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Moral Politics: How Liberals And Conservatives Think, Second Edition Paperback – 1 May 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 488 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 2nd Revised edition edition (1 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226467716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226467719
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 3.3 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 394,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"[An] unusual mix of judicious scholarship, tendentious journalism and inflammatory wake-up call." - Editors' Recommendation, San Francisco Chronicle; "Lakoff, the cognitive linguist, understands 'how' you understand. In Moral Politics, [he] deftly applies that seemingly arcane understanding to the heart of American politics.... His commitment is strong and deep, but his language is far from the rhetoric usually associated with political partisanship.... Even those who disagree with him will profit deeply from encountering his challenging ideas." - Paul Rosenberg, Christian Science Monitor; "Lakoff's stunning book opens a whole new understanding of public discourse in America. Both conservatives and liberals have much to learn from this work." - Robert Bellah, University of California, Berkeley

About the Author

George Lakoff is a professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the author of Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things and co-author of Metaphors We Live By and More than Cool Reason, all published by the University of Chicago Press-as well as co-author of Philosophy in the Flesh and Where Mathematics Comes From.

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Martin Akiyama on 8 Mar. 2006
Format: Paperback
Lakoff's theory is that people instinctively see the state as being like a family. Because liberals and conservatives have different views of how families should operate, they have different views of how states should operate. Liberals have a "nurturant parent" worldview, in which the right way to bring up children is to love them unconditionally and to allow them to "be themselves". Conservatives have a "strict father" worldview in which the right way to bring up children is to teach them obedience and self reliance. People might not realise it, but they have unconscious emotional reasons for holding the political views they have, and a big influence on this is how people are brought up. Because liberals and conservatives have such deeply held and fundamentally different views of how the world works, they will never understand one another.
Lakoff has put a great deal of thought into this book. He shows how his theory applies to many different policy issues and to people with differing political views. Lakoff himself is a liberal and at the end of the book he explains why he thinks the liberal worldview is objectively superior to the conservative worldview.
There is a great deal of interesting food for thought in this book. I give it four stars rather than five, because Lakoff gives the impression that EVERYTHING can be explained by his theory, and ignores other reasons why people might hold political views.
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By PaintedDog on 1 Jun. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Eye opening
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 111 reviews
448 of 482 people found the following review helpful
Conservatism and liberalism revealed 10 July 2002
By J. Grattan - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Political positions are usually cast as being either "liberal" or "conservative." But what is the basis of liberalism or conservatism? How is it that conservatives, disapproving of big government, can support rolling up large deficits or extending "welfare" to corporations. Where is the logic? According to the author, the explanation lies in morality. What best explains the politics of conservatives and liberals is their fundamentally different moral worldviews. Those views are grounded in models of family morality.
The "Strict Father" model of family morality that conservatives subscribe to is based on the hierarchical authority of the father who sets and enforces rules of behavior. Children are expected to learn self-discipline, self-reliance, and respect for legitimate authority. Obedience is emphasized; questioning of authority is little tolerated. Governmental social programs are seen by conservatives as rewarding a lack of self-discipline, of failing to becoming self-reliant. However, spending for the preservation of the moral order, for protection of the "nation as family," whether it is for defense or for building more prisons, is morally required.
Liberals, on the other hand, subscribe to a "Nurturant Parent" model. Children become responsible, self-disciplined, and self-reliant through being cared for, respected, and, in turn, caring for others. Open communications is emphasized; even the questioning of authority by children is seen as positive. Desired behavior is not obtained through punishment. Empathy and a regard for fair treatment are priorities in this model. Social programs are seen by liberals as helping both individuals and the greater society. The maintenance of fairness is a priority for government.
Particularly instructive is the role that competition plays in these models. For conservatives, competition is essential to determine who is moral, that is, who is sufficiently self-disciplined to be successful. Understandably the prototypical conservatives are businessmen who have succeeded in the competitive marketplace. They are at the head of a hierarchical moral order, of a "meritocracy of the self-disciplined." Interestingly, governmental largesse for economic elites is viewed as deserved, unlike assistance for the poor.
But liberals view fierce competition as bringing out aggressive behavior that is hardly consistent with a desirable nurturant personality. Liberals would also contend that there are class and social forces that are essentially inescapable by those on the lowest rungs of society. The ubiquity of the conservative "Ladder of Opportunity" is largely a convenient myth.
The author explains the liberal and conservative position on any number of contemporary issues, from taxation and gun control to the environment and abortion. Invariably, conservatives take a Strict Father moral position and liberals use the morality of the Nurturant Parent.
The book lacks any real historical or geographical perspective on these two models. Although the Strict Father model may seem close to traditional morality, the author does not identify at what point in our history these models clearly emerged, or why. Or have there been changes in these moral models over time, either in basic tenets or in who subscribes to them? Furthermore, what are their connections with such 19th century political philosophies as republicanism or producerism, or for that matter, democracy? Are these models unique to the United States? Why is social democracy so prevalent in Western Europe? Is there little Strict Father morality there? In slightly hedging his message, the author does note that individuals can use different moral systems in different spheres of life, in addition to acting pragmatically within a moral model.
The author complains that the "issue" orientation of news organizations, as well as claims to "objectivity," can be misleading because of unconscious moral system slant. But beyond that point, the author has nothing to say about the influence of the vast oligopolistic media empire. He does note the rise of conservative think tanks and their ability to influence public debate. Have these developments impacted adherence to the Strict Father moral model?
It should be said that the author is not neutral concerning the soundness of these two moral models. He cites considerable evidence that Strict Father childrearing has unintended consequences. Moral strength is often not the outcome and violent behavior seems to be reproduced. In addition, Strict Father morality countenances little in the way of subtle interpretations of morality, which the author points out is not particularly consistent with the way we actually think.
The book is rather lengthy with considerable redundancy in describing these two moral models. The author should have provided historical and philosophical context. His models do seem to comport with political behavior despite the fact that much of that influence may act unconsciously. I think the book would be interesting for those trying to understand political behavior.
58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
A Big Step in the Right Direction 18 May 2006
By C. Daley III - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Liberals and Conservatives seem to agree on little. Even the strongest arguments on each side are brushed off as irrelevant by the other. Lakoff has contributed a significant work into the question of why and has begun to build a bridge across that chasm.

