6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
If you look around at contemporary political discourse, you might notice that, to an incredible extent, there is very little actual arguing there is. I do not mean that there is not all too much screaming, shouting, and name-calling in our politics and in the media. What I mean is that there are few logical arguments about policies developed from basic premises. There is a lot of heat and light but little real substance. Instead, what we too often hear are talking points, or statements that are platitudes repeated with very little thought as to what they actually mean, or how they apply to a given situation.
These platitudes or cliché's if you will, are statements like, "it is better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be imprisoned" or, "I may not agree with what you said, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" or, "violence never solved anything". Such statements as these are not entirely untrue, but they're not actually true either. They are not real arguments, just words and phrase meant to take the place of real arguments.
Jonah Goldberg explores this phenomena in his second book, The Tyranny of Clichés. He begins by relating the problem of clichés as I have above. This, he asserts, is largely a problem of the Left who are incessantly accusing the Right of being ideologues while their positions are shaped by practical, nonideological considerations. In fact, the Left's use of clichés undermines that whole idea that their belief are based solely on logic and facts and actually, many Liberals seem to be very bad at articulating just why they believe what they do.
Of course, according to Goldberg, Conservatives really are ideologues. But, he argues, so are Liberals. And, at least, Conservatives, by admitting their ideology can develop their positions logically from basic premises. Liberals, by asserting that they are non-ideological tend to divorce themselves from their theoretical roots and so lose the ability to explain just what their positions are and why they hold them.
After this introduction to the problem, Goldberg then spends twenty-four chapters analyzing these clichés and breaking down their meaning, or lack. He shows just why each cliché really doesn't mean much of anything with the humor that regular readers of his column will appreciate.
I think that in many ways, The Tyranny of Clichés is a better book than Jonah Goldberg's first effort, Liberal Fascism. Goldberg seems more comfortable this time around and more willing to be himself. I think that most readers will find the Tyranny of Clichés interesting and enjoyable.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2012
I had so much fun reading the redundant, simplistic soundbite-heavy liberal reviews that I just had to buy this book. I mean, if this book makes the progressives take precious time out of their MSNBS-watching schedule just to write an empty, baseless, thoughtless review (is there another kind of liberal review?), I know this has to be a good book. And besides, any thinking person (aka "a conservative" :-) knows that Jonah is very intelligent, thoughtful and fair minded person.
So once again the liberals prove the conservative's point about what a liberal is. So funny!! Oh, and these reviews also reiterate a consistent difference between liberals and conservatives: Conservatives can laugh at the liberal's idiotic ideas, but liberals just get so angry and hateful at the other point of view. Jeez, I thought they were so open-minded? (Ha Ha Ha!!) I guess if more conservatives were "minorities" in need of the liberal's "help" they would be nicer.
Oh! how this all makes me smile.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I completely agree with those pointing out that the liberals are giving this book one star reviews simply because they don't like the content. Of course that is true with almost all political books on Amazon. You have to take negative reviews on conservative books with a grain of salt. Especially as they all (well, many) try to pretend that thay are really conservative, but golly gee, this one book just doesn't cut it for them.
Anyway, I really loved this book, in that it has the sense of humor in it that attracted many of us to his writing in the first place. I did think that it was almost too breezy, but then you stop and think that the massive amount of research that must have been required to write this. The breeziness is almost an illusion meant to keep all of the disparate facts from becoming tedious. I would have given this 4 and 3/4 stars if possible, because while it is absolutely terrific, Liberal Fascism is still his masterpiece! Still, TOC is a great book.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Goldberg analyzes over twenty five commonly heard clichés, showing that they are often based to some degree on mistaken history and are mostly used to derail the thought processes necessary to serious discussion. He is an avowed conservative, so most of the clichés he skewers are found in the service of progressivism. Someone else can catalog the clichés dear to the right.
I don't try to reproduce his arguments in full detail. Read the book for that. It's light hearted and fun while being thorough and well annotated. Here are some examples.
