Jonah Goldberg on The Tyranny Of Cliches
HH: This hour and next, the much and long promised Jonah fest. Jonah Goldberg is back to talk about his wonderful new book, The Tyranny of Clichés. Hello, Jonah, welcome.
JG: Thank you, Hugh, great to be here, thanks for having me.
HH: I want to begin, I’m going to embarrass you a little bit with my praise. It’s a little too much. But this is dazzling. Quite a bit of research and reading went into the construction of the Tyranny of Clichés, didn’t it?
JG: It did. I mean, it was 15 years of peeves and reading deeply about various things. And a lot of this is sort of the liner notes to Liberal Fascism. And then the final thing was just a very intensive year of work. But I was drawing on a lot of stuff I’ve been thinking out for a really long time.
HH: Well, I’ll tell people, I think it will have the same effect on the poorly read in history as Bill Bryson’s Brief History Of Nearly Everything had on me when it came to science, which is you kind of figure out at the end of it much of what you take to be received wisdom and true isn’t, because of, like Bryson said, every science textbook in the late 60s and early 70s was wrong about almost everything.
JG: Yeah, I mean, there’s a phrase from the writer Jonathan Ralston Saul, who I disagree with on all sorts of things. But there’s a phrase he used when he was actually making a similar point to Liberal Fascism about the nature of corporations and what not. He calls it the unconscious civilization. We get these ideas that are sort of implanted in us by the language, by the media, by fiction, by just sort of the plankton of the ocean of life that we sort of suck up, and they get sort of entrenched in our brains, and we think that they explain the world. But they’re not actually based on the facts that happened. And the point of the book, the largest, you know, big point of the book is that so many of them have a deeply progressive bias to them. You know, I’m not going after bumper stickers. I’m not going after buzz phrases. Republicans have that kind of nonsense as much as Democrats do. I think Democrats are better at it, but Republicans try. You know, Frank Luntz puts in a full day’s work. That’s not what I’m talking about. The Tyranny Of Clichés is really these deeply entrenched understandings of the nature of civilization, the nature of history, the nature of man’s place in the world, and most specifically, it’s about politics and how they’re based on these assumptions that are deeply rooted in progressive philosophy and progressive understandings of history. And I wanted to tell some jokes in the process.
HH: And a very funny book. We’ll come back to that in a second. But the camouflage for this worldview that you exploit, it conceals some pretty deadly stuff. That’s why it’s not just party talk. It’s not just…did you know that the number of witches burned was actually far below what most people think? That’s a fun fact to know and tell, but that such an idea is abroad has very pernicious impact.
JG: That’s right. We constantly hear people say refer to anything unfair done by government. Any investigation, particularly that the left doesn’t like going back to the McCarthy era, they call them inquisitions. And implicit in that are all sorts of arguments about what inquisitions were. And we think we know what inquisitions were. I mean, there are a bazillion examples in popular culture of these incredibly cruel, torture-filled, evil things conducted by the Catholic Church. And the story is just vastly more complex. I’m not defending all of the inquisitions, but at the same time, what the Church was up to back then was far different than what we say today. But when we call something an inquisition, we are stealing all sorts of intellectual bases based upon a sort of reference to something that we think people know about, but in fact, that they don’t.
HH: I was struck throughout the book, Jonah, I want to go and start at the Catholic chapter, which is at the end, because I know the most about the Catholic Church, that I thought most of this is not new to me, but it will be remarkably new to a bunch of other people. And that is, almost everything that people want to accept as true, whether it is about the Crusades, whether it is about the inquisition, whether it is about the number of witches who were burned, whether or not it is about the facts and circumstances of the Reformation, you’ll lay that out in one chapter, but it will be stunning to most people who think they know. It’s not that they are lying, they think they know the truth.
JG: Right. You know, I have a very good friend who is a PhD, intellectual, very smart guy, reviews books for a living. And he was really pretty stunned. He said the stuff that he didn’t know, that he knew the least about, that he thought he knew about, was actually the stuff on the Catholic Church.
