Moral Politics (book)

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Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think is a 1996 book by cognitive linguist George Lakoff. It argues that conservatives and liberals hold two different conceptual models of morality. Conservatives have a Strict Father morality in which people are made good through self-discipline and hard work. Liberals have a Nurturant Parent morality which sees people as something to be cared for and assisted.

(The first edition of the book was published with the subtitle What conservatives know that liberals don't.)


The book

Moral Politics has two different purposes as a book. On one hand, Lakoff attempts to use the techniques of cognitive linguistics to better understand the mental frameworks that lie behind contemporary American politics. He strives to describe which mental concepts make up a "liberal", and which a "conservative". (What Lakoff means by these two terms is considered below.) On the other hand, in the last few chapters of the book, he also attempts to justify why "liberal" morals and politics (of which the author admits to partake) are superior to "conservative" morals and politics.

The book is an objective study of the conceptual metaphors underlying conservative and liberal politics although the closing section is devoted to the author's personal views. Lakoff makes it clear however, that there is no such thing as an Objective study of politics, as politics is based in subjective morality.

Lakoff wrote Moral Politics soon after the Republican Party's "Contract With America" takeover of Congress under the Clinton presidency, and his usage of the terms "liberal" and "conservative" is strongly correlated with how those labels might have been used in the 1994 elections, the former having much to do with the Democratic party and the latter with the Republican party; indeed, chapter 9, "Moral Categories in Politics", presents Hillary Clinton as a prototypical "liberal" and Newt Gingrich as a prototypical "conservative". (Lakoff actually puts this somewhat differently, suggesting that Clinton is the prototypical arch-nemesis of conservatives, while Gingrich is the prototypical arch-nemesis of liberals.)

The central problems

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