Lakoff, Conservatives and Fatherhood

From George Lakoff:

Is this a fair and reasonable sketch of the conservative? For those of you who are conservative, why or why not?

The central issue in our political life is not being discussed. At stake is the moral basis of American democracy…..

Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life.

In the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama accurately described the basis of American democracy: Empathy — citizens caring for each other, both social and personal responsibility — acting on that care, and an ethic of excellence. From these, our freedoms and our way of life follow, as does the role of government: to protect and empower everyone equally. Protection includes safety, health, the environment, pensions and empowerment starts with education and infrastructure. No one can be free without these, and without a commitment to care and act on that care by one’s fellow citizens.

The conservative worldview rejects all of that.

Conservatives believe in individual responsibility alone, not social responsibility. They don’t think government should help its citizens. That is, they don’t think citizens should help each other. The part of government they want to cut is not the military (we have 174 bases around the world), not government subsidies to corporations, not the aspect of government that fits their worldview. They want to cut the part that helps people. Why? Because that violates individual responsibility.

But where does that view of individual responsibility alone come from?

The way to understand the conservative moral system is to consider a strict father family. The father is The Decider, the ultimate moral authority in the family. His authority must not be challenged. His job is to protect the family, to support the family (by winning competitions in the marketplace), and to teach his kids right from wrong by disciplining them physically when they do wrong. The use of force is necessary and required. Only then will children develop the internal discipline to become moral beings. And only with such discipline will they be able to prosper. And what of people who are not prosperous? They don’t have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally.

The market itself is seen in this way. The slogan, “Let the market decide” assumes the market itself is The Decider.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • EricW

    He lost me at “candidate Obama accurately described the basis of American democracy.”

  • http://jeffwrightjr.wordpress.com Jeff Wright

    Or maybe “social responsibility” does not primarily mean “government.”

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Can one describe a “social responsibility” without using the term “government” that doesn’t ultimately boil down to “personal responsibility”? Perhaps one can, but I suspect that there’s more of a knee-jerk reaction to the word “government” than any real grappling with Lakoff’s statement.

  • TimmyC

    This is painted with a broad brush, but I’d say my father who is a political and cultural Conservative would if given a truth serum would mostly agree that this is how “the family” should be, and also how society should function:

    “The way to understand the conservative moral system is to consider a strict father family. The father is The Decider, the ultimate moral authority in the family. His authority must not be challenged. His job is to protect the family, to support the family (by winning competitions in the marketplace), and to teach his kids right from wrong by disciplining them physically when they do wrong. The use of force is necessary and required. Only then will children develop the internal discipline to become moral beings. And only with such discipline will they be able to prosper. And what of people who are not prosperous? They don’t have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally.”

    If asked (while still under the truth serum) he’d likely go further and consider God a “Strict Father” too.

  • http://jeffwrightjr.wordpress.com Jeff Wright

    Why wouldn’t a Christian think of social responsibility primarily in terms of church rather than government?

    But I see you’re the same person who previously labeled my interpretation of Scripture as “anti-government” so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you assume my response was merely a knee-jerk reaction to the word government.

  • Alex

    This is awful. If empathy is the foundation of democracy (which I have never read from any political writer say as much) than conservatives value empathy just as much as liberals, they just see it differently.

    They would hold that the kindest and most caring thing you can do is let someone control their own lives and future. That there is a great level of dignity and power that is found in being able to decide how your life will play out and even live for the consequences. This may sound terrible to liberals, but conservatives generally believe that freedom and responsibility are what makes America great.

    Obama is wrong in saying the conservatives don’t care about their neighbors, in fact on average conservatives tend to be a bit more generous than liberals. It really just goes back to the method of generosity; from the state or from neighbors and family.

    In many ways the pioneer spirit is a great encapsulation of this. Neighbors would help each other plant crops, build barns, and deal with tough winters. There was no powerful state entities that could save people from their choices of living out in the country. Conservatives just tend to think that typically the aid should come from grass roots and community, rather than mandated by the state.

  • Kyle J

    I think, like most political commentary, this is perhaps an oversimplification. But I think there’s some real truth there.

    The major political debate of the last couple years was the health care debate.

    The Dems proposed a plan that would (among other things) ensure that all Americans can get affordable and equitable access to health insurance coverage, regardless of pre-existing conditions, etc.

    The GOP balked at the plan, claimed to have alternatives to what they acknowledged was a real problem, but never put anything on the table that would actually address the major inequities faced by that population of individuals. Whatever the merits of tort reform and buying insurance across state lines may have, they wouldn’t do anything for someone who loses his job and can’t get coverage because he’s a cancer survivor.

