form of ostentatious benevolence by entrepreneurs, a form of illusory concern for the needs of the working people, and a special means by which the capitalist exercises power over hired laborers. Bourgeois propaganda compares the power of the employer with the power of a father over the children in his care. The capitalist is depicted as a person concerned not only for his business but also for the needs of the workers employed at his enterprise. In return for this show of concern, the workers are expected to give unconditional “loyalty, devotion, and obedience” to their “benefactor.” Any act of protest against the entrepreneur’s arbitrary actions is considered a violation of the “obligation of loyalty” and brings the threat of discharge.

The concept of paternalism, one of the oldest capitalist doctrines, reflects elements of semifeudal relations. Conscious propaganda of the ideas of paternalism by the ideologists of the bourgeoisie dates from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is associated with growing resistance by the working people to capitalist exploitation. “Benevolent activity” developed among entrepreneurs in Germany, the USA, Russia, and other countries. The system of paternalism became particularly widespread and assumed special forms in Japan, a society which, in the early 20th century, was characterized by a high percentage of women in the labor force and by very strong feudal traditions.

V. I. Lenin exposed illusory entrepreneurial benevolence and criticized the “philanthropists” (Menschenfreunde) in the West, who, he wrote, “go into ecstasies over the kindness of a capitalist to a worker, rapturously relate cases where a factory owner shows concern for his workers, provides them with general stores, dwellings, etc.” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1, pp. 249–50).

During the general crisis of capitalism the bourgeoisie makes use of paternalism to weaken working-class organizations and mitigate the class struggle. The capitalists use paternalism to try to convince the working people that a real improvement in working conditions can only be achieved by “cooperation” with the owners. But improved conditions—higher pay, certain privileges, payment of grants to those who retire, and construction of nursery schools—can only be achieved by the workers through persistent class struggle. “Voluntary” measures taken and later cancelled by the capitalist at his discretion strengthen the working people’s dependence on the capitalist.

In the present period, paternalism (in its pure form) survives only in Spain, Italy, and Japan. In many capitalist countries paternalism used to be typical only of small enterprises, but it is now actively used by large companies and is definitely oriented against trade unions. At enterprises owned by these large companies, trade unions are flatly prohibited, or “yellow” company unions, which put the owner’s policies into effect, are organized. According to experts at the International Institute for Labor Studies, this system of “plant corporativism” affected about 78 million factory and clerical workers in the capitalist world in 1972, including more than 30 million in Japan (about 60 percent of all hired workers in that country), about 18 million in North America (20 percent), and about 13 million in Western Europe (9 percent). In a unique form of paternalism known as Boulwarism, the capitalist bypasses the trade union and makes direct contact with the workers. The policy was first put into practice in the 1950’s at General Electric, an American company, by L. Boulwar, a company vice-president after whom the policy was named.

The working people of the capitalist countries oppose the policy of paternalism. Communist parties and progressive trade unions demand that all manifestations of paternalism be eliminated, that rights won by the workers be established by law, and that effective control be instituted over the “social” activity of entrepreneurs.


Usenin, V. I. Sotsial’noe partnerstvo ili klassovaia bor’ba? Moscow, 1968. Pages 27–35.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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