Moral Politics

I finished George Lakoff’s Moral Politics a few days ago – and wrote this little review but forgot to put it up. It’s another book that I have mixed feelings on.

Lakoff, along with Mark Johnson, is the forerunner of conceptual metaphor theory, which I happen to like. This book repsresents a full-scale application of that theory to politics and morality via opposing ‘Strict Father’ and ‘Nuturant Parent’ models. Overall I have to say he’s on the right track, although I would question the delivery of the concepts as well as express some reservation over his attempt at liberal policy-making near the end.

Of the first of those two observations, the book really suffers from length. It takes way too long to develop what is in the end a relatively simple to understand opposition of two metaphor families. The text could be half its length and hit much, much harder as a result.

In the resulting saved space, I would have liked to have seen more discussion of how the Strict Father/Nuturant Parent models can co-exist, for certainly they do. I’m sure there are perfect rank-and-file Americans out there who will snap to attention with the correct stimuli, hugging their respective trees or leaving babies to cry alone & thereby toughen up, but most of us are more complex. And I would especially like to see more discussion of how the liberal-minded might turn the Strict Father set of metaphors to their advantage. Recognizing and understanding them is one thing; using them with the same deftness is another.

As to the inclusion of the author’s own politics, I was ok with it, but I felt that such opinion should be in a separate work. If you’re going to lean on the trappings of scholarship, citations and whatnot, I believe a certain neutrality has to be observed – for the duration. Lakoff maintains this neutrality scrupulously for most of the book and then abandons it in the end. The tiny, pitchfork-wielding conservative that usually dozes on my shoulder leapt up and cried, “Aha! His true agenda is revealed!” Politics and academia for me are like church and state; they’re both valuable but you should only wear one hat at a time.

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