6    It is further assumed that the only way to teach kids obedience—that is, right from wrong—is through punishment, painful punishment, when they do wrong. This includes hitting them, and some authors on conservative child rearing recommend sticks, belts, and wooden paddles on the bare bottom. Some authors suggest this start at birth, but Dobson was more liberal. “There is no excuse for spanking babies younger than fifteen or eighteen months of age” (Dobson, The New Dare to Discipline, 65).

·        The rationale behind physical punishment is this: When children do something wrong, if they are physically disciplined, they learn not to do it again. That means that they will develop internal discipline to keep themselves from doing wrong, so that in the future they will be obedient and act morally.

·        Without such punishment, the world will go to hell. There will be no morality. Such internal discipline has a secondary effect. It is what is required for success in the difficult, competitive world.

7.    That is, if people are disciplined and pursue their self-interest in this land of opportunity, they will become prosperous and self-reliant. Thus, the strict father model links morality with prosperity.

8.   The same discipline you need to be moral is what allows you to prosper. The link is individual responsibility and the pursuit of self-interest. Given opportunity, individual responsibility, and discipline, pursuing your self-interest should enable you to prosper.

9.   Dobson was very clear about the connection between the strict father worldview and free market capitalism. The link is the morality of self-interest, which is the conservative version of Adam Smith’s view of capitalism. Adam Smith said that if everyone pursues their own profit, then the profit of all will be maximized by the invisible hand—that is, by nature—just naturally. Go about pursuing your own profit, and you are helping everyone. This is linked to a general metaphor that views well-being as wealth. For example, if I do you a favor, you say, “I owe you one,” or “I’m in your debt.” Doing something good for someone is metaphorically like giving him money. He “owes” you something. And he says, “How can I ever repay you?” Apply this metaphor to

·        Adam Smith’s “law of nature”: If everyone pursues her own self-interest, then by the invisible hand, by nature, the self-interest of all will be maximized. it is moral to pursue your self-interest, and there is a name for those people who do not do it. The name is do-gooder. (A do-gooder is someone who is trying to help someone else rather than herself and is getting in the way of those who are pursuing their self-interest. Do-gooders screw up the system).

·        In this model there is also a definition of what it means to become a good person. A good person—a moral person—is someone who is disciplined enough to be obedient to legitimate authority, to learn what is right, to do what is right and not do what is wrong, and to pursue her self-interest to prosper and become self-reliant. A good child grows up to be like that. A bad child is one who does not learn discipline, does not function morally, does not do what is right, and therefore is not disciplined enough to become prosperous. She cannot take care of herself and thus becomes dependent.

·        When the good children are mature, they either have learned discipline and can prosper, or have failed to learn it.

·         From this point on the strict father is not to meddle in their lives.

·        This translates politically into no government meddling.

·        Consider what all this means for social programs:

-It is immoral to give people things they have not earned, because then they will not develop discipline and will become both dependent and immoral.

-This theory says that social programs are immoral because they make people dependent.

Promoting social programs is immoral.

-And what does this say about budgets?

10.  Well, if there are a lot of progressives in Congress who think that there should be social programs, and if you believe that social programs are immoral, how do you stop these immoral people?

·        In the strict father frame, it is quite simple. What you have to do is reward the good people—the ones whose prosperity reveals their discipline and hence their capacity for morality—with a tax cut, and make it big enough so that there is not enough money left for social programs. As Grover Norquist says, it “starves the beast.

·        No. They are not against the military; they are not against homeland security; they are not against tax cuts, loopholes, and subsidies for corporations; they are not against the conservative Supreme Court. There are many aspects of government that they like very much. Subsidies for corporations, which reward the good people—the investors in those corporations—are great. No problem there. But they are against nurturance and care. They are against social programs that take care of people—early childhood education, Medicaid for the poor, raising the minimum wage, unemployment insurance. That is what they see as wrong. That is what they are trying to eliminate on moral grounds. That is why they are not merely a bunch of crazies or mean and greedy—or stupid—people, as many liberals believe. What is even scarier is that conservatives are acting on principle, on what they believe is moral. And they have supporters around the country. People who have strict father morality and who apply it to politics are going to believe that this is the right way to govern.