    Now, some of what’s going on is pure political calculation. Conservatives didn’t consider this kind of framework a massive government takeover when moderate Republicans proposed it in 1994 or when Mitt Romney signed it into law in Massachusetts. This was largely about trying deny a Democratic president a major policy achievement.

    But the fact that political calculations could trump putting a real solution on the table for this kind of issue (where most of us enjoy protections arrived at through a system that spreads risk across a larger population–through employer health coverage, Medicare, etc.) speaks to the power that a hyperlibertarian worldview has in the party at this point.

  • Mark B

    Absolutely unfair for a whole list of reasons, although it is tough to even know what to say. I guess its that he is imputing evil motives to something he completely doesn’t understand. Lurking in the background is a left/right divide over a two-kingdoms doctrine. The left largely collapses everything to the state, so when the right says no, that is the wrong place, the left goes nuts. “Wrong place, there is no other place! You must want to starve grandma.” Like #2 comment, the right has multiple spheres of authority. The left goes nuts about family, church or any other extra-state authority that is not clearly subordinate to the state.

  • Rick

    He sounds like the Glenn Beck of the left.

    This article is one more example of why AOL should reconsider its purchase of the Huff Post.

  • Dan

    I strongly disagree with this depiction of conservatism. While both conservatives and progressives want to see America run according to their worldview, and conservatives find empathy important, I believe that a true conservative position (especially when Christianity is involved) longs to help his/her fellow man in the best way possible.

    This is why I taught a class at my church on seeking social justice. The curriculum was throroughly conservative (it was pubished by the Heritage Foundation), and it made the point that government entitlements are actually making the problem worse by creating a perpetual cycle of dependency. What is needed is for individuals to meet the needs of the whole person: physical, financial, and spiritual. The church is uniquely gifted to engage their communities with this cause, which is something that government programs (no matter how much money they have) could not do well.

  • http://www.co-lead.org Tom McGee

    I am a conservative. My wife and I regularly cancel each other’s votes. Here is my take. The above piece is a caricature (kind of a Steven Colbert conservative. Here is what I am for:

    I am for social justice, social responsibility and personal freedom and personal responsibility. Social responsibility means protecting rights and freedoms of the poor, enabling them to choose paths that will lead to reaching their full human potential as the image of God. It also means allowing people the freedom to create opportunities for themselves and others without others arbitrarily stealing from them because they have more.

    We have 5o years of history (both in the US and in the developing world) that simply giving people other peoples money does not help people out of poverty. (See for example – When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself (Feb. 1, 2010) by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett). We have 100 years of history that shows socialism is most all of it’s forms has proven to be a ponzi scheme, that borrows from tomorrows money with rich people’s money as collateral (taxes) trading economic growth for free government programs till there is not enough of other people’s money to fund the scheme anymore (see Greece, Ireland, Italy, California, Wisconsin, New York, the United States of America in the next 10 years as examples).

    What I as a conservative would like to see:
    1 – A responsible government that protects the freedom of all people to make choices that can have a real chance of bettering their lives – education, jobs, affordable housing, health care safety net. A responsible government would admit where public sector solutions have failed (miserably in many cases), and partner with private sector entrepreneurs can often come up with better solutions if give the chance). Who doesn’t believe that FedEx is better run that the USPO? I would be for universal health care if the system was run by Kaiser. But creating dozens of bureaucracies to right rules does not sound efficient to me. I know for a fact that in many case the government pays 40% more for services that their private sector counter parts because of procurement rules designed by bureaucrats.

    2 – A responsible government that would see where well run non-profit organizations are doing a better job at delivering services and leverage tax payer dollars where the most good could be done instead of using the non-establishment cause as an excuse to move service to an inefficient public sector.

    3 – A responsible government that would get it’s own house in order rather than fighting wars that do little to improve stability or advance the true path of freedom. We need to spend less on both defense and social services.

    4 – Responsible believers who follow Jesus’ call to make a real difference in the real world with real works of faith that Glorify God wheter the government ever gets it right or not. Civil discourse, respect, curiosity, generosity a love for all people, rich or poor, conservative or liberal/ progressive is what should characterize the church of Jesus Christ.

    I’m helping people who are homeless learn how to get sober, write a resume and get good at interviews in Job’s For Life at our Church. This does more good than just giving them more money and hope they buy food with it.

