Lakoff: Liberal and conservative moral metaphors

Much has been made in the media and blogs lately of the Democrats’ lack of leadership and a central message to compete with the republicans. In this 1995 essay cognitive scientist George Lakoff analyses the central metaphors that describe and inform the moral systems of American conservatives and liberals. He argues:

While conservatives understand that all of their policies have a single unified origin, liberals understand their own political conceptual universe so badly that they still think of it in terms of coalitions of interest groups. Where conservatives have organized for an overall, unified onslaught on liberal culture, liberals are fragmented into isolated interest groups, based on superficial localized issues: labor, the rights of ethnic groups, feminism, gay rights, environmentalism, abortion rights, homelessness, health care, education, the arts, and so on. This failure to see a unified picture of liberal politics has led to a divided consciousness and has allowed conservatives to employ a divide-and-conquer strategy. None of this need be the case, since there is a worldview that underlies liberal thought that is every bit as unified as the conservative worldview.

Lakoff, himself clearly a liberal, goes on to criticize some of the flaws in the conservative moral metaphor, but is disappointingly short on good constructive advice for Democrats on how to unify their message around their central metaphor, The nurturing parent model. Still, I think that the material is here for good leaders to begin crafting a liberal message that resonates with voters.


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