First off, it must be said that Lakoff is liberal, notes that it introduces bias into his research, and works hard to keep that bias out of his book (until the end and he warns you it's coming). At its core, he seems to have succeeded in building two frameworks that are largely accurate, the Strict Father (conservative) and Nurturing Mother (liberal) moral foundations. Since I fall closer to the conservative framework, I can only say that I find his explanation of the liberal approach insightful and interesting. Since our national debate so rarely addresses these fundamental beliefs, it has always been difficult to understand the differing perspectives among groups of Americans. Lakoff has helped bring light to this side of the debate.

Unfortunately, Lakoff could not completely overcome his bias. He goes so far as to assert that the conservative moral system necessarily requires stern corporal punishment (using brutally violent allusions) and is, by definition, sexist and racist. I find this characterization insulting and more importantly inaccurate. Despite this inaccuracy, I have to give the book an excellent rating (4) because it is so groundbreaking in its attempt to communicate these very different frameworks.

If you decide to read the book, let me offer a slight refinement of his view which may help a liberal reader better understand the broader conservative perspective and a conservative reader get past his bias. This is especially important to remember when he characterizes the "Strict Father" attitude under the assumption that certain factors are, by definition, included.

I believe Lakoff is right that conservatives believe in a "Natural Order," and perhaps more specifically that there is an absolute truth or an absolute right, in contrast to the "to each his own" or relativist approach he applies to the liberal moral system. Many conservative policies attempt to enforce a particular truth on society as he rightly notes. I believe that this absolute truth for *some* conservatives is held in ancient scriptures and is at minimum largely unchanging, a source of many of his characterizations including a hostility to change. I believe this should be considered a subset (special case) of a broader conservative moral framework; the same being said for the racism and sexism he includes as central or prerequisite in his fundamental "Moral Order." Indeed the whole idea of a moral order is probably a special case of the core philosophy of a natural truth, historically misguided by self-centered bias and supposedly "scientific" proofs (of racial or sexual superiority as an example).

I do not believe that someone in this framework necessarily holds any of these specific subsets of unchanging beliefs and I feel this is where Lakoff misses the mark. It is possible to believe that there is some absolute truth or right (a core feature of conservative mentality) and at the same time be continuously refining your worldview in hopes of achieving this truth. You can recognize that former "truths" were clearly wrong (racism, sexism, and corporal punishment among them) but still believe that your evolving framework is closer and closer to right and thus worth broadly enforcing.

If someone's behavior is clearly improper or in appropriate, your moral obligation is to create a system which encourages them to be "right." You can still be free to question and review your beliefs, but you're not going to sit around doing nothing just because you're not certain that you've got it 100% correct. But a willingness to assert authority at a particular moment does not necessarily make it unchanging, as the stereotype might suggest. Beyond this, the characterizations and attitudes Lakoff notes are, for the most part, accurate.

With that material refinement for the liberal reader and assuming he has accurately reflected the liberal viewpoint, I believe that this book should be required reading for anyone engaged actively in American political debate. Even if someone could offer a better look into the conservative framework, Lakoff would remain an insightful and valuable read on the liberal perspective. Until that time, Lakoff will have to suffice for both.
94 of 101 people found the following review helpful
a cognitive scientist looks at politics 23 Sept. 2003
By audrey pierce - Published on
Format: Paperback