  • Diane

    Dan,

    I agree that gov’t has not done well at treating the whole person. However, I don’t see why we can’t have partnership–gov’t taking care of basic needs so that nobody has to starve, be homeless, etc.–and let the church take care of the rest. In fact, this takes a huge financial burden off the church. History tells us that churches do not step up to the plate in the absence of a social welfare state. Even today, with a safety net helping many people, we have homeless people. If the church hasn’t been able to find homes for the already homeless, how is this going to happen if even more people become homeless because gov’t programs are cut?

  • Richard

    While most of the comments are reacting to the tone of the commentator and not his points, a thread of “individual responsibility” seems to run through comments 6 and 10 and I haven’t seen anyone try to deny or refute it so far.

    The flip side is that the “liberal” often tends to ignore individual responsibility by focusing on societies responsibilities. Middle of the road seems to find a way forward – social and personal responsibility. I don’t care where the hand up comes from, but it needs to get to work.

  • nathan

    I believe the conservative world view (but not the Bircher fringe, etc.) is largely caricatured in this description.

    Then again, if you make room for and give a microphone to that fringe for the sake of short term political gain, you probably shouldn’t complain when said caricature flourishes…since you helped perpetuate it on some level….I think conservatives need to re-tool how they build majorities and message their perspective.

    It’s harder work and not as entertaining (think Talk Radio) and doesn’t give play into the catharsis of creating demonic enemies that get to be vanquished, but it might actually be more beneficial to everyone.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    #5, other than commenting on “church” (and thank you for that), I still don’t see an answer to my question, and I think it’s a fair one. If you balk about being characterized as “anti-government” (which wasn’t directed at you personally, but is a reflection of what I see as a very strong thread through many conservative responses to these questions. One would think that the government was the ultimate evil to see so many arguments that Jesus doesn’t allow for governmental advocacy… again, not something you’ve said here, but a strong recurring thread in these arguments), then you can at least do the courtesy of articulating for “social responsibility” that doesn’t boil down to “personal responsibility”. To mention the church is certainly a start, but it seems to me doesn’t go deep enough.

    The thread started out as (paraphrasing) “if you disagree with this characterization, why is not fair?” I’m simply trying to probe for an answer to that question that goes beyond the cry of “unfair!”

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    It is largely polemic with elements of truth mixed in.

    The traditional conservative view (as opposed to some of them more decidedly libertarian views in recent years) is that the focus of life is the institutions of family, neighborhood, church, business, voluntary associations, and local governance. Federal government plays a supplementary or subsidiary role, doing what can’t be accomplished at the local level, playing referee when problems emerge. A government that is too intrusive will both atrophy the ability of people to manage their own lives (cause dependency) and frequently lessen the quality of caring that would otherwise have emerged.

    Liberals tend to see a more central role for government as problem solver in chief with other institutions supplementing around the edges. Decentralized solutions are looked upon with suspicion, believing careful planning by thoughtful experts will create more comprehensive and just outcomes. Failure to manage public affairs through centralized strategies creates inefficiency and injustice.

    A key issue here is knowledge and human virtue. Conservatives tend to doubt the ability of planners to know enough to effectively manage aspects of society, trusting instead to things like “invisible hands” providentially guiding the market. They believe concentrated power magnifies human evil.

    Liberals have a much higher estimate of the ability of planners to effectively manage aspects of society, trusting enlightened professionals to seek the common good, coming up with just solutions. They believe lack of centralized controls leads to inequalities and oppression.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Actually, I should answer your question to me? “Why wouldn’t a Christian think of social responsibility primarily in terms of church rather than government?”

    Who says I don’t? Just because I do see a place for a reasonably active government role by no means should imply that I don’t think in terms of church action first. But I would argue that there are certain things that the church simply cannot do that the government is better equipped to respond to. The issues of education and infrastructure (especially the latter) given in the original post are good examples.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Kruse,

    Actually, by your definitions, I’m probably quite conservative…. I’d certainly advocate (if being strictly “governmental” for the moment) for local government action as being preferable to federal action.

  • K.

    I’m fairly conservative as are most of the people I know. We’re all big on individual responsibility, but I don’t know a single person who wants to do away with all government social spending. It could probably be done more wisely, but yes, much of it is needed.

    The author’s father talk is a bit of nonsense.

  • http://jeffwrightjr.wordpress.com Jeff Wright

    Mark, It seems like you’re merely trolling and just looking for someone to argue with so I’ll keep this short.

    Here are my two brief comments above:

    “Or maybe ‘social responsibility’ does not primarily mean ‘government.’”

    and

    “Why wouldn’t a Christian think of social responsibility primarily in terms of church rather than government?”

    Nowhere did I “cry unfair” in response to the original question of the post. In each of the few interactions I’ve had with you you’ve attributed things to me that are untrue. I won’t be responding to any more of your comments.

