The term ‘pater’ means father and so the role of the paternalistic state is to act as an authoritative father figure to the weak and flawed citizens, providing for their care and maintaining order by regulating their behaviour.

A paternalistic state is hierarchical and unequal and aims to protect that status quo by preventing any uprising of the working classes. As a result it will include some form of welfare provision in order to prevent discontent. It is a key aspect of one-nation conservatism. There are two forms of paternalism. Hard paternalism favours forcing people to do things such as giving up smoking while soft paternalism favours persuasion and education. The implications of paternalism include a belief that inequality is both natural and desirable. Edmund Burke argued that leaders came from the ‘natural aristocracy’, and the Victorian prime minister Benjamin Disraeli agreed, arguing that the rich had a duty to the poor. Linked to the belief in organic society, paternalism implies that there are natural leaders who will form the elite and who will act in a responsible way, as they see fit, rather than acting in a representative way.

This puts most conservatives in opposition to democracy, although as pragmatists, conservatives have adapted to accept and accommodate democracy, where the masses can choose between a selection of members of the elite to make decisions on their behalf.