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The Three Languages of Politics

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  531 ratings  ·  81 reviews
Progressives, conservatives, and libertarians use different languages to justify their beliefs. This increases polarization. This book enables readers to better understand different points of view.
Kindle Edition
Published April 12th 2013 by Amazon Digital Services, Inc. (first published 2013)
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3.92  · 
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 ·  531 ratings  ·  81 reviews

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May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very short book, available only for Kindle format I think. Describes the differences in the language used by progressives, conservatives, and libertarians and why they have such a hard time communicating with each other.

Nothing terrifically deep or complex, but he references a lot of other writers I like, like Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow) and Haidt (The Righteous Mind).

And I guess what I really like is that while the author is libertarian I think he is scrupulously fair to other viewpoints
Aaron Arnold
Apr 20, 2013 rated it liked it
One of the moments in grad school that I've come back to repeatedly is the day where we talked about hierarchies of needs and different models to explain them. Maslow and all that. The fact that there were multiple pseudo-rigorous ways to say that food and shelter were more basic and necessary than emotional validation or high self-esteem fascinated me, and to this day whenever I see a system that tries to explain some psychological or social phenomenon by using geometrical metaphors I get remin ...more
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Anyone who thinks that progressives, conservatives, or libertarians are ignorant or evil should read this. Kling outlines how progressives operate on an oppressor-oppressed heuristic, conservatives on a civilization-barbarism heuristic, and libertarians on a liberty-coercion heuristic.

These heuristics have a place, but all involve "fast" thinking (to use Daniel Kahneman's term), ensuring that we'll never get the full picture so long as we stay within the language of our own tribe. By recognizin
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
What's great about this book is that it paves the way for civil, thoughtful political discussion. Kling asserts there are three major political languages in contemporary America (conservative, progressive, and libertarian), and that no single language is sufficient for solving all the problems we face in every situation.

Kling says that each of these languages prioritizes different ideals:

1. Conservatives are primarily concerned with maintaining order and fending off barbarism.
2. Progressives ar
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This might be the most important book I've read so far this year. Kling discusses the political differences between conservatives, liberals, and libertarians. Because these groups have different priorities, we often assume that if they reject what we stand for, they are in favor of the opposite of our priorities. So if a conservative prioritizes order and rule of law, he assumes that someone who opposes his position is against the rule of law. If a liberal prioritizes standing up for the oppress ...more
Francisco Nogueira
A small book about a big topic that is affecting western cultures. Proposes a very interesting metaphor about language and how people, in political discourse, speak in a specific language most aligned to their political beliefs (progressive, conservative and libertarian). Most interesting is that the book doesn’t try to convince anyone to switch sides or provoke a fight about specific issues. The author doesn’t argue the virtues of his position but, instead, challenges the reader to consider the ...more
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very short book and practical in our age of social media argumentation and vilification. Extra points because it's not just a progressives - conservatives dichotomy, but libertarians are given equal attention.
Jun 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, nonfiction
This is an excellent book that looks at how people with different political views weigh different explanations.

Kling divides people interested in politics into Progressives, who look at the world in terms of oppressors and the oppressed, Conservatives who see the world as being divided between barbarism and Libertarians who see the world as being either free or forced.

While Kling's division of where people stand may not apply everywhere his arguments about closely examining things that support
Feb 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

While short, the author's message about viewing opposing political sides charitably and disentangling oneself from one's own biases and heuristics ought to be required reading in our hyper partisan age.
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short but important book (I read it in just over an hour) that explores why we so often seem to talk politics past each other rather than with each other these days.

