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Moral Politics: How Liberals and…

Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think (original 1996; edition 2002)

by George Lakoff (Author)

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Title:Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think
Authors:George Lakoff (Author)
Info:Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Collections:Print books, Read but unowned
Tags:ethics, politics

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Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think by George Lakoff (1996)


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Okay, if you read the second edition (2002), you've essentially read this "enlarged" edition, since Lakoff left the main part of the book alone, only adding a new preface and afterword to update it. This doesn't affect his explanations of Strict Father and Nurturant Parent morality, and that's mostly what the book is about. However, all of his political examples come from the 1990s, and twenty years later, I found myself struggling to remember the details. (What else was Dan Quayle up to back then beside the Murphy Brown kerfluffle? Wait, who was James Dobson again? Okay, what was the issue with the National Endowment for the Arts?) Updated examples in the main part of the book, and not just the preface and afterword, would've been good.

Lakoff is open about the fact that he's a liberal, and I think the book is aimed more at explaining Strict Father morality to liberals rather than the other way around. He stays in a more neutral academic mode for the first four parts of the book, describing the two models of morality, how they play out in politics, and describing common variations on the core models. After these explanations, he turns to why he thinks Nurturant Parent morality is the better alternative and how it could be promoted. Readers who aren't interested in this part could skip it and still understand the gist of the book (although they should probably check at the end for those updated examples in the 2002 and 2016 afterwords). ( )
  Silvernfire | Dec 27, 2016 |
The title says it all. Lakoff uses cognitive linguistics to examine how liberals and conservatives use morality to think about politics. (His focus is on American politics, but most of what he writes about can be applied to other countries as well). He explains that liberals and conservatives don’t understand how each other think because their definitions of morality are drastically different. Conservatives have a “strict father” type of morality that defines things like self-reliance, independence, and respect for authority as moral. Liberals have a “nurturant parent” type of morality that defines things like helping people in need, fairness, and compassion as moral. He applies these two types of morality to politics using a family metaphor for government: the government as the parents and the citizens as the children.

These two different ways of looking as what is moral and what is immoral explain how conservatives can all basically agree on so many drastically different issues (abortion, homosexuality as a sin, capital punishment, etc.) and how liberals can do the same for other issues (environmentalism, social programs, gun control, etc.). For example, liberals often don’t understand how conservatives can be against both abortion and social programs that provide prenatal care for lower class women. How can they want to protect unwanted children but ignore the needs of children that are wanted? Strict father morality explains how these are two unrelated issues in conservatives’ minds. Abortion is an issue of justice, which, strict father morality defines as retributive. If you commit an immoral act (i.e. sex outside of marriage), then you deserve to be punished, and you should accept the consequences of your actions. If abortion were legal, then people would be able to commit immoral acts with no consequences, and that would threaten the existing moral order. Strict father morality sees lower class women who need help getting adequate prenatal care as a totally separate issue: one of self-reliance. Living a moral life requires that you be able to take care of yourself without help from others; therefore, social programs that help the poor are immoral because then people would have no incentive to work to become self-reliant.

The basic gist of Lakoff’s argument can be summed up in one question: If your baby cries in the middle of the night, do you pick it up or let it cry? Based on a strict father morality, conservatives would say no: picking the child up every time it cries would spoil it and make it harder to learn independence. Based on a nurturant parent morality, liberals would say yes: children need to know that they are loved and cared for.

Lakoff spends the first two parts of the book framing his argument by explaining the two forms of morality. The next three parts apply family morality to American politics. In the last part, he cites scientific research that gives evidence for which of the two moral systems is best, both for children in a family and for the citizens of a government. I read the second edition, which included an added appendix with explanations of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, the 2000 election, and the first few months of the Bush presidency and how the two forms of morality played a role in each of these events. It looks like there’s also another edition with a different subtitle, although I’m not sure how different that one is from my version.

