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

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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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: 467,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"[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

From the Inside Flap

In Moral Politics, the first full-scale application of cognitive science to politics, George Lakoff analyzes the unconscious worldviews of liberals and conservatives, explaining why they are at odds over so many seemingly unrelated issues-like taxes, abortion, regulation, and social programs. The differences, Lakoff argues, are not mere matters of partisanship, but arise from radically different conceptions of morality and ideal family life-meaning that family and morality are at the heart of American politics, in ways that are far from obvious. For this edition, Lakoff adds a preface and an afterword explaining how "moral politics" makes sense of events like the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the 2000 presidential election.

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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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars 116 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Theory of Metaphorical Family Values in Politics, Then a Bunch of Vain Ideological Blathering 17 Aug. 2015
By Hermes Trismestigus - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An interesting interpretation of Fascism and Pacifism, but unfortunately Lakoff conflates the two as Conservatism and Liberalism. While the method by which he attempts to organize his binary map of Right and Left is interesting, he essentially just uses that frame to nearly call for the eradication of all conservatism because it is a danger to the entire human race. The funniest moment was when he accused conservatism (which he conflated with the KKK for good measure) of being the sole perpetrator of "othering" and "us vs. them thinking" as he commits that very act by putting all conservatism in a racist, fascist, warmongering box that should be eradicated from the face of the earth. Lakoff should have ended the book where his analysis ended and his infantile political screed began. It was an interesting read up to that point, but don't bother reading part six unless you like reading vain, self-contradictory, ideological blather. A good editor would have scrapped all of that stuff.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars peel back the covers of our political reality 3 Jun. 2016
By John Reed Schrichte - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I consider this book on par with Newton's Principia Mathematica: insight into the unseen forces that causes worlds to move in the way they do. It's just not worth discussing politics with anyone who has not understood the fundamental dynamics, like arguing with someone who thinks angels cause apples to fall off trees. I hope readers are not scared off by the book's size, as it can be reduced to digestible chunks of reading.
4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating analysis of an important topic, but dense reading at times 17 April 2014
By Peter M. - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The persistent failure of conservatives and liberals in our government leadership to find common ground and compromise is a vital issue of our time. Lakoff's analysis explains why neither side can understand the other, and thus, why they cannot see any virtue in the others' positions or find common ground on many policies that demand a resolution.

I am not sure I buy into Lakoff's analysis on all points, but he argues persuasively for the core ideas he proposes. Whether you are a conservative or a liberal, Lakoff will explain why some positions of the other side make sense to them even though a mystery to you. Maybe these insights provides a basis for understanding and communication that are a starting point to getting something done in Washington, and a starting point for more civil discussion with your friends who are of the opposite political persuasion.

But be patient. Lakoff is irritatingly repetative, apparently in a misguided effort to be clear and precise. It will take time and effort to wade through the book.
70 of 71 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Big Step in the Right Direction 18 May 2006
By C. Daley III - Published on
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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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Words are important 2 Sept. 2013
By John T. Taylor - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found that Lakoff's examples of words as metaphor for complete political viewpoints to be most interesting. What appears to be "buzz words" carries much more meaning than the superficial appraisal by media. A word like freedom can have diametrically opposed meaning for a conservative or a liberal.

As a sorting mechanism, Lakoff's moral theory allows one to sort through the chaff and perhaps begin to understand where those %$#^!! are coming from...

I'd recommend this book to anyone trying to understand politics - and politicians.
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