When progressives argue in favor of the peace dividend, they often
make the mistake of assuming that rational arguments are sufficient
to convince people that with the Cold War over we no longer need
a defense budget three times bigger than the combined total of our
foes. Conservatives view the huge U.S. military presence as a necessity
and viscerally oppose any reduction in it. What accounts for this?
Obviously the massive PR effort generated by the military-industrial
complex plays its part. But that doesn't account for the Pavlovian
response that grips conservatives whenever the peace dividend is
Politics: What Conservatives Know That Liberals Don't (University
of Chicago Press, 1996) Professor George Lakoff of the University
of California, Berkeley posits that conservatives and progressives
fundamentally differ because their worldviews stem from two distinct
views of the family. He describes these as the "strict father" model
and the "nurturant parent" model.
The strict father model exists within the framework of the traditional
patriarchal family, where the father sets the rules and enforces
them and the mother takes care of the children and is subservient
to the father. Children live within a system of "tough love," military-style
discipline. "Self-discipline, self-reliance, and respect for legitimate
authority are the crucial things that children must learn," Lakoff
When children mature, they internalize the father's rules and discipline--and
become conservative. They see the world as a dangerous place in
which survival requires military-like discipline and guns. The armed
forces are charged with protecting the nation––with the president
as the symbolic commander-in-chief and "father of the country"––and
maintaining the capacity to use overwhelming force as a deterrent
to hostile foreigners. It follows from this worldview that peace
is an external state that cannot be achieved without a massive U.S.
military; thus, we have no choice but to become the world's police
The nurturant parent model is fundamentally different. The system
is not based on rules and discipline, but created around a framework
of "love, empathy, and nurturance." The parents are equal partners.
"The obedience of children comes out of their love and respect for
their parents and their community,"Lakoff writes. Maturity comes
from developing a positive self-image.
Lakoff believes that progressives grow up within egalitarian families
governed by the nurturant parent model. From this perspective the
world is not a jungle. While a military presence is needed, that
military does not have to be capable of overwhelming force. It does
not need a massive nuclear arsenal or the capacity to fight two
wars at once. Indeed, the United States can and should form supportive
alliances with other nations.
This worldview envisions a society where people are interdependent
(and not inherently competitive). Foreigners are not seen as absolutely
different. They also want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
From this perspective, peace has more to do with emotional maturity
and self-confidence than it does guns and police––there can be peace
without a massive U.S. military presence.
Lakoff's argument that conservatives and progressives are fundamentally
different suggests that facts and rational arguments will not decide
the peace-dividend debate. For conservatives the military will never
be strong enough. Plus conservatives are very suspicious of many
of the programs that would be funded by the peace dividend, i.e.,
the social safety net.
To make the argument for the peace dividend, we must bridge this
cultural divide. My next column will suggest some ways to accomplish
this. As always, I welcome your feedback (firstname.lastname@example.org).