Ideology - The cliché is "I am not ideological; I just want to pursue a policy that works." The question of course, is works for what or for whom or at what cost either directly or in unintended consequences? Ideology properly understood is simply a view of the world, and everyone has one, even if it's not stated. All ideologies when expressed as political programs claim to work. So the choice isn't between ideology and no ideology, but between good and bad ideologies.
Pragmatism - The pragmatist hates "binding rules or principles", but he does pursue a principle, namely power. His will is the ultimate arbiter, though underneath it there is probably an unstated ideology. President Woodrow Wilson imposed strong economic controls, censorship, and propaganda to rally the country behind the effort to win World War I. The success of this effort in what was arguably a just cause has led later Progressives to invoke the "moral equivalent of war" , another cliché, to advance various social/political causes, that is, ideologies, including Roosevelt's New Deal, all under the banner of pragmatism.
Pragmatism has several sub-species. One is the Moderate Centrist, who derides the Extremist. Politics is full of this. One extreme wants to build a bridge over a 100-foot canyon. The other denies the need for a bridge at all. The Moderate Centrist proposes a 50-foot bridge. One of the extremes is right and the issue deserves thought. The independent moderate who splits the difference "has no idea what to do and doesn't want to bother with figuring it out".
Another recent sub-species goes by the No Labels moniker. They want to transcend ideology and just want to solve problems. What they really mean when they say that we must lay down our labels is we must "unilaterally put aside all of [our] philosophical and principled objections and get with their program", or "accept [their] priorities as fact and wisdom."
Goldberg claims that while Progressives obscure their ideology in a pragmatic cloak of invisibility, Conservatives or Classical Liberals are honest about theirs; in fact prefer to start a discussion with their ideological or philosophical basis rather than just a statement of what they want. This seems true to me, but others with a more Progressive bent may be able to mount a counter argument.
Social Darwinism exemplifies a common type of historical twist in the development of a cliché. It is used as shorthand for anything that can be seen as callousness of a right wing sort. "Everyone knows" that it is a school of philosophy created by Herbert Spencer in the mid nineteenth century. Except that Spencer never used the term, was not even much of a Darwinist, and the term appears favorably only once in a scholarly publication in the intervening century, and then Spencer was not mentioned. In fact, while Spencer was a laissez-faire liberal who - - "supported women's suffrage and loathed slavery, many of the progressives who hated him were committed eugenicists and racists" who based their prescriptions for social improvement on a misreading of Darwin.
Dissent is the Highest Form of Patriotism - Often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, though that is contradicted by the scholars at the Jefferson Library, and misses the point that what counts is "what the dissenter is dissenting from - and why". Politicians who say they want to "fundamentally transform" America claim to love their country, but if they said they wanted to fundamentally transform their wives we, and she, might question their love.
Social Justice is the epitome of clichés. Everyone from the garden variety Progressive to the American Nazi Party uses it, but few will define what they mean by it beyond general goodness. For example, the Yale Social Justice Network in a mission statement on its website (I looked it up) says
"The Social Justice Network at Yale is a coalition of organizations and individuals working for social justice and social change at Yale, in New Haven, and beyond. SJN is dedicated to building a community among and reaching out to those who identify themselves as working for social justice, while helping activists develop skills necessary to acheive [sic] this change."
They go on to describe how they facilitate such activists, but don't give us a hint as to just what sort of change they want, much less what social justice means to them. The phrase seems to mean everything to those who care about it and nothing to the rest of us; though we can be fairly sure it connotes a fair amount of wealth redistribution.
