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Jonah Goldberg Discusses The Tyranny of Cliches, Part I

DRISCOLL:  Well, hence the conservative T-shirts that started making the rounds during the Iraq war that read, “Except for Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism and Communism, War Has Never Solved Anything.”

GOLDBERG:  Right, right.  I mean, it’s—I mean the response has sort of become clichéd.  And so one of the things I did in the book is I actually went and tried to do a little of the intellectual history on this.  And there are a lot of people who believe, including some devout and decent Christians, that we get the “violence never solves anything” from Jesus.  But we really don't.

You know, the Catholic Church had a just war theory for, you know, a thousand years.  Jesus told his followers to carry swords.  The idea that Christian—it’s fundamental to Christian belief that violence never solves anything, is just not true.  It doesn't mean that Christians are particularly keen on violence.  But they don't believe that it never solves anything.

We really owe it to Gandhi.  And Gandhi’s success—which is a point that George Orwell and Paul Johnson have made in great detail—Gandhi’s success owed itself entirely to the fact that he was playing on the guilty consciences of Westerners, of basically the British Empire.  He was a creature of the British Empire.  Gandhi would not have been able to succeed in anything that he was doing, if it wasn't for the fact that he was working within the constraints of a decent, liberal empire.

And it’s telling that, you know, we use this phrase “violence never solves anything” as a means to basically check the use of force by the United State government, or by NATO or the West.  You know, it’s always to stop the good guys from doing anything to the bad guys.  And that’s how it was born.

Gandhi never told Adolf Hitler—he called Adolf Hitler his friend.  He never told Adolf Hitler don't invade, you know, Britain.  He told the British that they should surrender to Adolf Hitler because violence doesn't solve anything.  His solution to the Holocaust was that the Jews should commit mass suicide, which, you know, as a Jew, I find, you know, not all that helpful.  And certainly I don't consider it to be a pragmatic position.

You know, it’s not a pragmatic non-ideological position.  It is a wild-eyed fanatical position.  But because it’s said by a dude in a sari, you know, who cared more about bowel movements than sex, and all that kind of crazy stuff, people sort of take it at face value that it was the sort of decent high-minded thing.

So people ask all the time:  what would Gandhi do?  And frankly, I don't give a rat’s ass what Gandhi would do, because, you know, while I think he did some wonderful things and I think he was ultimately right about, you know—and he was a decent man in many respects in his personal life and he was not a hypocrite and all that kind of stuff, for the most part, his worldview was nonsense.

And countries that aren't decent, and societies that aren't decent, the Gandhis get swept up the first night and get thrown into a prison cell or executed.  There are no Gandhis in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or in North Korea or in Castro’s Cuba, not walking about openly flaunting the system, because they get arrested and thrown away.  It’s only in decent societies where we care about these kinds of things, where the Gandhis flourish.

DRISCOLL:  When we spoke in late 2007 about Liberal Fascism, I was surprised that it wasn't the laugh-a-minute riot that early G-Files were.  And you had mentioned at the time, you had retired, as you put it, your Shecky Goldberg phase.  You're sense of humor seems to have definitely returned in The Tyranny of Clichés.

GOLDBERG:  Yeah.  You know, I mean, I remember talking to you about that back then.  And you know, part of it is, is I really wanted to—you know, you only write your first book once.  And I wanted to write a serious book.  I had this thing I wanted to get off my chest.  I had this argument I wanted to make.  And you couldn't do Liberal Fascism with a lot of jokes, you know.  And they just—you know, it’s just hard to do the:  Hey, funny thing about the Holocaust, kind of approach to it.  And it had to be a serious book.

DRISCOLL:  It would make a great Broadway play

GOLDBERG:  That’s true, that’s true.  It was so demonized by the Left and all that kind of stuff.  If I had started making, you know, pull-my-finger jokes, in parentheses in it, it would have been disastrous.  It had to be a serious—seriously written, serious tone kind of book.

And it is true, that for a while I was really rejecting the sort of humorist label, first of all, because I don't consider myself a humorist; I consider myself a conservative writer, who’s not afraid to tell a joke from time to time, and who thinks that sarcasm and mockery is an important form of expression.  But you know, I'm not a P.J. O'Rourke.

And the thing about—it’s just very hard to be P.J. O'Rourke.  P.J., you know, maintains a level of comedy in his writing that is just—it’s very hard to maintain.

But at the same time, with Liberal Fascism out of the way, I thought it was sort of important to get back to the practice of entertaining the reader.  And so I tried to make this a funnier book.  I also just wanted to write a book that was more fun to write.  Liberal Fascism was not a fun book to write.  You know, it was a lot of work.