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Whose Freedom?

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Whose Freedom?

The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Conservatives and progressives are battling to define 'freedom.' Who should win? You're free to choose – for now.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


This is an impassioned, partisan essay about the definition of the word "freedom" from the perspective of a cognitive scientist and political liberal. George Lakoff's book starts as an interesting, thought-provoking argument that uses scientific insights to deconstruct the conservative position. In the end, however, he does not explain how today's raging debates will change American political discourse. His enumeration of the differences between progressives (liberals) and conservatives becomes tedious at times, since it's clear which side he takes. He addresses the book to progressives like himself - basically preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, getAbstract recommends this intelligent discussion to people across the political spectrum and, in particular, to communication professionals who wish to examine how the medium shapes the message - even on a neurological level.


Freedom's Not Just Another Word

Words are powerful, particularly a word such as "freedom," whose strong emotional and ideological connotations can motivate people to act. A battle over the definition of this word is now taking place between two political ideologies in the U.S. The progressives embrace a concept of freedom that has roots in the early days of the republic, but that takes into account the way society, and thus the idea of freedom itself, has evolved over time. The conservatives wish to pull the definition of freedom back to one they believe the framers of the Constitution - a document they interpret quite literally - would recognize.

Throughout U.S. history, forward-thinking activists and politicians have worked to insure that people at every level of society have access to basic needs such as employment, education and health care. Such progressives find an ideological and legal basis for their program in the Constitution - interpreted flexibly.

Conservatives have recently begun to push back against the progressives' expansion of freedom in areas such as voting rights, public education, media, public health and workers' rights. They are shaping ...

About the Author

George Lakoff is a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Don't Think of an Elephant!; Moral Politics; Women, Fire and Dangerous Things and Metaphors We Live By (with Mark Johnson).

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