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Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas by Jonah Goldberg

A Worthy (and Very Different) Follow-Up to Goldberg's Liberal Fascism

Published by Sentinel HC in 2012.

Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism is one of the most profound political books that I have read in my entire life. It changed my view of politics and made me focus a lot of thinking that I had been doing about the actions of government in our daily lives.

So, four years later, I was pleased to hear that Goldberg had written another book. The Tyranny of Cliches is not as serious as Liberal Fascism, but it does a worthy job of going after lazy thinking in our political discourse.

The book goes after shorthand, cliched arguments that people use to try to win (or not lose) political arguments. Take the phrase "Violence never solved anything." This is said by any number of people to protest a war or people having guns or things of that nature. I have a personal history of that story. I used to teach in a small high school with a very liberal English teacher who used her class time to pontificate her views on a regular basis. In this case, it was the run-up to the War in Iraq and she put a handmade poster on her door with the question, "What problem has violence ever solved?" So, I made up a series of post-it-note answers and stuck them all over the poster with notes like "Violence by the British Navy stopped the slave trade" and "Violence ended the Holocaust" and the like. The poster came down after one day, but not before the students had seen that there were responses to glib philosophy like hers (she is now retired, thank goodness).

Jonah Goldberg
The lesson here is not that violence is the answer to all things, but that sometimes violent action is the answer - life is too complicated to let bumper sticker reasoning rule (and the debate over the Iraq War should not have been framed in the idea that Violence is never the answer but, rather, is it the answer here).

Another lesson is not to just let someone spout out some well-worn piece of pseudo-wisdom as though it were real wisdom. Sometimes there is "strength in diversity," sometimes there is not (Woe to the NBA team that goes with the strategy of fielding a team with radically diverse heights and skill levels).

But, it is clear that just as one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and it equally clear that as we all slide down the Slippery Slope into Social Darwinism, Understanding, Dissent (the highest form of patriotism according to some), Social Justice and the Living Constitution will help us grow into a world with No Labels, Understanding and experience Unity and an end to Dogma.

If the above paragraph was a bunch of gibberish feel-good phrases to you, read this book.  If the above paragraph made sense to you, please don't, you are hopeless.

Goldberg goes after these snippets of wisdom and points out that they often sound profound but need to be exposed as shorthand for lazy thinking. It is a interesting and entertaining reading with a lot of humor (how many references to The Princess Bride can you squeeze into a book, Mr. Goldberg?) that made me laugh and think, often at the same time.

My favorite cliche was the cliche of "understanding." It usually goes something like this: "If we only made the effort to understand each other a little more we would have less violence, wars, racism, sexism, etc." Goldberg points out that the worst wars are civil wars precisely because they know each other so well. In the United States the North and the South understood each other quite well and went about killing one another by the thousands for four years. How about Rwanda? The Hutu killed more than half-a-million of their Tutsi neighbors in the course of 100 days. Or, in the case of ideology, the Libertarians have a special dislike of Conservatives (because they are so close to being Libertarian but do not cross over). I was reminded of this special moment from Cheers in which Woody discovers his new bride is a different kind of Lutheran than he is (and the antipathy is that real, even though they are very close. I would suggest that it is precisely because they are so close) :

A great read.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Tyranny of Cliches.

Reviewed on August 12, 2012.

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