HH: Oh, really?
HH: Oh, interesting.
JG: I’ll tell you who it was off-air.
HH: All right. But I think Jonah, that is what you use so well in Tyranny Of Clichés, is that you connect up to people that our humor is deeply influenced by these paradigms. Everything is built on cliché.
JG: Right, everything, you know, that’s one of the reasons why the humor works, right?
JG: I mean, you have, when you make references in comedy, it has to be references that people get.
JG: That’s why some comedians who go over the heads of people, they’re just not funny. It’s very difficult. You know, Dennis Miller is one of the few guys who can make references, you only catch like half of them.
JG: But they’re still funny in the formulation. Most of the time, that stuff doesn’t work. And the stuff about the inquisition, you know, from the History Of The World, Part 1 with Mel Brooks to the Monty Python stuff, it’s all based on what everything thinks is this accurate understanding of the abject cruelty and irrationality of the Catholic Church during these inquisitions. In fact, there were many inquisitions. We always think of, when we say inquisition, we usually mean the Spanish Inquisition, which was very different from what people think it was.
HH: Yeah, it’s all laid out in Chapter 24 of Jonah Goldberg’s new book, the Tyranny of Chinches. Let me ask you about the humor, though. Do you think that your whimsical asides, your tone, where you’re actually talking to the reader throughout, allows less intellectually spry people to remain ignorant of what’s happened? It’s almost as though Darth Maul doesn’t know he got cut in half because someone tells a joke at the time. Do they understand, or are you camouflaging in reverse here?
JG: I don’t know. Look, I mean, you know Liberal Fascism. That was a very seriously written book. And there’s not a lot of room for humor when you’re writing about fascism. Hey, funny thing about the Holocaust. You know, it just doesn’t work. And what I wanted to do was entertain the reader. You know, that’s sort of what I do more in my blogging and my columns, is I try to entertain the reader. And I wanted to get back to that. And not to be too crude, what I wanted was something that was sort of intellectually enriching that you could take into the bathroom, you could take onto a plane, that you could read in little bites, and really enjoy yourself. And I think that one of the reasons why I think it’s particularly important to have a light touch when you’re doing some of this, you know, everything you know is wrong stuff, because it allows the reader to stay engaged without getting too pissed off.
HH: I also think your obvious experience on college campuses is very useful here, because it is a culture of the movie. It is a culture of the DVD. It’s a culture of the computer bringing up movies. They watch movies all the time. It’s a shorthand among people who are 14-25. They talk in sound bytes from movies, and you write in those sound bytes. It’s remarkably effective.
JG: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. And it may be, you know, it may be sort of a unique sign of how my educational process was, let’s put it, delayed while I learned a lot from watching TV and movies.
HH: (laughing) Well, it’s also very unfair. I thought you were so harsh to the Star Wars franchise, because comparing it to the French Enlightenment, look, many millions enjoyed the last Star Wars movie. No one like the Emile. No one that I know of liked the Emile. It’s simply not fair. You do have sort of a Star Wars thing going here, Jonah. If you had to count up movie references, I think it wins.
JG: That’s interesting. I don’t know. It’s probably true, but look, I mean, you’re right. For people under the age of 35, including very smart people, I’m not trying to disparage everybody. I mean, there are a lot of idiots out there, but a lot of very smart people. We just, you know, in the 19th Century, literary references were the idiom of the time. And today, movie and TV references are the idiom of the time.
HH: Exactly, exactly, and that’s why it works. I hope it’s on every college campus shortly. Okay, on Page 229, very quickly, “Islam doesn’t need any more Martin Luthers. It needs a pope.” That’s the kind of line that gets Mark Steyn into trouble. It’s the kind of line that you are not, you know, reveling in. What’s the blowback for such brusque, condensed truth?
JG: We’ll see. I don’t know. This has been a bugaboo of mine for a very long time. We have this completely misunderstood. You know, some people honestly think that when they say the Middle East needs a Martin Luther, you know, this has been a fixation of the academic left for generations.
