I just finished reading Jonah Goldberg’s new book “The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas” (Sentinel, 2012). Goldberg says early on that “if the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, the greatest trick liberals ever pulled was convincing themselves that they’re not ideological”(inside front jacket cover). This one line sets the stage for the entire book.
“Tyranny” is one of those books that help you find out who you are politically. If you are liberal, most likely you are going to loathe this book and Goldberg for writing it. You may think that this book is just more right wing propaganda. If you are conservative, most likely you are going to think this book is a manifesto that states the facts on liberals and their ideologies. If you are liberal you may think that this book is just more right wing propaganda. Read this book if you do not know where you stand politically. I’m sure you will figure it out by the halfway mark.
Goldberg argues that liberals are in effect dogmatic ideologue (a person who zealously advocates an ideology) that prefer to skew the truth when it comes to their beliefs or just mask them entirely. When liberals do this, they become tyrants because they are trying to conceal the truth from the people. Goldberg writes: “Progressives…hide their ideological agenda within Trojan Horse clichés and smug assertions that they are simply pragmatists, fact finders, and empiricists who are clearheaded slaves to ‘what works’” (14).
The truth really is that both parties are ideological and dogmatic. Both parties use clichés all the time. In chapter 15, Goldberg gives actors down the road since he assumes most are politically liberal and think that things should change for everyone. Let’s not forget that Ronald Reagan, an actor, became president and tried to implement social change as well. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, became governor of California and instituted some radical ideas. Not every actor is liberal nor overly political. However, Goldberg makes it out that this is the case.
One thing that really bothers me about Goldberg’s book is how he talks about college educated people. Goldberg, who went to Goucher College, a liberal arts college, claims that college students are brainwashed by liberal professors and because of this, most graduates are idiots. So what Goldberg is saying, in effect, is that if you go to college, you are a fool because you will become ideological. I could be wrong on this assumption, but he begins his book by berating a college student that used a line that is attributed to Voltaire “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to your death your right to say it” (1). Goldberg goes on to explain how liberals are born through college education and that they are idiots. To me, this seems to be the only logical conclusion.
But here is the rub. Historically, governments, especially tyrannical ones, have withheld education from the general population. These leaders think that their government could be overthrown if too many people were educated. If President Obama wants to encourage more people to go to college, then that is really a progressive thing. What about people like Goldberg who want to discourage people going to college? Is this act a form of tyranny?
Another criticism of the book is Goldberg’s discussion of the separation of church and state. Goldberg writes that “the principle of separation of church and state is as rooted an ideological precept as any that exists” (76). He believes that the “project of cleansing religion from the public square has gone too far” (79). Goldberg also argues that “Obama believes the bible tells him to push his agenda” (81).
Let’s start with the first accusation of separation of church and state being ideological. Yes, I agree that it is and has deep roots. I also believe we need that separation. It is dangerous when a moral authority starts playing around with governments. Most of us know what is going on in the Middle East right now. As for the second point of the cleansing going too far, I am a little iffy on that one. I do believe that people have the right to worship whichever god they choose. If they don’t have a god, then that is fine too. But I do have a problem with seeing religious symbols everywhere you turn or the possibility of being forced into some kind of religious ceremony at random intervals when I’m out shopping. Lastly, about Obama and his Bible: What politician in recent memory has not said something to that affect? It almost seems like the second President Bush was Sunday School Teacher in Chief with all of his Bible verses thrown around and how he would talk about God telling him what to do. Almost every president says that the Bible or God drives them to make their decisions. According to research, 78% of Americans claim to be Christians (2). Of course a political leader is going to say that God “walks with him and talks with him” (3). Let’s not pick on one president on this topic.
As I said earlier, “Tyranny” forces you to choose a side. Get the book if you don’t know where you stand.
1) Quote Attributed to Voltaire. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Who_said_I_may_not_agree_with_what_you_say_but_I_will_defend_to_the_death_your_right_to_say_it
2) U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. http://religions.pewforum.org/reports
3) In the Garden. Christian Hymn by Charles Austin Miles. http://www.hymnlyrics.org/mostpopularhymns/inthegarden.php