I bought this book because one of the most brilliant professors I’ve ever had recommended it. It’s been sitting on my TBR ever since, and I wish I had read it sooner. It has given me a much greater understanding of American politics and politicians. It’s also helped me understand how people can have perfectly logical reasons for having beliefs that are different than mine. The explanations of cognitive linguistics at the beginning were a little intimidating, but don’t let this scare you off because the book is definitely written for the masses, not just academics. Lakoff repeated himself a lot from chapter to chapter, but I didn’t mind that at all because it helped me retain the information that I needed to understand later chapters. I’ve also been able to apply a lot of what he talked about in the book to everyday situations. For example, I noticed that my boss takes a strict parent approach to dealing with a difficult vendor while I take a nurturant parent approach to the same vendor. So far, I’m getting better, faster results with my approach, but I’m going to keep an eye on this.

To sum it up: this book explains how the American political system works and is worth reading for that reason alone. It’s not the kind of book you just race through; it’s a bit of work to read, but the reward is worth the effort.
( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
Lakoff provides a detailed and practical set of metaphors for understanding how conservatives and liberals think, and why their world views are so often diametrically opposed. Based in extensive research in his field of cognitive science, he presents the "Stern Father" metaphor and the "Nurturant Parent" metaphor, and the sets of priorities that evolve from these constructs.

The information in this book dovetails nicely with other analyses of polical thought, particularly with work on authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer. I recommend this work to anyhone trying to get a better handle on the "whys" of contemporary political thought and public debates. ( )
  Teramis | Oct 30, 2009 |
I thought this was a fascinating, though not easy, book to read. Lakoff's book "Don't Think of an Elephant" is easier to get through, but this book really gives the underpinning, for anyone not versed in cognitive linguistics (like me), necessary to really get a sense of what his theory.

I like this book because 1) he admits his bias up front and then does his best (not perfect) to write the first part of the book objectively, 2) he explains how the 'right' brilliantly figured out what united them, and decided to come together in the 1980's working toward one goal etc., 3) he explains many things about how our minds work, at levels that we're not even aware of in terms of metaphors and framing, deep and surface (and this part I find really fascinating) 4) he shows how the 'left' doesn't really understand what its own values are, remains fighting among itself, and continues to use 'right-wing' frames and metaphors that just support a world-view that 'left' values really don't support.

It can be tough slogging, but I think it's one of the most exciting books to come out on this "why do we think so differently" subject. Since reading it, although I don't agree in anyway with the policies of the 'right', I think I understand them much better, and I see that, in their way, conservatives are trying to make a safer and better world from their perspective. ( )
1 vote cestmarrant | Aug 25, 2008 |
A great book proposing a radical new way to view the political landscape. Rather than the typical left-right grid, Lakoff proposes that our politics represent the fundamental paradigm by which we view the world. This makes it difficult to effectively communicate between the different ideologies, because the same words mean different things--ie, we speak different languages. In order to be more persuasive in promoting our ideology, we must understand the language of the other sides, so that we can frame our positions more effectively. Lakoff is very comprehensive is sketching out the primary paradigms of both liberals and conservatives ("nurturant parent" and "strict father"). The case is very compelling. ( )
1 vote derekstaff | Sep 23, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226467716, Paperback)

In this classic text, the first full-scale application of cognitive science to politics, George Lakoff analyzes the unconscious and rhetorical worldviews of liberals and conservatives, discovering radically different but remarkably consistent conceptions of morality on both the left and right. For this new edition, Lakoff adds a preface and an afterword extending his observations to major ideological conflicts since the book's original publication, from the impeachment of Bill Clinton to the 2000 presidential election and its aftermath.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:16 -0400)

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"In this classic text, the first full-scale application of cognitive science to politics, George Lakoff analyzes the unconscious and rhetorical worldviews of liberals and conservatives, discovering radically different but remarkably consistent conceptions of morality on both the left and right. For this new edition, Lakoff adds a preface and an afterword extending his observations to major ideological conflicts since the book's original publication, from the impeachment of Bill Clinton to the 2000 presidential election and its aftermath." http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/description/uchi051/2001051052.html.… (more)

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