JG: They think that Martin Luther was some sort of moderate milquetoast reformer, you know, sort of the Norm Ornstein of theology.
JG: And he was nothing of the sort.
JG: He considered himself far more pious, far more doctrinaire, not doctrinaire, doctrinaire is probably the wrong word, far more zealous in his faith than the Catholics. His indictment of the Catholic Church was that it was too worldly, that it bent too much. And if you look at the history in the Middle East, the old Ottoman Empire was like the old Catholic Church. It was worldly, it knew how to make compromises with the temporal realm, and knew how to make compromises among nations. It knew how to bend but not break. And what happened was they had their own Martin Luthers. That’s what the Wahhabis are, that’s what the Salafists are. You know, the guys running Saudi Arabia are much more in the tradition of the Martin Luther kind of reforming zeal than they are in the tradition of the Catholic Church.
HH: Jonah, hold that thought.
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HH: I’m playing Alice Cooper, because Jonah Goldberg quotes him in his book, The Tyranny Of Clichés. One of the great clichés thrown at us every single day to cover a leftist agenda is youth. Jonah, this is a great little paradigm to tell people how you approach this. Explain your youth chapter, and how Alice drives into that.
JG: Well, what we do is in this culture, we glorify youth. This is not a new thing, but it’s been getting worse since the middle of the 20th Century. Daniel Boorstin writes about this a lot. And basically, look, the idea that we should elevate youth as a good in and of itself is kind of bizarre.
JG: It is a scientific fact that when you are born and at your youngest, you are clinically idiotic and ignorant of everything.
JG: And young people tend to be much more stupid than old people. And there’s only over this process that we call growing up that we start to sort of figure things out. And so there’s a deep power worship that drives the fixation with young people. A lot of it creeps into political analysis where you have these political strategists and politicians who say something like well, young people are the future, they’re going to control things in the future, so we’d better get in on them now, sort of like marketers who want to get kids attached to certain brands of toothpaste.
HH: And when you explore why it is a dangerous attachment, that’s when the pattern of the Tyranny Of Clichés comes out. You point out young people are also meaner to each other than older people. That’s particularly sad. Young people are vastly more insecure and sensitive than old people. And I just saw a week ago Bully. I talked about it a week ago on this program at length. And in fact, when you see that movie, you don’t want kids anywhere near decision making. It makes it a perfect paragraph to your argument about the youth vote, and why we ought to be very, very reticent to accept the wisdom of the young, emperor-has-no-clothes crowd.
JG: Right, I mean, you go back to Aristotle, writers for thousands of years have been talking about youth as like a drug or being intoxicated or drunk. The whole edifice of liberal activism is based upon the sort of values of youth that action is more important than conversation, that deeds are more important than words, that you don’t have to talk about things anymore, we should just do it. And that’s not what civilizations are built on. That’s not what democracy is built on. There’s a reason why fascism was a youth movement in both Italy and Nazi Germany. Wisdom comes from thinking things through, and working things out before you take flight. And yet we have this obsession with youth. Look, I understand obsession with beauty, I understand that young people are better looking than old people and all that kind of stuff, and it’s more fun to be young than it is to be old. I don’t think anyone really disputes that. But that doesn’t mean that we should incorporate the political values of youth into the warp and woof of everyday life.
HH: I’m talking with Jonah Goldberg, of course Los Angeles Times columnist, contributing editor to National Review, extraordinary speaker. He’s also the author of the brand new book, The Tyranny Of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat In the War Of Ideas. And let me ask you, Jonah, in terms of what’s generally going on, I went to the end of the book to begin the interview. I’m going to go back to the beginning of the book, but even really before the beginning, the moment at which it appears. I have just noticed, and this is something I’m a little slow on the uptake here, but over the course of the last two weeks and the week ahead, I’ve talked to you, Arthur Brooks, Jay Nordlinger, Yuval Levin, who edited A Time For Governing, and someone else, I can’t remember who, five different books, all of which are very, very good. They’ve all arrived within weeks of each other. They all tell me that we’re in a new season, a new explosion of conservative ideas. Is that just timing? Or am I onto something, that Obama has triggered a renaissance in conservative thought?