  • JoeyS

    Obviously a caricature, and not fair, but he does seem to understand the logic behind conservatism – even if he is unwilling to be charitable about it.

    Here’s the deal: that personal responsibility equals greater freedom is a non-sequitur if it isn’t coupled with equal opportunity. Of course human dignity and pride play a huge role in development and personal responsibility provides these human necessities, but where the conservative ideology often fails is when it assumes that everybody starts on an equal playing field.

    Social infrastructure and regulation have to be utilized well in order for personal responsibility to have any bearing on development.

    As Richard #13 said, the middle of the road seems to be the only way forward. Until conservatives realize that taking away social programs unequally favors those with greater access to resources the left will continue to see them as lacking empathy. And liberals, likewise, must face that social programs create deep pockets of dependency in our nation and that is an affront to development. Of course, we could try to stop taking sides and come together to work towards something that grasps the best of both ideologies but that might be asking too much. Best we just dig in our heals and continue to regurgitate old stereotypes that make us look and feel better than the people with whom we disagree. I jest….

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    Lakoff comes to political discourse strongly influenced by his background as a cognitive linguist.

    And the concept of conservatism and authoritarianism (“strict father”) has been explored and verified by studies. See The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer

    And Lakoff’s sentiment on this metaphor is borne out by other linguists and psychologists — see Drew Westen’s The Political Mind or writing/audio of Geoffrey Nunberg.

    Here is a debate between Lakoff, Nunberg and Steven Pinker on the “strict father” metaphor…

    While some of recent Lakoff books I am not enamored with, Moral Politics was an excellent read and goes into more detail on the metaphor — with a great deal of cognitive linguistics instead of the more political agitprop nature of his recent articles.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I am going to attempt to go against the Kruse here.

    Michael, I contend the reason the conservatives like the local version is because they have a higher innate need to control through group influence. Perhaps it is because they cannot see the bigger picture or perhaps it is just because they don’t like people in other areas, but it seems to me to be evident that they don’t trust people who are outside of their group and people across the country are outside their group by definition. Therefore, they do not want national solutions.

    The argument that conservatives do not like concentrated power misses the point. Conservatives love, and I mean love concentrated power. That is what drives them to conserve the status quo. They want the group think they are associated with to drive all decisions and power. Having a national system means that the local nuance may not be adequately fulfilled.

    I think the idea that the power is more concentrated at a national policy is not the point though it may be true.

    A national program necessarily averages over diverse backgrounds.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Mark #18

    I really think David Brooks had it right in a piece he wrote back in 2008, just before the election. Collectively, Americans understand the need for some basic social safety net. A politician taking that away will be turned out. But Americans also value personal responsibility coupled with looking out for the other guy at the local level. They are resentful of an imperial federal government. Go too far that direction and you get turned out as well. I think these are the curbs on the street of politics. Most of us are located between these curbs and for any number of reasons may find ourselves at different positions between the curbs depending on the issue. Most of politics today is about finding examples that are off the street and pegging your opponent to that example.

  • Dan

    The author writes: “They don’t think government should help its citizens. That is, they don’t think citizens should help each other.”

    That, in itself, proves he understands neither government nor conservatism.

  • Napman

    “21 Joey S.

    Not sure why you believe conservatives assume that everyone starts on an equal playing field. Conservatives do believe that one should take responsibility for what you do with the opportunities that you have. Having completely equal opportunities is as utopian as completely equal outcomes,

    I agree with you though that there are elements of truth in the ideologies of both the left and right. Finding ways to marry them, like Clinton’s welfare reform bill, is a sounder, and more affordable approach than many on offer today.

    Not sure why Naum wants to equate conservatism with authoritarianism. It seems to me that authoritarian methods are often seized by both the left and right when they gain positions of command. I don’t think one sided critiques like Lakoff’s are consistent with the reality of universal sin and the temptations common to all humans.

  • Alex

    @ Mark

    This charge made against conservative and more often Tea Party folks of being “anti-government” is just unthoughtful.

    Anti-government is anarchist, I do not know any conservative who wants chaos or anarchy, they simply advocate for a lesser role of government in the lives of citizens. I am not anti-McDonalds or chocolate, but I do advocate for a reduced role for them in my life and that of my family.

    I am also not anti-Church but I do also want less of it mixed up in state and politics then some Christians often promote. It is a fallacy, or manipulation to say that just because someone is conservative also makes them anti-government.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    #27,

    You are certainly correct to push back to the extent that my words imply that I think conservatives (and/or Tea Party folks, although I’ve never mentioned them) are against government entirely. You’re right. Almost no one in these debates truly wants anarchy, and to the extent I’m implying that they do, I’ve mischaracterized them and I apologize.

