The Three Languages of Politics by Arnold Kling


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When it was first released in 2013, Arnold Kling’s The Three Languages of Politics was a prescient exploration of political communication, detailing the “three tribal coalitions” that make up America’s political landscape. Progressives, conservatives, and libertarians, he argued, are “like tribes speaking different languages. As a result, political discussions do not lead to agreement. Instead, most political commentary serves to increase polarization.”

The first edition did not make it sufficiently clear that the three-axes model is meant to describe political psychology and political communication, rather than to dissect political thought. The second edition clarified that.

The second edition made only an offhand mention of the newly emerged phenomenon of Donald Trump. The third edition includes a brief chapter about this phenomenon.

Mr. Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election has stimulated interest in political psychology and political communication. But the insight that drove Kling to write the third version of this book is more durable and less accidental than that electoral outcome.

There is now widespread concern with the way that political divisions are exacerbated by the communication that takes place in both traditional and social media. The third edition includes an afterword that covers some of this very recent literature related to my theme.

The Three Languages of Politics is an accessible, precise, and insightful guide to how to lower the barriers coarsening our politics. This is not a book about one ideology over another. Instead, it is a book about how we communicate issues and our ideologies, and how language intended to persuade instead divides. Kling offers a way to see through our rhetorical blinders so that we can incorporate new perspectives, nuances, and thinking into the important issues we must together share and resolve.

Arnold Kling received his PhD in economics from MIT in 1980. He is the author of several books, including Crisis of Abundance: Re-thinking How We Pay for Health Care, published by the Cato Institute. He writes a monthly column for the Library of Economics and Liberty. Find him online at

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