JG: I think you’re onto something. Look, I mean, one of the most astounding stories of the last three years is the utter sort of repudiation by events of the assumptions of contemporary mainstream liberalism.
JG: Michael Barone writes about this a lot, you know, the idea was always that when the country goes through a bad economic time, it’s supposed to rally around the state, that we’re supposed to demand more from government. This was sort of the paradigm that begins with the New Deal. And so everyone was looking for Occupy Wall Street to sort of come up in the first two years of the Obama administration. Instead, what you got was a populist libertarian movement called the Tea Parties…
JG: …who are vastly more significant politically…I mean, they’re out there primarying people in all these races and all the rest. You know that stuff better than I do. Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street is sort of a youth cult that is so self-indulgent, so kitschy, trying to reenact the, you know, I don’t know, whether it’s the 1960s or the Paris Commune, I don’t know. But it’s not relevant in the way that the Tea Parties are. And I think it’s because Obama so misread the times. He thought he had this incredible sort of mandate from, not just from the people, but from History, that this was his moment. And he went left, and the country wasn’t prepared to go left. The whole Arthur Schlesinger-Cycles of History thing has been debunked. The country looks out there and says this country is a mess, our balance sheet is a mess, these countries that Obama wants to make us more like are more screwed up than we are, and the reaction was just simply different. And I think a lot of the conservative establishment responded to that. You know, Sam Tanenhaus, nice guy, but his Death Of Conservatism thing was completely other worldly, and was reflecting a point of view and a moment in time that was circumscribed by basically about one square mile in mid-town Manhattan, and a couple of precincts in your neck of the woods in L.A.
HH: Yeah, the only two clichés I did not find explored, which feed into this, in the Tyranny of Clichés, and maybe I missed them and they’re in there, one is the reality based community, and the other is epistemological closure, both of which are sent forth from the left to argue a superiority of ideas and technique that simply isn’t true, and that these five books and the explosion of online activism, all of my pals, whether it’s www.actright.com, or www.hillsdale.edu, or the American Enterprise Institute, or National Review and Commentary and Weekly Standard, they’ve all seized the online world. They dominate the virtual commons. But the clichés are that President Obama owns this turf, and all the young people have taken over and force fed their ideas in the mainstream. It’s actually not true. There’s nothing left over there.
JG: Right, well, actually, and I don’t know if I used the epistemic closure thing, and I think reality based community is somewhere in there, but the basic point that you’re making is what I’m trying to get at in the first couple of chapters, right?
HH: Yup, the second.
JG: Because the reigning cliché about, that liberals tell themselves, this is the lie they tell themselves, and they’ve been saying it to themselves for a century now, or almost two centuries now if you include Marxism, is that they have a monopoly on reality, that they are fact-based, that they are empiricists, and fact-finders and pragmatists, that Obama began his administration and his inaugural saying it’s not about ideology, it’s about what works. Jonathan Chait wrote that famous piece in the New Republic about how liberals care about the facts and the data, and conservatives are blinded by ideology. And this is the fundamental point that I try to get at in the first couple of chapters in the book. The idea that the right is dogmatic and the left is open-minded has it completely backwards.
JG: As you know as well as I do, because you have all these conservatives and libertarians on all the time, conservatives are constantly debating where to draw the lines of our dogma. We’re constantly debating, going back generations now, freedom versus virtue, order versus liberty, where to draw these lines, where to make sacrifices. We talk about our dogma, we talk about our principles, because we like to talk about our principles.
HH: And we hold it up to debate.
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HH: Jonah, I want to start at the beginning now, The Center. You were talking about this as we went to break. This the living, breathing heart of the progressive worldview, the right side of history argument. And it drives most of us to distraction, because it’s an argument closer, not an opening to conversation.