George Lakoff has done some important work in the cognitive sciences, the dominant psychological paradigm, which contends, unlike earlier behaviorist thought, that the brain does not merely respond to phenomena in a simple stimulus-response reaction, but rather processes information, adding form and context before outputting a response.
Lakoff posits first that we often think of our country as a family, secondly that conservatives think of the ideal family as one with a Strong Father (stressing authority and obedience) and that liberals think of the ideal family as having Nurturant Parents (stressing communication and self-reliance), and contends furthermore that people extend these attitudes about family and government to their political philosophy. He goes on to explain and predict liberal and conservative thinking, sometimes even contradictory thinking, on the death penalty, corporate welfare, conservation, abortion, gun control, fiscal responsibility, minority rights and other contemporary issues.
Lakoff writes clearly and makes coherent points. I thought this was an interesting and predictive way of discussing current political differences. A self-declared liberal who nevertheless maintains a reasonably objective authorial stance, Lakoff advises liberals to couch their political arguments in the same moral terms that conservatives have been using successfully for years. Liberals are neither immoral nor amoral, as often depicted by Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich and other extremist conservative; they need to make that known and enter the political discussion on those terms.
The author goes on to analyse the social utility of the two approaches to family and cites research showing that, contrary to conservative prediction, children who are raised with physical punishment in a highly authoritarian home often grow up with little external motivation or control, and consider violence an acceptable alternative to negotiation.
This is a thought-provoking book for those interested in the application of cognitive science to social thought, or rationalists interested in politics.
218 of 244 people found the following review helpful
Mind expanding 20 Mar. 2004
By A. Mazzeo - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book very enlightening, but also a bit depressing.
I now understand exactly why it is pointless (as a liberal) to argue with conservatives about issues such as the deficit or corporate welfare, or about what I perceive as other inconsistencies within their own beliefs. Lakoff argues quite convincingly that our political views (liberal and conservative) are based not on some objective evaluation of the opposing sides of various issues, but on deeply internalized feelings about the rightness of one's "worldview." Once I understood his argument, a great many things started to make sense to me that had never made sense before. I was never comfortable with characterizing all conservatives as "stupid" or "selfish," but now I understand why, while they are not necessarily stupid or selfish, I can never, ever agree with them!
His prescription for liberals to "reframe" the issues by reclaiming the language of morality from conservatives is intriguing, but his two examples at the end of the book ("The Two-Tier Economy" and "The Ecology of Energy..."), while powerful and convincing to a liberal like myself, would, I think just elicit the usual eye-rolling from conservatives - but maybe that's not the point. I just wish he had devoted even more of the book to specific recommendations like these, instead of confining them to the Afterword.
On the whole, I would highly recommend this book. It expanded my thinking in a way that I did not expect, and that I believe will prove useful in staying sane during the coming election.
50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Truly inspiring work... 23 Aug. 2005
By Erik Anschicks - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you have not read this book, I will provide you reasons to want to do so shortly. If you have read this book and liked it, don't try to explain it in general terms to people who have not read it because to do so, I've found, seems to make people think, "Well, of course political ideas are based on personal values, what's so groundbreaking about that?" But that is exactly the point of this book.

