I’ve read a ton of books in my time — mostly fiction in my long-ago youth; mostly non-fiction in my dotage: biographical/autobiographical, historical and philosophical (including religious thinking, which, forgive me, covers a multitude of sins). Some of this reading has been for pure enjoyment and/or information, the rest for seeking answers to existential questions; but I suspect that almost all of it has been (consciously or not) a means of seeking to understand why people (including myself) are what they are. Although the old adage “seek and you shall find” has led to many eureka moments over the years, I’d never found a book that gave me “a whole new understanding of public discourse”* in the way that a book called MORAL POLITICS (2nd edition) does.
It should be said at the outset that the title of the book (by cognitive linguist George Lakoff) doesn’t do it justice. Books about politics (moral or otherwise) rarely dig deep into why people are what they are….furthermore, this book is about much more than politics. The book’s subtitle, HOW LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES THINK, expands the sense of it, but again is about much more. It concerns not only how liberals and conservatives (and libertarians and moderates and others) think, but WHY they think how they think (they, of course, includes us — you and I). Seen In context, politics is but one public stage for the larger human drama (comedy?) in which we all play a part….in which we all ARE a part.
I’d love to quote extensively from MORAL POLITICS, but that wouldn’t be kosher, would it? Instead, here’s a sampling of Part and Chapter titles, as well as several brief quotes from the book, to give an idea of the concepts that may take you, the potential reader, past where you’re at — If you are up to questioning hand-me-down mindsets and want the real “inside story” (and who, I ask with jaundiced eye, doesn’t have a passion for moving beyond received wisdom):
Part II: Moral Conceptual Systems
Keeping the Moral Books
Strict Father Morality
Nurturant Parent Morality
Part III: From Family-Based Morality to Politics
Moral Categories in Politics
Part IV: The Hard Issues
Social Programs and Taxes
Two Models of Christianity
Part VI: Who’s Right? And How Can You Tell?
Raising Real Children
The Human Mind
People who “deviate” from the tried and true path arouse enormous anger because they threaten the identities of those who follow traditional “straight and narrow” paths, but also because they are seen as threats to the community.
The Bible, in itself and without interpretation, can say nothing at all about the kind of politics one should have. It is only through Strict Father and Nurturant Parent interpretations of the Bible that one is led to a conservative or liberal religious politics.
Libertarians provide a very interesting challenge to the study of variations on a central model. Libertarians see themselves as forming a separate political category, neither liberal or conservative, but something unto itself. Analysis….suggests that their view of themselves is not entirely accurate.
The fact that libertarians and political liberals both strongly advocate civil liberties is a superficial similarity. They do so for very different reasons, out of different moral impulses, with a very different spirit. Though two steps away from mainline conservatism, libertarians are conservatives in three very important respects: (1) Their concern with noninterference by the government comes directly out of conservatism. (2) They preserve primary conservative moral priorities: self-discipline, self-reliance, and individualism. (3) They do not give priority to the values of Nurturant Parent morality: empathy, nurturance, interdependence, fairness, and responsibility for others.
*From a blurb on the book’s back cover quoting the late sociologist Robert Bellah (book is available on Amazon and elsewhere).