    This does not, however, change what seems to me to be a troubling trend in these discussions, which is to complain nearly anytime “government” is mentioned as a viable solution to a given problem. “Government,” in these discussions, is extremely often categorized as though it is some kind of enemy to be fought, and not a potential part (however limited) of a solution. I find such statements, themselves, to be “unthoughtful,” and was simply trying to push back against such statements to get at the deeper issues.

    (If I had a nickle for every time someone said “Jesus never said that the government should…” or some paraphrase of the same….)

  • Jorge L

    Lakoff has a history. He has in the past basically branded conservatives stupid and unable to think with sophistication. But he does it elegantly and the chattering classes think they know and understand conservatives because they have read him.

    Posting this caricature and asking it to be discussed seriously is insulting to thinking and intelligent conservatives. In New York Times, chattering class liberal circles Lakoff is taken seriously. But if the point is to engage conservatives in discussion, this is a non-starter.

  • Napman

    Mark Baker-Wright “28

    And many on the left are quick to say that because Jesus loved the poor and the poor in spirit that we should then support new government programs to address whatever the problem of the day is.

    There is a rather large epistemic gap between knowing what the Jesus of the gospels did and said and knowing what that same Jesus would say to the Roman government on many great issues of that day,

    Now translate that gap over 2,000 years to address US political issues. The gap only grows. Not that we cannot seek to inform our politics and conception of the role of government through what Yoder called “the Politics of Jesus”. But it is hardly a straight or easy line to draw and it often is accompanied by a lot more self-righteousness than is warranted.

    Consider this, then, to be a charitable take on “Jesus never said the government should….” Maybe the point is not that the speaker is “anti- government” but that theological support for a given government program is christocentricly underdetermined. :)

  • Jorge L

    Kyle J.,

    “The Dems proposed a plan that would (among other things) ensure that all Americans can get affordable and equitable access to health insurance coverage, regardless of pre-existing conditions, etc.

    The GOP balked at the plan, claimed to have alternatives to what they acknowledged was a real problem, but never put anything on the table that would actually address the major inequities faced by that population of individuals. Whatever the merits of tort reform and buying insurance across state lines may have, they wouldn’t do anything for someone who loses his job and can’t get coverage because he’s a cancer survivor.”

    This is the sort of thing that drives us nuts. The Obama plan is described positively using its own advocates’ talking points, taken as gospel truth.

    Opponents are caricatured, again using advocates’ talking points and bald assertions.

    And that then shows that Lakoff was right except that he exaggerated the faults of conservatives somewhat? (Lakoff is “polemical but with elements of truth,” then the elements of truth illustrated by progressive talking points?)

    Hey, you conservatives, you are a bunch of dimwits who opposed Obamacare with no alternative, just a bunch of negativizers who don’t care about people with cancer who are out of work. Now, talk to me, you conservatives, let’s have a civil conversation, you obstructionist naysayers, you.

    If you cannot fairly re-present the positions of those you disagree with you will never engage them in conversation.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Consider this, then, to be a charitable take on “Jesus never said the government should….” Maybe the point is not that the speaker is “anti- government” but that theological support for a given government program is christocentricly underdetermined. :)

    I can accept that, so long as “underdetermined” is not understood to be “Jesus would definitely say no ‘support for a given government program.’” I’m quite happy to say that the matter is far from obviously clear.

  • Jeff L

    From someone whose politics are pretty far to the left and whose theology is pretty darned conservative: One of my big problems with modern conservatism is that it only identifies abuse of power with government. There seems to be no sense of corporate or interest group evil (except labor unions!), nor any sense of how certain groups and interests have rigged government and especially the economy to their own advantage and to the disadvantages of everyone else.

    What good does it do me to cast a ballot if my life in most other respects is controlled by an elite class that is sociopathologically determined to advance its interests (Exhibit A: Koch brothers)at the expense of everyone else?

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Jorge L,

    OK. We get that you think that conservatives are being mischaracterized. Prove us wrong. Please. I’m not just trolling. I honestly haven’t seen anything that, to use the health care debate as an example, would honestly “do anything for someone who loses his job and can’t get coverage because he’s a cancer survivor” proposed by the GOP back then. I saw a LOT of stuff that would undermine that potential.

    Obviously, I’m not unbiased (I contend that no one is). But I’m trying to listen.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    All this arguing about what is conservative, I’ll add this from Rob Dreher’s book “Crunchy Cons”
    Randy G.

    A Crunchy Con Manifesto:

    1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.