First published in 2013 and revised in 2017, Arnold Kling focuses on the contemporary American political environment, noting three broad "tribes" of political identity and thought: progressive, conservative, and libertarian. Each tribe, he observes, uses a particular "language" along a particular "axis" of morality that serves, in
Aug 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
The core idea is sound:

According to the author, there are three separate buckets of political thinking in the USA: a libertarian bucket, a progressive bucket and a conservative bucket. For each bucket, there is a corresponding axis along which we evaluate political ideas. For example, a libertarian will evaluate an idea based on whether it increases or reduces freedom; a conservative will evaluate the same idea based on whether it conserves or imperils some important aspect of civilization; and
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this short book (essay really), Kling presents a structure to help you understand the nature of political discussions. We are always talking past each other, misunderstanding and misconstruing each other. Kling shows us that this is because we are in many ways speaking different languages. Kling calls these axes: Conservatives tend to speak in a barbarian/civilization axis; Progressives in a oppressor/oppressed axis, and Libertarians in a coercion/liberty axis. These axis tend to frame the wa ...more
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: work
In The Three Languages of Politics, MIT-educated libertarian Dr. Kling observes that Americans are becoming more and more polarized politically and socially, and that demonization of those who disagree is common. Rather than talking with each other, we are talking past each other. We do this because our primary concerns are often certainty, proving our role in our own political tribe, and downplaying the legitimacy of other positions. We are closing minds instead of opening them.

Kling argues th
Philo Phineas Frederiksen

This is an interesting, but atypical passage:
Libertarians also look at government as the ultimate source of the problem. Libertarian economics is closely aligned with the Austrian school, and Austrian economists view central banks as the Dennis the Menace of capital markets, distorting interest rates and causing bubbles. Again, there is some plausibility to this, because housing prices did experience a bubble. However, there are problems with blaming this on Fed interest-rate policy,
Barbara Heerman
Jul 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
That politicians are working to strengthen their base and "speak" to their base in a language that they understand, is not a surprising conclusion. He is also correct that emotions about politics seem to divide us more now than they have in the past. On the other hand, I think that Watergate also divided the nation and that President's Ford pardon of former President Nixon did not resolve that divide.

There is a brief section that suggests the divide between Trump and non-Trump supporters is bas
Chris Cangiano
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, philosophy
This short book contains some very important thinking on the way we use language in a heuristic way to separate ourselves into political tribes to seek out the approval of our selected tribe. Kling identifies three dominant modes of political tribes (progressives, conservatives and libertarians) and then identifies three axes which he posits the groups respectively use to perceive and to communicate about events (respectively the oppressor-oppressed axis, the civilization-barbarian axis and the ...more
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a very short book written by a Libertarian Economist who wants to improve communication among the factions in US politics. His thesis is simple - Progressives, Conservatives and Libertarians start with a different set of assumptions and then use those lenses evaluate arguments based on those differing heuristics. For the Conservatives - political life is about a conflict between protecting civilization and barbarism. For the Progressive the model shifts to a conflict between the oppresse ...more
Kevin Halloran
Dec 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
This short read was enlightening and helped me understand core differences between conservatives, liberals, and libertarians. Here is a key quote:

"What I am suggesting here is that we treat differing ideologies as if they were languages to be understood rather than heresies to be stamped out. Perhaps your ultimate goal is to win people over to your ideology. But to use an oft-quoted phrase from Stephen Covey’s best-selling 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to unders
Matthew Gagnon
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: political
A really quick read, with an important and thoughtful message about political discourse, and the basis of tribalism within that discourse. Language is very important, as is our reaction to that language, as the author makes clear.

My only real complaint with the book is that I think it stretched the material a bit thin. This was perhaps enough content for a thoughtful essay or a great academic lecture, but the content felt a bit stretched at times.

