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Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America's Most Important Idea [Paperback]

George Lakoff

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Book Description

May 15 2007
Since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has relentlessly invoked the word "freedom." Al-Qaeda attacked us because "they hate our freedom." The U.S. can strike preemptively because "freedom is on the march." Social security should be privatized in order to protect individual freedoms. The 2005 presidential inaugural speech was a kind of crescendo: the words "freedom," "free," and "liberty," were used forty-nine times in President Bush's twenty-minute speech.
 
In Whose Freedom?, Lakoff surveys the political landscape and offers an essential map of the Republican battle plan that has captured the hearts and minds of Americans--and shows how progressives can fight to reinvigorate this most beloved of American political ideas.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Lakoff revisits the theme of his 2004 bestseller (Don't Think of an Elephant!), exploring the role of rhetorical metaphors in shaping political discourse. Specifically, he explores how the conservative and progressive definitions of "freedom" differ from one another, in order to demonstrate how liberals uphold a dominant American political tradition while "radical conservatives" seek to overturn that legacy for their own selfish ends. The historical evidence for this claim is never detailed to a persuasive degree, however, leaving a simplistic psychological model in which conservatives adhere to "strict father" thinking while progressives embrace a "nurturant parent" model. Though Lakoff's proposed solution calls upon progressives to reject the conservative framework with new language, it's highly questionable whether talking about "freedom judges" instead of "judicial activists" could really catch on. The author undermines his own warnings that the conservative movement is a threat to free will by suggesting that conservatives are trying to brainwash Americans to render them less capable of adopting progressive attitudes. Lakoff has been heralded for offering Democrats a new strategic vision, but the plan he articulates entails creating a populist movement that demonizes the right wing as a "dangerous elite"—hardly a new frame for political discourse. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"One of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement."--Howard Dean
 
"In the battle of ideas, George Lakoff is one of the progressive movement's Five-Star Generals. Here he shows what we must do to take back precious ground lost to the Right--the concept of 'freedom,' on which America's very foundation is built. Read this and arm yourself."--Robert B. Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor
 
"[Lakoff] makes a very persuasive argument that Democrats have allowed Republicans to hijack words such as 'freedom' and 'liberty' in fundamental ways that have undercut Democrats' credibility."--Chicago Tribune

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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's not about the words July 9 2006
By Michael P. Maslanka - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Lakoff has been taking a lot of unfair pops lately as the guy who thinks a simple word fix will cure what ails progressives. Unfair and he defends himself in his latest. As he explains, it is not about words but about pre-exiting belief frames that all of us are wired with. People have already made up their minds about certain things---they have a frame---and the key is to find the words that activiate it. it's about finding the right frames,which are already out there, not the right words.He also pounds away on those who insist that more facts will carry the day, and firmly lets the reader know that a good frame will beat an oustanding, fly me to the moon fact any day. The last chapter disects president bush's last inagural address and show how it skillfully uses frames to advance the conservative idea of freedom. A must read for anyone interested in how public debate is framed or even for those interested in persuasion. The book is a little denser and more academic than his previous one, Don't Think of Elephants.
53 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The War Over the Idea of Freedom June 27 2006
By Glenn W. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
George Lakoff's work on language and politics has already transformed the progressive movement. Simply by creating a new awareness of how language works -- from the perspective of a politically savvy cognitive scientist -- Lakoff has demystified the power of words and political media. At the grassroots, activists are much more aware that the manner in which we structure our arguments, the frames we use, make a difference, an ultimate difference. Lakoff's "Moral Politics" and "Don't Think of an Elephant" -- and his ongoing work at the Rockridge Institute -- do much more than create awareness. A new political language is getting written.

Lakoff is now pulling the cognitive curtain back on the nation's most important idea: the idea of freedom. "Whose Freedom" describes in clear detail how the nation's radical conservatives are redefining political freedom as something much smaller and meaner than the freedom embodied in our American tradition. To many of us, it seems paradoxical that greatly increased domestic surveillance by the government, loss of voting rights, and government intrusion into private life are seen by the radical right as paving stones to freedom.

How can this be? Lakoff tells us how. And he tells us how to redeploy a language of freedom that is open and dynamic, that speaks of opportunity to achieve, of freedom from want, and of freedom from fear.

The progressive concept of freedom is creative and forward looking. The form of the U.S. Constitution describes freedom even better than that great document's words. The Constituion is written so that it's real meaning must be continually discovered. It is written so that our commitment to justice will evolve.

We don't obey the Constitution. We live through it. When it was written, its authors did not know how we would be living more than 200 years later. They hoped we would live freely. This book will help us rededicate ourselves to that cause.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Our Most Overused, Misused, and Abused Concept Dec 21 2006
By doomsdayer520 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
George Lakoff's work, in linguistics and cognitive science, is of utmost importance for anyone concerned about the current direction of political discourse in this country. Following up on some of his earlier books that tackled the expert and self-serving use of language and framing by neoconservatives, here Lakoff examines all of the inherent nuances and meanings in America's most important and overused tradition. Here we learn that freedom is an intensely complex concept with a core meaning that everyone can agree on, but for which the details can be abused by anyone to further their political agenda while easily deflecting criticism. Lakoff provides plenty of evidence that America's long tradition of progressive freedom has been hijacked and distorted by ideologues who can't stop using that word to justify their very same misuse of it. One of Lakoff's most winning insights is that the current administration uses the word "freedom" so thickly because they know that what they're promoting wouldn't be called freedom if one looked at longstanding American tradition.