10.  Think for a minute about what this says about foreign policy. Suppose you are a moral authority. As a moral authority, how do you deal with your children? Do you ask them what they should do or what you should do?   No. You tell them. What the father says, the child does. No back talk. Communication is one-way. It is the same with foreign policy.   That is, the president does not engage in diplomacy or ask the help of allies; the president tells. If you are a moral authority, you know what is right, you have power, and you use it. You would be immoral yourself if you abandoned your moral authority. Map this onto foreign policy, and it says that you cannot give up sovereignty. The United States, being the best and most powerful country in the world—a moral authority—should not be asking anybody else what to do. We should be using our military power. This belief comes together with a set of metaphors that have run foreign policy for a long time.

There is a common metaphor learned in graduate school classes on international relations. It is called the rational actor metaphor. It is the basis of classical “realist” international relations theory, and in turn it assumes another metaphor: that every nation is a person. Therefore there are “rogue states,” there are “friendly nations,” and so on.

· And there is a national interest. What does it mean, in this worldview, to act in your self-interest? In the most basic sense it means that you act in ways that will help you be healthy and strong. In the same way, by the metaphor that a nation is a person, it is good for a nation to be healthy (that is, economically healthy—defined as having a large GDP) and strong (that is, militarily strong).

11· It is not necessary that all the individuals in the country be healthy, but the companies should be, and the country as a whole should have a lot of money. That is the idea. The question is: How do you maximize your self-interest? That is what foreign policy is about: maximizing self-interest—not working for the interest of all. The rational actor metaphor says that every actor, every person, is rational, and that it is irrational to act against your self-interest. Therefore it is rational for every person to act to maximize self-interest.

12. Then by the further metaphor that nations are persons (“friendly nations,” “rogue states,” “enemy nations,” and so on), there are adult nations and child nations,

 where adulthood is industrialization. The child nations are called “developing” nations or “underdeveloped” states. Those, again in this view, are the backward ones. And what should we do? If you are a strict father, you tell the children how to develop, tell them what rules they should follow, and punish them when they do wrong. That is, you operate using, say, the policies of the International Monetary Fund. And who is in the United Nations? Most of the United Nations consists of developing and underdeveloped countries. That means they are metaphorical children. Now let’s go back to the State of the Union address. Should the United States have consulted the United Nations and gotten its permission to invade Iraq? An adult does not “ask for a permission slip”! The phrase itself, permission slip, puts you back in grammar school or high school, where you need a permission slip from an adult to go to the bathroom. You do not need to ask for a permission slip if you are the teacher, if you are the principal, if you are the person in power, the moral authority. The others should be asking you for permission. That is what the permission slip phrase in the 2004 State of the Union address was about. Every conservative in the audience got it. They got it right away. This is what is done regularly by the conservatives.

13. The conservative view of the moral hierarchy. As we have seen, the rich and those who can take care of themselves are considered more moral than the poor and those who need help. But moral superiority on a wider scope is central to conservative thought. The basic idea is that those who are more moral should rule. How do you know who is more moral? Well, in a well-ordered world (ordered by God), the moral have come out on top. Here is the hierarchy: God above man; man above nature; adults above children; Western culture above non-Western culture; our country above other countries. These are general conservative values. But the hierarchy goes on, and it explains the oppressive views of more radical conservatives: men above women, Christians above non-Christians, whites above nonwhites, straights above gays. Thus, disobedient children in southern states can be “paddled” in school with sticks by teachers; women seeking abortions must undergo embarrassing medical procedures, and notification of husbands and fathers; African Americans and Hispanics have voting rights taken away; legislation against gay marriage is passed by conservative legislatures. In short, the moral hierarchy is an implicit part of the culture wars.