I actually think it could be a great deal longer
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very very short, not wildly innovative, but extremely clearly written book on three of the strongest sets of languages used in American politics -- Libertarian (like the author), Conservative (like most of the author's friends), and Progressive (like most of the author's university students). While the book isn't ingenious or ground breaking, it is absolutely worth reading -- it expresses precepts of all three philosophies in ways that would pass what Kling calls the "ideological turning test", ...more
Anthony Locke
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is short and punchy. The writing quality is okay (it reads like a series of blogposts of varying lengths), but the ideas are better. He provides a mental model to help readers think through a rival position's perspective depending on where you land in the progressive, conservative, and libertarian spectrum. He helpfully highlights different motivations that individuals have to signal to their tribe that they are orthodox. While this is a book on politics, my mind could not help but thi ...more
Lori Hardy
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Should Be Required Reading

Dr. Kling eloquently describes why most politically inclined folks fall prey to the fast thinking that more often than not comes from our polarized media. Only with slow thinking can we start to make progress in some of the most troublesome issues that malign our society. If we avoid the talking head noise and the bluster of those entrenched in their chosen tribe, we can start to see a reasoned reality from which understanding and progress take root.
Derek Douglas
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Great summary of the three main political axes (or tribes) most Americans belong to and the reasons why arguing with one another is pointless.

This book will help me as I very much so will resort to straw man arguments and think the opposition is just morally wrong. That really isn't the case at all; most people are stuck in their tribe and have a difficult way seeing an argument from a different angle.

This book won't change you tribe, but it will open you mind to understand where in the argument
Brittany Barnes Deeg
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A balanced and accessible approach for explaining ideological differences between progressive, conservative, and liberal politics. Kling acknowledges throughout the text that he is dealing in oversimplification of nuanced and complex political terms, which is helpful as I sometimes found myself becoming exasperated when my beliefs were boiled down to an axis. A useful read to those wishing to engage in political dialogue with others, particularly those of varying ideologies and positions.
May 29, 2017 rated it liked it
The perspective offered—see other reviews for specifics—is worthy, and one does need to be reminded how limiting language is as a delimiter between our ideas and beliefs and those that differ from our own. That said, the author indicates from the start that this is a paradigm at which he has arrived after reading seven or eight interesting studies about belief and opinion formation, rather than any particularly robust study. But maybe I'm just betraying my own political language...
Brandon Baggett
Nov 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: political
This book is one that examines the "core" principles of three of the political ideologies prevalent in American Politics. It helps to show you the way people think about certain subjects. In the end, it basically invites the reader to "put yourself in their shoes" helping you to remove any previous biases you may have.

Shane Hawk
Solid one-hour read.
Not much to it if you've previously read books based on political languages and tribal heuristics. I see this as a short primer to Haidt's “The Righteous Mind” which I still see as a book anyone interested in political discourse is obligated to read. Recommended to friends not savvy in politics or argumentation and those who've yet read Haidt.
Timothy Rockwell
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Although I did walk into this book with a similar state of mind, this book really puts a nail into a way of understanding the gap between political languages and how to try and build bridges to have more rational discussions. I think this book is a must-read for anyone who would want to further discuss politics with people of opposing views and challenge their own views.
Mark Kennedy
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great entry level insight into political language.
Very helpful in understanding my own political tendencies and the importance and objective and slow thinking. I now see the world through a slightly different coloured lense.
Michael Pogson
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really great book. Gives a solid base for understanding how people communicate in politics and challenges you to try to understand others communication so you can have a real conversation about a complicated political topic.
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American economist, scholar, and blogger. He is an Adjunct Scholar for the Cato Institute and a member of the Financial Markets Working Group at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He teaches statistics and economics at the Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Maryland.
Kling received his Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1980. He was an economist on t
“One of my prescriptions for slow political thinking is to try to avoid telling yourself, “I’m reasonable, they’re not.” Instead, I would suggest the following rule of thumb. The only person you are qualified to pronounce unreasonable is yourself.” 2 likes
“Americans today, ideology has become a powerful marker of identity. Ps, Cs, and Ls are now rivalrous, hostile tribes. As such, they have developed linguistic differences and negative stereotypes of one another, which the three-axis model can help to articulate. Within a tribe, political language is used to reassure others of one's loyalty to the tribe, to lift one's status within the tribe, and to whip up hostility against other tribes.” 2 likes
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