Whose Freedom?: The Battle Over America’s Most Important Idea

ISBN: 0374158282
ISBN 13: 9780374158286
By: George Lakoff

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About this book

Lakoff, an adviser to the Democratic party, shows that the conservative revolution has remade freedom in its own image and deployed it as a central weapon on the front lines of everything from the war on terror to the battles over religion in the classroom and abortion. Unabridged. 6 CDs.

Reader's Thoughts


This is a clear and readable analysis of two distinct conceptions of freedom, and how they have guided conservative and progressive political positions. As a progressive, Lakoff then uses cognitive psychology to demonstrate why the framing of "freedom" matters, how progressives have lacked in doing so, and how that has effected the way Americans actually think with regard to political issues.


This is a book about language. Specifically, it is a book about the language of Freedom. It is also a book about competition and moral obligation.George Lakoff readily admits that in the U.S., conservatives are much better at using language than are liberals, and have been for a very long time. Why is this important? Why should you care? The author, a linguist, informs us that language can change our concepts; concepts change the brain; which affects our free will. If a conversation is framed incorrectly, the outcome will be incorrect; even dangerous.Freedom, he says, is progressive and includes such things such as the freedom to compete in business - and in ideas, as well as freedom of speech, workers rights, voters rights, consumer protection, public health, and others. He also makes the argument that conservative freedom is regressive… and the resulting actions are regressive. "They want to go back to before these progressive freedoms were established." They have framed the idea of freedom in such a way that many conservatives now conclude that it is acceptable to deny ["those other people"] their voting rights, worker protection, even their health."The great ideas [and ideals] of our Founding Fathers are those that expand freedoms."The idea of freedom as progressive is, after all, consistent with the ideals introduced in the Declaration of Independence, as well as in the Preamble to the Constitution: Justice, domestic Tranquility, defense, promotion (i.e., improving, not reducing) the General Welfare, and Liberty “to ourselves and our Posterity” [again, a progressive idea of constant improvement]; “the unalienable Rights [of] Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” [not reduction or removal of these values].Conservatives have also framed the concept of the commonwealth such that we no longer even think about it in the context that the Founding Fathers had in mind. "The idea of pooling the commonwealth for the common good so that individuals can have the resources to be free to pursue their individual goals is an idea as old in America as the colonies... the idea that the central role of government is to use the commonwealth for the common good to make individual freedom possible. The commonwealth builds the infrastructure for freedom," Lakoff tells us. [The commonwealth belongs to the people, not the corporations.] "When we give up control of the commons, we are at the mercy of corporations who control it… we have lost these benefits to large corporate interests." (1)The right wing manipulates language in two ways: first, via words and idioms, like "death tax," "tax relief," "judicial activism," "war against terror," "liberal elite's," "defending freedom," "pro-life," "tax and spend," "legislate from the bench," "cut spending," "up-or-down vote," "homosexual lifestyle," "ownership society," "cut and run" an so on; second, via arguments, such as "it's your money. You earned it. You can spend it better than the government can." These are clearly meant to lead to regressive actions.Two of the most important points made in this book are about competition, and about moral obligations: "Competitions are governed by rules. If you are free to enter the competition, there is no abridgment of freedom. If you lose or are eliminated on the basis of the rules, their is no abridgment of freedom." [Like boxing, chess and the Olympics, the realm of ideas is governed by rules of competition.] "The basis of competition [of ideas] is clear: the amount of evidence, convergence of independent evidence from many areas, coverage [and analysis] of data, crucial experiments, degree and depth of explanation [peer review]. The judges of the competition are distinguished scientists who have spent their careers studying the scientific evidence." Advocates of intelligent design [for example, as well as deniers of Climate Change] refuse to accept the rules governing competition. They frame science merely as belief. Their "theory" is as good as anybody else's. In matters of beliefs, there should be no prejudice. Freedom here is freedom of expression. [They have the right to their beliefs; they have the right to compete in the realm of ideas; they do not have a right to impose those beliefs on others. These beliefs are not factual, or even probable.]"Normally, freedom comes with the moral obligation not to impose on the freedom of others. But in [economic] competition, this moral obligation is lifted... the free market is thus about [regressive] freedom - the freedom to make money without qualms about interfering with the freedom of others. From this perspective, government, which imposes regulations and taxes and in whose courts lawsuits take place, is interfering with freedom… Framing the choice in terms of the market removes the moral responsibility. The market is seen, via metaphor, as both natural and moral - moral because the invisible hand (its natural mechanism) guarantees that it will maximize benefits for all." "Transfers of wealth are transfers of freedom."He concludes with a call to action: "it is time for progressives to integrate progressive ideas of freedom and liberty into our everyday thinking and into our language." I couldn't agree more.This is a very important book. I highly recommend it to people of all political ideologies. Perhaps it will help us all to realign our concept of Freedom, with that of the Founding Fathers. 1) per Thom Hartmann: Thom Hartmann Explains the Commons; http://on.aol.com/video/thom-hartmann...