God:  Many conservatives start with a view of God that makes conservative ideology seem both natural and good. God is the ultimate strict father—all good and all powerful, at the top of a natural hierarchy in which morality is linked with power. God wants good people to be in charge. Virtue is to be rewarded—with power. God therefore wants a hierarchical society in which there are moral authorities who should be obeyed in each domain: individual power, global power, financial power, social power. God makes laws—commandments—defining right and wrong. One must have discipline to follow God’s commandments. God is punitive: He punishes those who do not follow his commandments, and rewards those who do. Following God’s laws takes discipline. Those who are disciplined enough to be moral are disciplined enough to become prosperous and powerful. Christ, as savior, gives sinners a second chance—a chance to be born again and be obedient to God’s commandments this time around.


The moral order. Traditional power relations are taken as defining a natural moral order: God above man, man above nature, adults above children, Western culture above non-Western culture, America above other nations. The moral order is all too often extended to men above women, whites above nonwhites, Christians above non-Christians, straights above gays.


 Morality. Preserving and extending the conservative moral system (strict father morality) is the highest priority. Morality comes in the form of rules, or commandments, made by a moral authority. To be moral is to be obedient to that authority. It requires internal discipline to control one’s natural desires and instead follow a moral authority. What that authority is depends on your domain of interest: the individual, governing institutions—both public and private, Wall Street, conservative society. Discipline is learned in childhood primarily through punishment for wrongdoing. Morality can be maintained only through a system of rewards and punishments.


 Economics. Competition for scarce resources also imposes discipline, and hence serves morality. The discipline required to be moral is the same discipline required to win competitions and prosper. The wealthy people tend to be the good people, a natural elite. The poor remain poor because they lack the discipline needed to prosper. The poor, therefore, deserve to be poor and serve the wealthy. The wealthy need and deserve poor people to serve them. The vast and increasing gap between rich and poor is thus seen to be both natural and good. To the extent that markets are “free,” they are a mechanism for the disciplined (stereotypically good) people to use their discipline to accumulate wealth. Free markets are moral: If everyone pursues his own profit, the profit of all will be maximized. Competition is good; it produces optimal use of resources and disciplined people, and hence serves morality. Regulation is bad; it gets in the way of the free pursuit of profit. Wealthy people serve society by investing and giving jobs to poorer people. Such a division of wealth ultimately serves the public good, which is to reward the disciplined and let the undisciplined be forced to learn discipline or struggle.


Government.  Social programs are immoral. By giving people things they haven’t earned, social programs remove the incentive to be disciplined, which is necessary for both morality and prosperity. Social programs should be eliminated. Anything that could be done by the private sphere should be. Government does have certain proper roles: to protect the lives and the private property of Americans, to make profit-seeking as easy as possible for worthy Americans (the disciplined ones), and to promote conservative morality (strict father morality), along with conservative social culture and religion.


Education. Since preserving and extending conservative morality is the highest goal, education should serve that goal. Schools should teach conservative values. Conservatives should gain control of school boards to guarantee this. Teachers should be strict, not nurturant, in the example they set for students and in the content they teach. Education should therefore promote discipline, and undisciplined students should face punishment. Unruly students should face physical punishment (for instance, paddling), and intellectually undisciplined students should not be coddled but should be shamed and punished by not being promoted. Uniform testing should test the level of discipline. There are right and wrong answers, and they should be tested for. Testing defines fairness: Those who pass are rewarded; those not disciplined enough to pass are punished. Because immoral, undisciplined children can lead moral, disciplined children astray, parents should be able to choose to which schools they send their children. Government funding should be taken from public schools and given to parents in the form of vouchers. This will help wealthier (more disciplined and moral) citizens send their children to private or religious schools that teach conservative values and impose appropriate discipline. The vouchers given to poorer (less disciplined and less worthy) people will not be sufficient to allow them to get their children into the better private and religious schools. Schools will thus come to reflect the natural divisions of wealth in society. Of course, students who show exceptional discipline and talent should be given scholarships to the better schools. This will help maintain the social elite as a natural elite.


