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Aug 022014
 

Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think

Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think

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 200

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It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

 Acrimony and hyperpartisanship have seeped into every part of the political process. Congress is deadlocked and its approval ratings are at record lows. America’s two main political parties have given up their traditions of compromise, endangering our very system of constitutional democracy. And one of these parties has taken on the role of insurgent outlier; the Republicans have become ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, and ardently opposed to the established social and economic

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  6 Responses to “Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think”

  1. 434 of 465 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Conservatism and liberalism revealed, July 10, 2002
    By 
    J. Grattan “Ideas can move the world” (Lawrenceville, GA USA) –
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    This review is from: Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think (Paperback)

    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…

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  2. 89 of 96 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    a cognitive scientist looks at politics, September 23, 2003
    By 
    audrey (white mtns) –
    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)
      

    This review is from: Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think (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.

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  3. 215 of 241 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Mind expanding, March 20, 2004
    By 
    A. Mazzeo (Trumbull, CT USA) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

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    This review is from: Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think (Paperback)

    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.

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  4. 471 of 513 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Outstanding work from Mann & Ornstein, May 1, 2012
    By 
    Johnny Na (Chicago, IL) –

    This review is from: It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism (Hardcover)

    What this book IS NOT is another silly polemic designed for the polarized Sunday talk shows. This is a careful, thoughtful discussion of the problems at the heart of our dysfunctional Congress.

    This is a book every American should read. It discusses the problems that led to this, it discusses bromides that should be rejected and proposes thoughtful solutions that are well reasoned even if some may be difficult politically to implement.

    Check out NPR’s April 30 edition of Morning Edition for an interview with the authors.

    The authors are political scientists who’ve studied Congress for 4 decades and aren’t just talking head political pundits. They don’t let the Democrats off the hook but they lay the chief blame for the current dysfunction in Congress upon the Republicans. Their reasoning is based based on a number of factors. High on the list are the tactics Republican Congressional leaders employed during the ceiling debt fiasco of 2011 (see update below). It is the authors’ judgment that by implying to the world that Republicans preferred to have the US default on its debt rather than have a compromise with the Democrats that included revenue as part of the agreement, the Republicans took Congressional dysfunction to a new extreme.

    The authors make a good case. But what makes this book really fascinating is the level of scholarship, the wealth of political science material and the long term view.

    For example, there is a graph of party polarization as calculated by roll call votes. It shows that the polarization is at an all time extreme since 1879, 133 years ago. This speaks to the seriousness of what faces this country. This speaks to the desperate need for our political parties to cooperate enough to govern instead of sabotaging government. There is another graph showing the expanded use of cloture voting in the Senate.

    For those who are all ready well informed about the complex and sometimes bizarre rules of Congress, this will still likely enrich one’s knowledge. For those who haven’t yet dived into the history and rules of Congress, this is an excellent book in one’s education.

    I believe this book is sure to become a political science classic. I rarely give anything 5 stars, but do so unhesitatingly for this book.

    ~~~~~~~~
    Update June 5, 2012

    This book is often on my mind and has given me a lot to chew on. I wanted to express some sympathy for those who mostly lean toward the GOP in their politics and offer a thought that might help them better tolerate this book. The authors’ main targets are not GOP ideology or policies. Their motivation for writing this book stems from GOP tactics and methods of the last 1-4 years. Their claim is that it is the GOP who introduced major unprecedented and extreme tactics with the debt ceiling vote as well as excessive Senate holds and filibusters. So it can help to leave the ideology muck aside and just look at how Congress functions (or doesn’t) as if one were a clinician. It is in that light that the authors say:

    “Some readers may be struck by a lack of balance in our treatment of the two major political parties. We hope they understand that we do not seek to advance a personal ideological or partisan agenda. Rather, we believe that imbalance or asymmetry reflects a regrettable reality that is too often obscured in the traditional media and among serious scholars of American democracy. We want two vibrant and constructive political parties that can compete vigorously for the votes of Americans and fight hard for their views in political and policy arenas.”

    I’ve supported both Dem and GOP candidates in the past, but I think the authors make their case for our current times. There are a lot of comments among the reviews here that jump into policy or ideology debates, but IMHO that is missing the focus of this book. I also think that most Americans have a poor grasp for what the debt ceiling vote is about and what the consequences might have been if that vote had not passed.

    The level of anger and inability (or refusal) to listen to each other among the polarized sides of this mess is an indicator of political cancer. I’m sick of it from both sides, but that won’t stop me from continuing to learn from this terrific book.
    ~~~~~~~~

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  5. 235 of 267 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Refreshing Verity, Sad and Dangerous Message, May 1, 2012
    By 
    Donald A. Collins “Free Lance Writer” (Washington, DC, USA) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism (Hardcover)

    Two respected policy analysts, one from a liberal think tank, the other from a conservative one, have stated for us news junkies a verity which is obvious, yet not well understood in its implications for conducting future sane policies.

    As a former Republican when moderate Republicans were uncricified in that Party, I can well appreciate their concerns as stated in their May 1, 2012 Washington Post article: “It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharp0ly to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate—think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel–are virtually extinct.”

    The implications for that extremism are dramatic. Inability to compromise or to make any connections with the other party means (again from the Post piece) “When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.”

    In short, they write, “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in Americn politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of is political opposition.”

    They mention the charge reminisent of Joe McCarthy from Congressman Allen West (R-Fl) who stated that “78 to 81″ Democrats in Congress are members of the Communist Party, regretting that virtually no Republican challenged that absurd comment.

    This situation produced almost complete gridlock, as issues such as our obscenely huge debt, health care reform and climate change are lost in Republican embrace of ideologies which lead to no decisions.

    This stark book needs wide embrace by independent voters who will determine the next election.

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  6. 62 of 72 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Excellent book and well referenced and cited arguments, May 15, 2012
    By 
    Erik Zimmerman (MN) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

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    This review is from: It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism (Hardcover)

    I rarely comment on political items. For the most part in my view politics are like shifting desert sands, ideas and politicians come and go. (That being said, taxes are like mountains, large and ever lasting)

    That being said the last couple of years have really made me aggravated with how little American politics has accomplished. Watching a debate in congress is like watching two little kids in the back of a car poke at each other on a road trip. It’s loud, boisterous, and not accomplishing anything. I usually vote for whomever I think will do the best job and as such don’t consider myself in allegiance with any one party. It has been my observation since Gore vs Bush that the Republicans however are no longer at all interested in any sort of compromise. This is even more true since Obama became president.

    This book more eloquently states that point of view and backs it up with many facts and citations throughout the book (at least in the kindle version I purchased). In brief, it shows why Mitch McConnells statement that “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” has become the guiding principle of Republican politics and that our system is hopelessly mired in partitionship.

    Its an excellent book, and frankly the fact that both a democrat and republican from two very ideologically different think tanks came together to write it shows how bad it really is in America.

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