Another strong insight, which also runs through many of Lakoff's other books, is that progressives have failed miserably in framing their interests as well as the Far Right has, and are forced to play catch-up with disingenuous neocon doublespeak like "tax relief" or "family values." Even "liberty," "democracy," and "patriotism" have been hijacked, with progressives falling flat in attempts to discuss obvious facts, when what they really need to do is frame concepts that will work with an electorate possessing a fleeting attention span. But while this book offers some stunning high-level wisdom for the freethinking American, in a quite strange way it's also built upon a pretty simplistic view of real world ideologies. Lakoff constructs not just progressivism and conservatism, but also everything from environmentalism to libertarianism, with series of reductive stereotypes. In short, a flimsy analysis somehow still leads to groundbreaking conclusions. Also, Lakoff's writing style is excessively repetitive. But in the end, the true value of this book is that it will help you decode whether power players really have your best interests at heart when they force the word "freedom" down your throat fifty times in every speech, or if they're just talking about the freedom to sustain their own economic and political power. [~doomsdayer520~]
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Educational for a Conservative; Waste of Time for a Liberal Aug. 12 2010
By R Monty - Published on Amazon.com
Several years ago, I read "Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus" with my then-girlfriend-now-wife (stick with me here, this does relate to Lakoff's book). This was a fascinating look into how the "other side" thinks, and perceives the world differently. I had numerous "aha!" moments, when a passage would explain something about women, and my wife would nod her head and say, "yup, that's right". And vice versa--she would say "Really?!", and I would reassure her that that was really the way men think. "Mars and Venus" was written by a male-female partnership, so both genders were reflected accurately, and the book is therefore a learning experience for both. And a bestseller.

Lakoff's book is like "Men are From Mars". Period. He actually does a pretty good job of explaining why/how conservatives and liberals/progressives think differently. As a conservative, I had a number of "Aha!" moments reading it. I much better understand why my lib/prog friends and relations think the way they do (not saying I agree with them, but at least I understand better where they are coming from).

On the other hand, Lakoff should have found a conservative neuro-linguist to co-author with him, because he badly misrepresents conservative ideas on a regular basis in this book. He almost falls all they way to setting up a "straw man" to knock down. Any liberal trying to better understand where conservatives are coming from, will be wasting their time with this book--you'll just be the choir he's preaching to.

So, interestingly, here is a conservative, recommending that only conservatives will get something out of this progressive polemic.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothin' Left to Lose... July 18 2006
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Back in 1996, cognitive scientist George Lakoff wrote "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think", one of the most enlightening treatises on the motivating factors that polarize the political spectrum of thinking. A professor of linguistics, Lakoff is a senior fellow of the Rockridge Institute, the renowned liberal think tank that concentrates in part on helping Democratic candidates and politicians with re-framing political metaphors. His latest book focuses on just one word - freedom - and how the concept has been interpreted by the two parties in exclusive, intractable ways.

Having been absorbed by "Moral Politics" and the slim follow-up published in the 2004 election year, "Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives", I have to admit I am a bit disappointed with the self-inflicted limitations of his new tome and how Lakoff basically recycles much of the groundbreaking material he introduced in the first book. He again argues that conservatives believe in a "strict father" morality in which the male parent has complete authority over dependent children. Liberals, on the other hand, believe in the "nurturant parent" model, in which a less hierarchical parental authority allows for greater empathy and less intimidation. Given this foundation, Lakoff, asserts, these two philosophies lead their adherents toward very different conclusions on what freedom means.

The father figure is the only source of freedom for conservatives, and the concept rests completely on morality and order, so much so that any hint of chaos and libertine behavior forces freedom to collapse. Consequently, it is a given that abortion and gay marriage are threatening forces to the accepted father figure. Freedom from the progressive perspective translated into an expansion of rights and opportunities. According to the author, it is a positive life force, but given his nebulous definition, his suggestions about how liberals can reclaim freedom lack an actionable sense to supersede the conservative domination. Lakoff wants individual progressives to aspire to a higher rationality than facts and figures and ultimately replicate the conservative mindset in pushing their agenda, but I was hoping for something more substantive than a "if you can't fight them..." response. He really doesn't provide any guidance on how to help progressives win the 2008 election with the realization of his action steps. Instead, the author encourages liberals to use more values-based arguments to tackle the populist values and elitist policies of the conservatives.

Lakoff's familiar views on framing come to play when he writes of progressives bringing greater prominence to their values in their speeches by using language that resonates with swing voters. He is at his best when he discusses framing, for example, when he dissects Bush's second inaugural address in 2004 and shows how the President's frequent and loquacious use of the term "freedom" actually pointed to the conservative conception of religion-based principles. The author falls a bit short when he becomes prescriptive with his thinking. He ultimately dilutes the concept of freedom by applying it to so many dimensions from democracy to heath to privacy. As he proves with "Moral Politics", Lakoff has the credentials to produce a treatise on the power of words and the resulting images that stay within the mind, but this may be a case where one concept, no matter how pervasive, may have been almost too limiting for him.
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