Health care.  It is the responsibility of parents to take care of their children. To the extent that they cannot, they are not living up to their individual responsibility. No one has the responsibility of doing other people’s jobs for them. Thus prenatal care, postnatal care, health care for children, and care for the aged and infirm are matters of individual responsibility. They are not the responsibility of taxpayers. Same-sex marriage and abortion. Same-sex marriage does not fit the strict father model of the family; it goes squarely against it. A lesbian marriage has no father. A gay marriage has “fathers” who are taken to be less than real men. Since preserving and extending the strict father model is the highest moral value for conservatives, same-sex marriage constitutes an attack on the conservative value system as a whole, and on those whose very identity depends on their having strict father values. Abortion works similarly. There are two stereotypical cases where women need abortions: unmarried teenagers who have been having “illicit” sex, and older women who want to delay child rearing to pursue a career. Both of these fly in the face of the strict father model. Pregnant teenagers have violated the commandments of the strict father. Career women challenge the power and authority of the strict father. Both should be punished by bearing the child; neither should be able to avoid the consequences of their actions, which would violate the strict father model’s idea that morality depends on punishment. Since conservative values in general are versions of strict father values, abortion stands as a threat to conservative values and to one’s identity as a conservative. Conservatives who are “pro-life” are mostly, as we have seen, against prenatal care, postnatal care, and health care for children, all of which have major causal effects on the life of a child. Thus they are not really pro-life in any broad sense. Conservatives for the most part are using the idea of terminating a pregnancy as part of a cultural-war strategy to gain and maintain political power. Both same-sex marriage and abortion are stand-ins for the general strict father values that define for millions of people their identities as conservatives. That is the reason why these are such hot-button issues for conservatives. To understand this is not to ignore the real pain and difficulty involved in decisions made by individual women to terminate a pregnancy. For those truly concerned with the lives and health of children, the decision to end a pregnancy for whatever reason is always painful and anything but simple. It is this pain that conservatives are exploiting when they use ending pregnancy as a wedge issue in the cultural civil war they have been promoting. There are also those who are genuinely pro-life, who believe that life begins with conception, that life is the ultimate value, and who therefore support prenatal care, postnatal care, health insurance for poor children, and early childhood education, and who oppose the death penalty, war, and so on. They also recognize that any woman choosing to end a pregnancy is making a painful decision, and empathize with such women and treat them without a negative judgment. These are pro-life progressives—often liberal Catholics. They are not conservatives who use the question of ending pregnancy as a political wedge to gain support for a broader moral and political agenda.


Nature.  God has given man dominion over nature. Nature is a resource for prosperity. It is there to be used for human profit.


Corporations. Corporations exist to provide people with goods and services, and to maximize profits for investors and upper management. They work most “efficiently” when they do maximize their profits. When corporations profit, society profits.


Regulation. Government regulation stands in the way of free enterprise, and should be minimized.


Rights. Rights must be consistent with morality. Strict father morality defines the limits of what  is to count as a “right.” Thus there is no right to an abortion, no right to same-sex marriage, no right to health care (or any other government assistance), no right to know how the administration decides policy, no right to a living wage, and so on. However, there is a right to owning guns—especially conservatives owning guns—since guns provide a form of authority to those who possess them.


Democracy.  A strict father democracy is an institutional democracy operating under strict father values. It counts as a democracy in that it has elections, a tripartite government, civilian control of the military, free markets, basic civil liberties, and widely accessible media. But strict father values are seen as central to democracy—to the empowerment of individuals to change their lives and their society by pursuing their individual interests.

 Foreign policy.  America is the world’s moral authority. It is a superpower because it deserves to be. Its values—the right values—are defined by strict father morality. If there is to be a moral order in the world, American sovereignty, wealth, power, and hegemony must be maintained and American values—conservative family values, the free market, privatization, elimination of social programs, domination of man over nature, and so on—spread throughout the world.


The culture war.  Strict father morality defines what a good society is. The very idea of a conservatively defined good society is threatened by liberal and progressive ideas and programs. That threat must be fought at all costs. The very fabric of society is at stake.


Lakoff, George. The ALL NEW Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

Other books related to this topic

Mooney, Chris. The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality. Turner Publishing Company. 

Westen, Drew. The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation . PublicAffairs. 

Payne, Keith. The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die (p. v). Penguin Publishing Group.


 Lakoff, George. The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic . Free Press. 

Lakoff, George. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Third Edition . University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.