The history of Social Justice is another example of how a concept with real meaning becomes a meaningless mouthing which, if it has any meaning at all, is orthogonal to the original. The term originated with Catholic moral theologian Luige Taparelli d'Azeglio in an 1840 treatise on natural law. This was a period of strengthening national governments, and d'Azeglio was concerned that states were intruding too much in the workings of civil society as expressed in voluntary associations and the like (probably including the Church). He meant the term to mean those activities that lay beyond the proper reach of civil law, or justice in the sense of courts. It was brought to the US by Father Charles Coughlin among others in the early twentieth century. Coughlin is something of a cliché himself as he is routinely described as a "right wing radio priest", but he was well to the left of Franklin Roosevelt on just about every aspect of the New Deal. He earned the "right-wing" label from a complex mix of anti-Semitism and ambiguous relationship with Nazism. Wikipedia has a long article on him.
Community is a multi-faceted cliché. The sense of it that Goldberg attacks is expressed in statements like "Government is simply the name we give to the things that we choose to do together", or "civil society is just a term social scientists use to describe the way we work together for common purposes (H. Clinton in It Takes a Village)". Both of these supposed meanings are false on their face and pernicious in their application. Even at a simple level they are false because Americans do many things together that are in no way done by the government or even civil society, such as watch the Super Bowl, attend stock car races, or vote for a particular presidential candidate. Even these activities are done by no more than maybe half the people. Things that are actually done on behalf of all the people, like serving in the Armed Forces, are actually done by only a few percent of us. Only about half of us pay income tax.
Worse though than these elementary errors in meaning is that these statements imply confusion between the Government and the State, and the further confusion about what the State means. Government in Anglo-Saxon tradition is "for the most part a necessary evil" to which independent citizens give consent to keep order and perform certain services, like deliver the mail. We give government the great power necessary to accomplish these duties, but limit its scope, or realm of application. The State, however, in European, especially German tradition is an all-encompassing entity. It attempts to give meaning to people's lives. In its natural progression it constrains civil society as much as possible. It claims to have the consent of everybody, and in the extreme ensures this by killing everyone who disagrees.
Violence never solves anything is one of the "greatest examples of something transparently untrue nonetheless serving as profound and high-minded." This is demonstrated with a few pithy examples such as the madman who is stopped with judicious application of police bullets, or the global slave trade that was stopped internationally by British force, and in the US by the Civil War.
The use of violence runs counter to the Enlightenment tradition which assumes that men are open to reason without recourse to violence. "But unpleasant truths do not cease to be true because they are unpleasant. "
The modern liberal seems to be in denial about the use of force. Take taxation. We often hear them say something to the effect of "It is only right that we ask everyone to pay their [sic] fair share." When the government imposes taxes, it doesn't ask, it tells. The threat of violence in response to non-payment is more than implied. To put it bluntly, violence solves the problem of people not paying their taxes.
Violence also solves the problem of violence. According to Steven Pinker in his The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, in the pre-state era before the rise of the first feudal kings, 15% of the population died from violence. After kings imposed order - violently! - such deaths dropped to around 3%.
Mohandas K. Gandhi, the prince of non-violence, comes in for some good-natured jabs such as that the popular movie, Gandhi, left out his first hunger strike, devoted to protesting the British effort to grant the Untouchables greater rights and freedoms. Also left out was his imploring the British to surrender to the Nazis in WWII, or for the European Jews to commit mass suicide. His non-violence was able to flourish only in the protected environment provided by British liberalism, which by the way also employed massive violence against Hitler. Gandhi would not have survived long in Hitler's Germany.
Whether qualifying as a cliché or just ignorance of history, the notion that Christianity and specifically the Catholic Church held humanity back for "thousands" of years is shown to be profoundly in error and often generalized to diminish the role of Western Civilization in world history. This is a long chapter, touching on Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, the Crusades, Witch Hunts and the Inquisition. Most of these are shown to be seriously distorted in modern education. While not denying that the Church, and Western Civilization, have at times failed to live up to their ideals, they at least had them, and the Church preserved them through difficult times. In fact I, as a committed agnostic, find this defense of the Church by a self-identified "fairly secular Jew" to be the most compelling I have seen.
If you think you understand and often use phrases like Middle Class, Spiritual but not Religious, An Ounce of Prevention, Science, and Democracy, then read Goldberg to at least sharpen your understanding of their history and of your discourse.