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Whose Freedom?: The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea Hardcover – June 27, 2006

3.8 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.


"George Lakoff has made pathbreaking contributions to cognitive science. In Whose Freedom? he uses several of his discoveries and much wisdom to produce a systematic analysis of contemporary society and political thinking. The result is illuminating." —Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error, The Feeling of What Happens, and Looking for Spinoza
"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, Professor of Public Policy at University California at Berkeley and former U.S. Secretary of Labor

"Few words evoke more emotion or debate in this country than the word, freedom. Our founding fathers intended for it to be that way. And ever since, progressive political leaders have attempted to interpret and employ the concept of freedom and its relevance to American public policy debates. Arguably, President Franklin Roosevelt described it most eloquently and succinctly in his "Four Freedoms" of speech and worship and from want and fear.
George Lakoff's new book is as enjoyable to read as it is important to understand. It comes at a critical time for our country. 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

“One of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement.”                                                              —Howard Dean

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (June 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374158282
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374158286
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,452,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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