Synopses & Reviews
Since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has relentlessly invoked the word freedom. The United States can strike preemptively because freedom is on the march. Social security should be privatized in order to protect individual freedoms. In the 2005 presidential inaugural speech, the words freedom, free, and liberty were used forty-nine times. Freedom is one of the most contested words in American political discourse, the keystone to the domestic and foreign policy battles that are racking this polarized nation. For many Democrats, it seems that President Bush's use of the word is meaningless and contradictory deployed opportunistically to justify American military action abroad and the curtailing of civil liberties at home. But in Whose Freedom?, George Lakoff, an adviser to the Democratic party, shows that in fact the right has effected a devastatingly coherent and ideological redefinition of freedom. 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. In a deep and alarming analysis, Lakoff explains the mechanisms behind this hijacking of our most cherished political idea and shows how progressives have not only failed to counter the right-wing attack on freedom but have failed to recognize its nature. Whose Freedom? argues forcefully what progressives must do to take back ground in this high-stakes war over the most central idea in American life.
"The strength of Whose Freedom? is that it attributes the left's current foundering not just to a failure of strategy but to a failure of self-knowledge...this makes a lot of sense, and it's easy to start imagining ways that pressing issues could be recast according to Lakoff's formula." Laura Miller, Salon.com
"One of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement." Howard Dean
"Because freedom has always been a progressive concept, it is time for progressives to reclaim the word and its meaning in today's context. Mr. Lakoff shows us how." Former Senator Tom Daschle
"There is much to admire in Lakoff's work in linguistics, but Whose Freedom?
, and more generally his thinking about politics, is a train wreck. Though it contains messianic claims about everything from epistemology to political tactics, the book has no footnotes or references (just a generic reading list), and cites no studies from political science or economics, and barely mentions linguistics....And Lakoff's cartoonish depiction of progressives as saintly sophisticates and conservatives as evil morons fails on both intellectual and tactical grounds." Steven Pinker, The New Republic
(read the entire New Republic review)
(Read George Lakoff's reponse to Steven Pinker's review, reprinted here with the kind permission of the New Republic Online)
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.
About the Author
George Lakoff, recently featured in The New York Times Magazine, is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a founding senior fellow of the Rockridge Institute, a center for research devoted to promoting progressive ideas. He is the author of the influential Don’t Think of an Elephant! and Moral Politics, as well as seminal books on linguistics, including Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things and Metaphors We Live By (with Mark Johnson). He lives in Berkeley, California.
Reading Group Guide
1. How did you define freedom before reading Whose Freedom? Did you consider your definition to be progressive? Were you surprised to discover that the progressive definition is also the more traditional one, as George Lakoff maintains in the books opening pages?
2. What “frames” or cultural influences have shaped your political opinions throughout your life? In an enlightened society marked by considerable scientific discovery, why do frames still trump facts in shaping opinions?
3. In what way can the contested nature of language be an advantage for progressives?
4. Using Chapter 2 as a reference point, identify the folk theories that prevail in your community. Which folk theories have been the most difficult for you to reject?
5. Applying the authors logic of simple freedom, which cornerstones of freedom seem to be most in jeopardy today? How would you counter an argument that said equality and fairness are not inextricably linked to the definition of freedom?
6. Which aspects of freedom are currently not being contested in America?
7. Lakoff argues that the nation is understood metaphorically as a family, and that there are two very different models of parenting that reflect two opposing worldviews. Which model shapes your political views? Why has the authoritarian, paternalistic strict father model been allowed to flourish in so many cultures throughout history?
8. Which of the subgroups described in Chapters 5 and 6 (socioeconomic progressives, identity-politics progressives, environmental progressives, civil liberties progressives, spiritual progressives, antiauthoritarian progressives, idealists, pragmatists, militants, financial conservatives, libertarians, social conservatives, fundamentalists, and neoconservatives) do you predict will prevail in future American political structures?
9. In Chapter 7, “Causation and Freedom,” Lakoff begins with the observation that “the progressives argue on the basis of systemic causation (within a social, ecological, or economic system) and the conservatives argue on the basis of direct causation (by a single individual).” He goes on to explain the ways in which our understanding of causation can have profound effects on public policy. In what way does it empower us to be aware of the two models of causation?
10. How should “free” be defined in the notion of free markets? Do free markets undermine democratic freedom? Were the premises of the economic liberty myth, outlined in Chapter 9, readily believed by the American public?
11. In your opinion, is it right that American corporations in many ways act like governments, as discussed in Chapter 9? Should corporations be entitled to the same freedoms and liberties as an individual citizen?
12. How has religious rhetoric shaped American perceptions of freedom in recent years? How does the rhetoric of progressive Christianity differ from that of fundamentalist Christianity? What would the American political landscape look like without the influence of religion?
13. Based on what you read in Chapter 11, what seems to be the ultimate goal of George W. Bushs foreign policy? How did framing help him persuade Congress (and a substantial number of voters) to back many of these policies? Who has been liberated by his initiatives? Have Bushs policies been effective at spreading freedom abroad? What kind of freedom?
14. What fallacies can you identify in the radical conservative definition of freedom and liberty? To whom are those arguments appealing? How are these groups able to downplay FDRs goals of freedom from want and fear?
15. What would it take to enact the calls to action that form the closing paragraphs of Chapter 11?
16. How was 9/11 framed in terms of freedom? What were the consequences, in domestic and foreign policy, of this framing?
17. Is it possible to create a truly inclusive freedom—one in which the answer to “Whose freedom?” is “Everyones”?
18. What does the authors closing anecdote (regarding the use of MRIs in examining partisan thinking) say about the future of political rhetoric? Where does the greatest hope for reframing freedom lie? In the media? Universities? Popular culture?