What George Lakoff is trying to do is put into words how and what people just instictivly feel, but cannot describe. Hence, the essence of cognitive science, the study of the cognitive, not exactly conscious. His questions are not so much WHAT people value and feel, but WHY they do so, consciously or not.

Quick warning. George Lakoff is a liberal and so one would naturally think that this book is just a ruse for him to preach. But he does not, he maintains a competely scientific and unbiased approach until the conclusion of the book, where his "epilouge" of sorts offers his nonideological reasons for being a liberal. His accuracy is not tainted by bias and is dead on for 99% of the book, complete with massive amounts of endnotes, citations and nonpartisan analysis of studies and facts, thoroughly emcompassing every side of nearly forty years of linguistics and psychology.

In this book, Lakoff lays out the entire structure of the conservative and the liberal ideologies and explores the threads and values that connect those ideologies. He takes on questions like "Why do conservatives link gun control and taxes," or "Why do liberals link universal health care and the environment?" His ultimate answer is that they are connected by a set of values and metaphors that are part of the mental makeup of that person. He believes that the differences in opinion between conservatives and liberals stem from the fact that they hold different metaphorical concepts about the relationship between the state and its citizens and what makes a good person. Conservatives have a "strict father" approach where discipline is learned through respecting authority and enforced through strong emotional reaction or corporal punishment and therefore learn to be self-reliant and disciplined, strict citizens. Liberals have a "nurturant mother" approach, where the key to disciplining and raising a child (or a nation) effectively is to foster a sense of mutual respect through open-mindedness and active engagement that rewards independent thinking, and therefore learn to have empathy for others and not think about only themselves or what impacts them directly. So for Lakoff, the differences in how conservatives and liberals think is not just limited to interpretation of facts or policy results, but is much deeper than that.

This book truly shines in shedding light onto the larger issues of human thought. His point that he emphasizes repeatedly is that contrary to popular belief, people do not just vote for candidates or hold political beliefs based only on their best tangible interest. Both liberals and conservative vote their identity, not their quantifiable interests in all cases. This is why many low-income conservatives who are directly hurt by the Republican tax cuts vote Republican. It is because the party represents (or says they represent) their values and identity, so they overlook their own tangible self-interest. Another emphasized point is that every word invokes a reaction in people's minds, a frame as he calls it. He points out that people have different frames that frame their thoughts and ideas

within a context they have come to understand. This is why contrary to popular liberal thought, the facts alone will not set you free. Facts that support liberal ideology that don't fit into a conservative frame will simply bounce off because they are not put in ways that a conservative will respond to, and the facts lose their impact, regardless of their truth.

The book is an outstanding example of scholarly work and how a talented scientist can apply one discipline to benefit another, or more accurately, demonstrate how ALL disciplines can be connected by a set of values. The overall idea of the book sounds simple and obvious but as Lakoff shows, by the ways people respond to and articulate their values, it truly is anything but simple and present consciously in people's minds. Highest recommendation.
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