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Jonah Goldberg Discusses The Tyranny of Cliches, Part I

DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com, and we're talking today with Jonah Goldberg, founding editor of National Review Online, the author of 2008’s New York Times number one bestselling Liberal Fascism, and his new book The Tyranny of Clichés:  How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.  It’s published by Sentinel Books.  It’s now out at Amazon.com, and your local bookstore. Jonah, thanks for stopping by.

GOLDBERG:  Hey, it’s great to be here.

DRISCOLL:  Jonah, when I first read the galleys of The Tyranny of Clichés back in February, my first thought—and pardon at how pretentious this sounds—was that whereas Liberal Fascism was the equivalent of Emanuel Goldstein’s “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism,” the alternative history book within the book of George Orwell’s 1984, The Tyranny of Clichés was sort of like the Cliff Notes to the Newspeak Dictionary.  Does that incredibly pretentious analogy work at all for you?

GOLDBERG:  Hey, look-it, it works for me.  Yeah, sure.  I mean, it’s certainly true that anyone who’s read Liberal Fascism will see the sort of radioactive half life of that project glowing throughout The Tyranny of Clichés, you know.

I just spent—you know, I spent—as I've been saying for years, I spent, you know, six years, like Howard Hughes, with Kleenex boxes on my feet, working on Liberal Fascism in my basement.  And so a lot of it—you know, it was a big education for me.  I learned a lot of things about the progressives and all that kind of stuff.  And I really got to work out what I think about progressivism and about how society relates to some of these idea or non-ideas, and all of the rest.

And in a way, you can think of Liberal Fascism as an extended, 500-page treatment of one of the types of clichés that I deal with in The Tyranny of Clichés.  You know, people—people use the word “fascism” to mean all sorts of things that have nothing to do with fascism, in order to close off arguments rather than to have them.

DRISCOLL:  And how will skeptics receive the new book’s subtitle, “How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas”?  I mean, don't both sides speak in clichés?

GOLDBERG:  Well, yes.  And if I—and you know, I want to be clear about this.  Both sides have buzz phrases.  Both sides have bumper stickers.  Both sides use sound bites, all that kind of stuff.  The fundamental difference between the Left and the Right, as I argue in the first few chapters of The Tyranny of Clichés, is that conservatives and libertarians, and I'll concede, Marxists and socialists—but how many Marxists and socialists are left out, you know, in the wild these days; they're basically all in captivity on college campuses.

But libertarians and conservatives, unlike mainstream liberals or progressives, are open and fairly honest about the fact that they have an ideology.  We say, these are our first principles.  We wear Adam Smith ties.  We dork out like Dungeons & Dragons geeks about, you know, our founding texts.  We have arguments about what Ayn Rand would say, or what Whittaker Chambers would say, or whether or not Edmund Burke would agree with this, that or the other thing.

Liberals—and this is a point that, you know, people like E.J. Dionne and Martin Peretz and a lot of liberal intellectuals will concede—liberals don't have the same relationship with their intellectual history, with their ideology.  They deny that they have one.

And so this is the key distinction.  Where, you know, conservatives may use buzz phrases; they certainly may use clichés, and sometimes they use them badly.  I mean, I can't tell you how many conservatives misuse fascism to this day.  But at the end of the day, you talk to a conservative, you say well, look, here are my principles; here’s where I'm coming from and all of the rest.  Liberals claim that they're pragmatists, that they're empiricists, or that they're fact finders, that they only care about what works, and they just wish we crazies on the Right would drop all of these labels and these ideological, you know, squabbles, so that we could get busy doing the work the American people sent us to Washington to do and all that sort of nonsense.  And that is a monumental lie.

And it’s first and foremost a lie liberals tell to themselves.  The idea that liberals aren't ideological is just nonsense on stilts.  And I don't mind that liberals are ideological.  What I mind is that they won't admit it.  It’s sort of like liberal media bias.  I don't mind that—I don't really care that much that the mainstream media is biased at this point, you know.  I mean, that’s something we've learned to live with.  What bothers me is—what really drives me to distraction is the way mainstream journalists deny that liberal media bias even exists.

And so the tyranny of the clichés is that a lot of clichés that I go through in the book, they're not just liberal talking-point clichés; they are more fundamental formulations that sort of steal ground for progressive assumptions about the way the world works, man’s place in the universe, and all of the rest.  It’s not just sort of Obama v. Romney kind of talking points.  It’s a more fundamental thing.

You know, John Ralston Saul has this expression “the unconscious civilization.”  And it’s sort of the civilization that maybe a visitor from Mars would see that we don't really recognize, because it’s—you know, our dogma makes a lot of assumptions invisible to us.

Liberals have an enormous amount of dogma.  They're far more dogmatic than conservatives are.  And it expresses thems—and they express their dogmatism and their ideology, not in open and honest exp—you know, declarations of ideological preference, but in these sort of clichéd buzz phrases and terms and truisms that they claim aren't ideological at all.

I mean, there’s no—there’s nothing a conservative regularly says that is more wildly radically extremist in its ideological assumptions than, say, violence never solved anything.  I mean, that is the most idiotic, wildly, radically ideological reality-distorting conviction, if you actually believe it.  And yet they say they believe it, and at the same time they claim that it’s not ideological at all.