[puh-tur-nl-iz-uh m]


the system, principle, or practice of managing or governing individuals, businesses, nations, etc., in the manner of a father dealing benevolently and often intrusively with his children: The employees objected to the paternalism of the old president.

Origin of paternalism

First recorded in 1880–85; paternal + -ism
Related formspa·ter·nal·ist, noun, adjectivepa·ter·nal·is·tic, adjectivepa·ter·nal·is·ti·cal·ly, adverb Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for paternalism

condescendence, paternalism

Examples from the Web for paternalism

Contemporary Examples of paternalism

Historical Examples of paternalism

  • Governmentalism and paternalism have always been evils, Mr. Flower asserts.

    The Arena


  • No, paternalism is not dependable, granting that it is desirable.

    A Preface to Politics

    Walter Lippmann

  • Of course, the paternalism can be overdone and unwisely done.

    Working With the Working Woman

    Cornelia Stratton Parker

  • Such were the transatlantic workings of the paternalism of Versailles.

  • Irresponsible absolutism has been giving way slowly to paternalism.


    Henry Kalloch Rowe

British Dictionary definitions for paternalism



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
Derived Formspaternalist, noun, adjectivepaternalistic, adjectivepaternalistically, adverb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for paternalism

"feeling of a father for his children," 1851; "government as by a father over his children," 1866, from paternal + -ism. Related: Paternalistic (1890).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper