The State as Parent

Evidence for Lakoff's hypothesis from Liberia:

“I voted for George Weah, but I accept Ellen because she is our Ma and is going take care of us,” said Benedict Newon, 19, a former child soldier. He first hoisted a weapon for the warlord Charles Taylor when he was 10, though he later switched allegiance to another rebel group.
“I never carry gun again,” Mr. Newon said, gesturing at his 8-month-old son and his pregnant wife, Fatou. “I have a future now. I got to protect it. I got to be patient with Ma Ellen.”
That notion of president as mater familias may seem new, but in Liberia politics has always been paternalistic – fighters for Mr. Taylor called him their “Papay.”

Here's a dissertation topic for an enterprising political scientist. I conjecture there is a connection between the strength of the “state as parent” structuring metaphor, strong executives, tryanny, and war.
Take it further: Part of civilizing (quite literally) our minds is weakening the strength of this metaphor. The fact that classical liberalism—based on the metaphor of the merchant/consumer relationship—cannot be fitted into the Lakovian schema is evidence of its of its psychological foreignness, but moral superiority.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center