Another compelling read about how the Right frames the politcal discussions....


The book starts off somewhat weakly, given that it has to explain the logic of applying cognitive science to politics up front. Lakoff has written about his ideal family models approach to politics at length elsewhere, and here he focuses it on the notion of freedom.The book picks up a lot of strength midway through part II, after he's done with "the basics" chapters and delves into the implications of conservative and liberal family values in such realms as causation, economic freedom, and foreign policy.


This book is informative on the framing of issues and the differences between the psychology of conservatives and liberals.


That's right, I'm recommending reading this book if you are an AMERICAN. A book about the concept of freedom written by a professor of cognitive psychology? Lakoff asserts in this piece that American freedom has ALWAYS been progressive freedom, and that it's about time to take it back. Quite possibly my number 1 read of 2007.


Americans need to wake up to the real danger facing the liberties we have always taken for granted. In this book, Lakoff explains how the groups who call themselves conservatives on the one hand, and progressives or liberals on the other, often have totally different meanings for the same words.The fundamental question boils down to whether we want a paternalistic, intrusive government enforcing a regressive, authoritarian, and conformist values system, or a society in which government respects the right and ability of adults to make their own decisions and allows for a variety of subcultures and values systems to coexist.This book presents cogent arguments in favor of the latter, and shows how these ideas have been steadily eroded for decades by forces that would like to enforce the former on the rest of us.


Excellent book and worth reading but if you want a shorter version of basically the same ideas, something to help you retain the essential talking points, you might want to read another book by Lakoff, Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision.


Very much a politicsly biased book. Progressive vs Conservative. This being the pro-Progressive stance. Makes a lot of assumptions. Glazes over important ideas. Main points have to do with the “Freedom From Need” and the idea that not only do you have the freedom of movement, but should also be given the capacity to move, i.e. roads. Empathy with responsibility. If you see another suffer, you are responsible for them in a way. Focused a lot on the Republican thought pattern as a strict father figure and the Progressive pattern as a nurturing parent.

Todd Martin

Whose Freedome? provides a clear and inciteful look at the fundamental differences in the way in which radical conservatives and progressives view the world in general and freedom in particular. Given that radical conservatives include indefinite detention, torture and domestic spying within their framework of freedom, it's clearly very important to understand how these different groups understand the concept.


Needless iteration of excellent talking points. Lakoff tangles us up in his own intensity.


I've only gotten through the introduction, but even though it's pretty much cognitive linguistics lite, I cannot put this book down. Lakoff goes through the invisible way in which the right has hijacked the idea of freedom and used it to make a great deal of headway in the culture wars. Of course, all of this happens while what he calls "progressives" (and I call Democrats;) sit around on our asses wondering why nobody sees what's going on. I'll have more to say about it when I'm done, but so far I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the subtleties of language and anyone who believes that words are a lot more than ink blobs on a page.

Chase Parsley

A no-nonsense look at freedom and politics. I loved it.

Stephie Jane Rexroth

"We were raised to think that words are transparent, that they have single simple meanings hat directly fit reality. We were not raised to think in terms of contested concepts that have uncontested cores an virtually opposite extended meanings. We were not raised to think in terms of frames and metaphorical ideas. And we were not raised to think in terms of alternative worldviews – that our countrymen and even our next-door neighbors might see the world in a radically different way. In short, we were not raised to see certain deep truths that are essential to our freedom. Transcending the ideas that we were raised with – growing to see more – is the cognitive work of achieving freedom."


Good, but slow going. Shows the different mind sets of conservatives and progressives. Hope is hard to find.

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