    2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.

    3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

    4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.

    5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.

    6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.

    7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.

    8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.

    9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”

    10. Politics and economics won’t save us; if our culture is to be saved at all, it will be by faithfully living by the Permanent Things, conserving these ancient moral truths in the choices we make in our everyday lives.

    ————————–

    United by a “cultural sensibility, not an ideology,” crunchy conservatives have some habits and beliefs often identified with cultural liberals, like shopping at agriculture co-ops and rejecting suburban sprawl. Yet crunchy cons stand apart from both the Republican “Party of Greed” and the Democratic “Party of Lust,” by focusing on living according to conservative values, or “sacramental” living. Religion and faith play a large role in political, social and ethical conscious. We believe rampant consumerism as antithetical to true conservatism. We dissent from the Sexual Revolution. We appreciate slow food. We were not intended to be consumers by nature. We believe in family community. We believe in Fair Trade over Free Trade. We are not Neo-Conservatives. We are “Birkenstocked Burkeans.”

  • TimmyC

    I’d love to hear the conservatives here say specifically why this is unfair or inacurate to the core morality of Conservativism…

    So far most of the “don’t trust Government to solve your problems” and “one should be responsable for what one does” related language in these comments seems to resonate well with this ethos, kinda confirming it to me:

    “The way to understand the conservative moral system is to consider a strict father family. The father is The Decider, the ultimate moral authority in the family. His authority must not be challenged. His job is to protect the family, to support the family (by winning competitions in the marketplace), and to teach his kids right from wrong by disciplining them physically when they do wrong. The use of force is necessary and required. Only then will children develop the internal discipline to become moral beings. And only with such discipline will they be able to prosper. And what of people who are not prosperous? They don’t have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally.

  • Susan

    I agree with the original post, and wonder where the self-identified conservatives on this thread are…because the conservatives I know mean it when they say they want govt so small they could drown it in a bathtub.
    I’ve been forced to admit that I believe what they really mean when they say that the poor should be taken care of by the church and the locsl community, is that they just want not to have to care for “those” people, who are not in “my” family, church or neighborhood.
    I think they will come around, but the atmosphere has been particularly poisonous in recent years. Listening to too much RW radio makes it seem normal to think that poor people are that way through moral fault, always, and that the govt is out to get us.

  • Diane

    Michael,

    As others have pointed out, my concern with “local government” is that now that I live in a small town, I see it is the town run by the sheriff whose cousin is the judge and brother is the care dealership owner and grandfather owns 400 prime acres and etc. …. even among well-meaning people, it’s a recipe for abuse. A person in the town I live in stands not much of a chance of employment if he or she doesn’t emerge from the right womb nor is he or she going to have much say in local politics–the system is locked up. I see bigger government balancing many of these potential and real problems.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Do the conservatives on this blog go to bed early?

  • nate shoemaker

    i still don’t understand why i can’t be ‘socially responsible’ with my money without the gov’t taking it from me and forcing me to do it their way… and since when is the government supposed to ‘protect and empower everyone equally’? to do so would suggest that the gov’t runs the people (which, sadly it does today) instead of the people running the gov’t.

    i am all for social justice and responsibility. but i am all for freedom as well. forcing me to be socially just and responsible is not just, responsible, or freedom.

  • Theo

    Who boiled it all down to this: “Government is not the solution, it’s the problem.”? That to me seems to be THE foundational principle of modern conservatism.

  • alison

    This might represent 5-10% of the conservatives I know, but it also represents a lot of people I know who are not conservatives. I think it is an oversimplification and a generalization. So I will make a generalization of my own. Christian conservatives (not the other kind) tend to believe that the church should take care of the poor (i.e., charity). Non-conservative Christians (correct me if I’m wrong) tend to believe that the government should take care of the poor (i.e., justice). I can see both ways of thinking. I believe it goes back to how we view the theocracy of Old Testament Israel and how it took care of its people. I think they both conservatives and nons- want the same things – just have different ways of getting to it. Although I used a generalization above, I think this man’s article showed lazy thinking. That’s all.

  • JohnM

    Anybody really believe it’s as simple as there’s this monolithic group called conservatives and all conservatives are conservative for the same reason?

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    DRT #23
    “I am going to attempt to go against the Kruse here.”

    Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. ;-)

    DRT #23 Diane #38

    Yes. Local community can be quite oppressive. But it is also true that no one can know and care for you as well as family and local social institutions. Sin affects every human context.

    In sociology, there are two macro social theories that are largely irreconcilable. One is structural-functionalism. It views society as an equilibrium seeking organism. The organism brings everyone and everything into compliance with its institutions. It explains how various components of a social system interrelate but it is not very good at providing analysis that uncovers oppression and injustice.

