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.