book review

The Tyranny of Clichés
Jonah Goldberg
Sentinel, 2012, 312 pages
Reviewed By

May 15, 2012; updated May 16, 2012

See also
Rules for Radical Conservatives by David Kahane
Demonic by Ann Coulter
After America: Get Ready For Armageddon by Mark Steyn

T he central idea in Jonah Goldberg's latest book, The Tyranny of Clichés, is that clichés, or more properly political slogans, are no longer a shorthand form of speech but have become a substitute for thought: a political philosophy no deeper than the coating of bumper stickers on the back of a liberal's Prius. In fact, Goldberg spends most of the book discussing neither clichés nor tyranny, but debunking various liberal myths, such as "Violence never solved anything," "Diversity is strength," and "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

By 'tyranny,' Goldberg means that these myths limit our thinking. To the extent that we accept the myth as true, it limits our actions. In fact, only libs actually believe these myths (or at least they claim to), which means that unlike "A stitch in time saves nine" and "A trillion dollars saved is a trillion dollars earned" they barely rise to the level of platitude, let alone cliché.

But in some ways Goldberg misses the point. The problem is not the myths themselves. The problem is that we are increasingly being forbidden to disagree with them. In America, corporations, lawyers, and news media outlets are the enforcers of political correctness. Without their collusion, P.C. and the myths that Goldberg talks about would be nothing more than jokes, and we would still have our freedom of speech. But we are not free to speak if we have to use a pseudonym and an anonymizer to avoid losing one's career and being hounded into bankruptcy.

Perhaps the most dispiriting thing is that most this takes place without any resistance from the Right. In America, employees are being fired left and right for posting something on Facebook during their free time that their employer took umbrage to. If you publicly disagree with the liberals' narrative, you will lose your job and be subject to lawsuits, vandalism, violence, and even death threats. In Canada, you can also be dragged into court. In many parts of Europe, you can be imprisoned for it. The means of enforcement are different in different countries, but the purpose is the same: to block discussion of certain issues so that the Left can push through whatever policies it wants without any effective opposition.

Even National Review, in its efforts to appease liberals, acquiesces to the dogmas of the Church of the Perpetually Offended. Each time NR fires a great conservative writer like John Derbyshire and (a few years back) Ann Coulter for saying things, in their free time, that the editors regard as too provocative, they surrender a little more of our freedom of speech to the thugs on the Left.

Ironically, Goldberg argued eloquently against this in his previous book, Liberal Fascism. But conservatives are worried about government interference in our lives, yet they remain sanguine about letting corporations, who have nearly as much power over individuals as government, dictate everything we say and do in our free time. Corporations do not own us. Why should we allow one form of tyranny and not the other?

Their reasoning is that the provocative comments harm their reputation. But all companies say the same thing. It's just another way of saying it's cheaper to get rid of the employee than to deal with the Perpetually Offended and their armies of parasite lawyers.

Goldberg confines his role to that of mythbuster, and refrains from drawing any larger conclusions. This will make the book palatable to the undecideds, who haven't thought about the issues, and to young people, who, in their efforts to make sense of the world, start from the assumption that most of the things they hear are true. For these readers, calling the platitudes clichés makes sense. For them, the myths might even seem plausible. But for the rest of us, proving these dogmas to be false is not enough. Conservatives know the myths are nonsensical. Liberals, I suspect, don't really care. To liberals, the myths are merely means to an end. Their goal is to bring Mmm, cake. Let me eat cake. everyone together under a centralized, omnipotent god-like authority who controls everyone, makes everyone the same, and takes all the risk out of living. A cookie cutter world. Propagating myths like "free cake for all" is just a strategy, and it often works, because people like cake so much.

But the idea that we can have our cake and eat it too, as conservatives realize, just doesn't cut the mustard. I know not what course others may take; but as for me, let me eat cake, or give me my just dessert!

Well, I seem to have gotten off the track there in that last paragraph, with all those clichés about cake and cookies. It serves me right for writing a book review on an empty stomach. What I'm getting at is that the Right needs to stop rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, get off its laurels, and start upsetting the apple cart. But the first step in leading is recognizing the real problem.