    The other is conflict (or Marxian) theory. It views society as a struggle between classes of people, those with the power stacking the deck against those without it. It is useful for seeing how groups develop and defend privilege, but it provides little insight in how to organize society in a just way. The minute one group falls and another rises, the only analytical tool we have is to see how the new group will no solidify power and privilege.

    As a Christian, this all makes sense to me. We were created for ongoing community. We are rightly trying to create enduring social structures that perpetuate our communities. But we are also fallen. Power and privilege infects every aspect of our human existence. There are class struggles. The two macro theories reflect our human predicament.

    So yes, there is an element of selfish privilege involved in conservative preference for local control, just as there is often selfish privilege involved by liberals in their agendas.

    Personally, I subscribe to the Roman Catholic principle of subsidiarity. The burden of proof is to show why a problem cannot be solved at the local face-to-face community level … but there most certainly are such cases. There is no informative discussion of politics until we can break out of strict binary political categories.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #39 DRT

    “Do the conservatives on this blog go to bed early?”

    Yes. They have to get up early to run the businesses, to make the profits, to pay the taxes, to support the programs the liberals voted for. ;-)

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    @Napman, #26, wrote: Not sure why Naum wants to equate conservatism with authoritarianism. It seems to me that authoritarian methods are often seized by both the left and right when they gain positions of command. I don’t think one sided critiques like Lakoff’s are consistent with the reality of universal sin and the temptations common to all humans.

    Because the research given (via the link to Altemeyer research and John Dean coverage) succinctly illustrate authoritarianism in conservatives — not all, but a majority of evangelical conservative and social conservative block — and it fits in with Lakoff’s “Moral Politics” axis of “strict father” v. “nurturing mother” metaphor. There is a chart of state legislators (dated now, back to 2006) clearly showing the left-right axis of the authoritative scale.

    @Jorge L wrote: f you cannot fairly re-present the positions of those you disagree with you will never engage them in conversation.

    Um, you do understand that what is termed “Obamacare” was part and parcel crafted by REPUBLICANS and the ultra conservative Heritage Foundation back in the 90s, first championed and implemented by a Republican governor (Mitt Romney).

    So tell me again, which is the intransigent, obstinate party, discarding their own plan when it was promoted by the presidential administration of the other party?

  • http://www.gordonhackman.blogspot.com Gordon Hackman

    Upon reflection, I think what really bothers me about this piece is that rather than treating conservative beliefs as a set of ideas and the people that hold them as intelligent people who are capable of observing the world and making conclusions about it that can be discussed and argued about by people of good-will, the author instead rather condescendingly attempts to diagnose them as a certain type of person and then dismiss them and their ideas as a class without ever really engaging them. It makes me wonder if he really has much exposure to people who don’t share his beliefs or if he has really tried to dialogue with them and understand them on their own terms.

  • http://tranformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    #42,
    So I will make a generalization of my own. Christian conservatives (not the other kind) tend to believe that the church should take care of the poor (i.e., charity). Non-conservative Christians (correct me if I’m wrong) tend to believe that the government should take care of the poor (i.e., justice).

    I don’t think that Christians of any stripe (conservative, liberal, or whatever) would argue anything other than that the church should take care of the poor. Less-conservative Christians may hold open a larger role for the government to aid in this service, but I don’t think you’d find many who would argue that the government should do it so that the church doesn’t have to.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    Naum, thanks for the research links.

    Michael, #44, I’ve just been doing some reading on Analytic Eclecticism as a tool for studying complex political & sociological realities. Clearly, the 2 macro social theories you describe are blunt instruments inadequate to explain any situation completely. Are you familiar w/ AE?

    Gordon # 47, & Jorge L, all of us need to get to the facts behind the smokescreens of labels and punditry in order to have constructive dialogue. It’s much easier to give up if confronted with the monolithic face of an apparently unreasonable characterization of one’s own position, than to try to discuss points that are in error. If Lakoff is the monolithic face, then please consider the rest of us reasonable people. (Likewise, I’d prefer to avoid such terms as “Obamacare” which smack of the opposing monolith!)

  • Darren King

    Wow. I am certainly not a far-right conservative, but I was still almost offended by this piece. It would be more offensive if it weren’t a tad humorous. Its humorous in that the author assumes he can lump so much under a personality trait (perhaps he would call it a defect).

    One major point I’d make is that there’s a difference between theory and practice. One might *prefer* a certain kind of societal arrangement – in theory. But, if *in practice* that hopeful perspective just doesn’t come into fruition, and might actually create greater problems via the law of unintended consequences, then one is required to chose what is (ultimately) the lesser of two evils. That is actually the more humane and, one could even argue, ultimately compassionate response.

    Along these same lines, I recently read a blog response where someone said “there is no such thing as tough love. It can’t be love if it isn’t tough.”

    I thought that was a ridiculously shortsighted and ill-informed thing to say. Again, I understand why some people would *like* to believe it. But reality very rarely bends at the will of what people wish were so.

  • Darren King

    Regarding tough love, that quote should read “It can’t be love if it is tough”.

  • http://grahambates.blogspot.com Graham Bates

    I have come to realize that “I don’t have an agenda, they have an agenda,” or “I am not changing American values, they are changing American values,” are irrational. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone wants to change American values to be more like themselves. People say this hoping others will not challenge it. I say, “a plague on both your houses.”

    That being said, I think his line of reasoning went astray when he said, “They don’t think government should help its citizens. That is, they don’t think citizens should help each other.” I know no conservative who would think this. It’s tantamount to saying “Liberals want the freedom of religion. They want all churches to close.” It is unfair and frankly unloving.

    Can we please put this guy out to pasture and let him talk to himself about the terrible, power-hungry conservatives? Seriously, as a young person under 30, I can’t stand people like this.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Ann F-R #49

    I haven’t heard of the phrase Analytic Eclecticism, but from what I read through a Google search, I resonate with it.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    Wow, Scot, you’ve found the best example of a strawman argument I’ve seen in a looong time.

  • matt

    I think a big problem in these debates is the fact that words mean different things to different people.

    What a conservative is imagining in their mind when they use a phrase like “personal responsibility”, isn’t what a liberal is imagining in their mind when they hear it, and so on. So it’s as if our debates are futile from the beginning, as both sides in a weird way end up arguing against their own misconceptions rather than the actual beliefs of the person they’re debating.

    Things get especially muddled when “spokespeople” for the parties/ideologies appear to in fact reinforce these mistaken impressions. This, I think, is a particular problem for the right.

    It’s interesting that this is being discussed on a Christian blog, since Christians, left, right and center, have this exact problem of perception vs reality, even the maddening aspect of our “spokespeople” reinforcing the negative perception.

    As a side note, there’s also the awkward truth that most of us don’t even really know what we’re talking about, heh. In all seriousness though, what does it mean to debate (and passionately!) something like the health care bill, when the majority of people (myself included) don’t even really understand it, at least in any way that’s meaningful? There’s something very odd, disconcerting even, about that, especially considering how politics can ruin friendships, divide families and polarize a country.

  • http://www.gordonhackman.blogspot.com Gordon Hackman

    Ann F-R #49 — I agree and I try not to do the monolithic face caricature thing to people who have different views than me. It’s something I have to work at and remind myself of. My relationships with other people who don’t share my views are the biggest reminder that it’s something I need to do. I think that’s why I can’t help but wonder if Lakoff has any really significant relationships with people like that.

    matt #55 — “As a side note, there’s also the awkward truth that most of us don’t even really know what we’re talking about, heh. In all seriousness though, what does it mean to debate (and passionately!) something like the health care bill, when the majority of people (myself included) don’t even really understand it, at least in any way that’s meaningful?”

    I get this totally. I often feel the same way. So many of the specific issues that are hotly debated in our society really do seem to be beyond the easy understanding of ordinary people. We are at the mercy of experts, pundits, journalists, etc to explain things to us and so many of them seem to have some spin or other on the issues that it is hard to know who you can trust. That’s one of the reasons I generally dislike politics and try not to allow my political views to shape my life too much.

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    Read an excerpt of Lakoff Moral Politics here.

    Conservatives like to make fun of liberals, claiming that liberals just don’t speak their language. Again, the conservatives are right. There is a language of conservatism, and it’s not just words. The words are familiar enough, but not what they mean. For example, “big government” does not just refer to the size of government or the amount spent by it. One can see the misunderstanding when liberals try to reason with conservatives by pointing out that increasing the amount spent on the military and prisons increases “big government ” Conservatives laugh. The liberals have just misused the term. I have heard a conservative talk of “freedom” and a liberal attempt a rebuttal by pointing out that denying a woman access to abortion limits her “freedom” to choose. Again, the liberal has used a word that has a different meaning in the conservative lexicon.

  • be

    I don’t know about conservatives generally, but this describes the political culture of the patriarchal Republican Christianity in which I raised. I wouldn’t call it a caricature – it’s spot on, even word for word, aside from the analysis/commentary.


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