JG: Right, I mean, as I was saying before the break, the myth that liberals tell themselves is that they are pragmatists, they only care about doing the good work that we need to get done and all the rest, and meanwhile, conservatives are blinded by ideology. The reality is that liberals have a deeply held ideology, and I have no problem with that. We all know that. On the right, we all know that. Of course liberals have an ideology. Of course liberals have a set of principles and all of the rest. The problem is that they can’t even admit it to themselves. And so instead, they’re constantly complaining about why conservatives have to get so caught up in all these partisan labels and ideological terms and all of the rest. Why can’t they just agree with liberals and do what they want?
HH: Does anyone come up to you, Jonah, and say from the left, you know, you’re right? I’m just not going to admit that. That will cost me my job, my position of influence, I can’t afford to budge, we’ll go off the edge of the world, the ice will crack and swallow us all up, and we’ll end up Andrew Sullivan?
JG: Not yet. I mean, I’ve gotten some emails from people, I did an excerpt in the Washington Post, you know, last week on this, and I got emails from people saying you know, you’re right, some of this stuff drives me crazy. Serious socialist, right, and serious Marxists will admit this stuff, because they own their ideology. They think their ideology is right. Everyone thinks their ideology is right. But they’ll at least admit that they’re coming to things from a serious perspective.
HH: Now Jonathan Chait is often on this program. And you leave him, you run over him and leave him as flat as Flat Stanley. He’s like the Super Bowl celebrations in Detroit the year they held it there. There’s nothing left of that article, that argument that he made. Do you expect he will respond? Or do you anticipate, as I think is usually the case on the left, response is avoidance?
JG: I don’t know. I suspect that Jonathan Chait, you’ve got to give him some credit, he likes to mix it up. And I think he often is wrong, obviously, but he likes to get in the mix. But generally speaking, yeah, you know, I’ve been waiting for the liberal reviewers to come after me, and I haven’t seen it, yet.
HH: I don’t think they can do it, Jonah. I mean, when you talk about the Chait piece that references the WHO study of over-health care performance, which you refer to as perhaps the worst study ever done, there is no responding to this. Some of this stuff is simply impossible to believe with a straight face.
JG: Right, well, we should tell the listeners what the, or about this WHO study.
HH: Go ahead, tell them.
JG: So the World Health Organization came out with this study that found America ranks near the bottom of advanced countries on health care. And starting in about 2000, the left has used this study as empirical, fact-filled, scientific proof that we need essentially socialized medicine of one flavor or another. And they say conservatives don’t understand. They say we have the best health care system in the world, they’re idiots, look at this WHO study. The problem is if you actually look at how the WHO study was done, it didn’t measure like health outcomes very much. When you say you have the best health care system in the world, you think that means it’s the best at delivering medicine. Overwhelming, the metrics involved in the study were measuring how redistributionist, how socialistic world health care systems were.
JG: And so you got a good score if you had nationalized medicine, even if the medicine you were delivering stunk.
HH: Yup, and it’s deeply embarrassing after reading this to read anything that cites this study, because it’s so profoundly and obviously, I think that’s the key, obviously torqued. No one would rely on this. It would be like relying on a Porsche repair manual to go out and fix a high speed motor boat. It wouldn’t make any sense.
JG: But it’s a great sort of metaphor or symbol of the larger point of the book, which is that liberals, they hang like ornaments on a Christmas tree. All of these facts and data and footnotes and all of the rest, and they say see, it’s just science. But all you have to do is look closely at any of it, and it’s a purely ideological argument masquerading as science.
HH: And abused as science.
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HH: Jonah, I like the Tyranny Of Clichés for a lot of reasons, one is you put intellectual history on display here, especially the birth of modern conservatism, and you don’t tell people you’re teaching them intellectual history, and thus, you might actually trap a few people into learning this. But it all does begin with the French Revolution, and it all does begin with Bonaparte. And people who read, you know, Aubrey and Maturin, or people who read the Sharpe stories, Bernard Cornwell, they’ll know a little bit about how awful Napoleon was. But you really lay it out here, and I don’t think many people do.
JG: Yeah, this is one of the things I really learned when I was working on the book. I was trying to figure out the history of basically of pragmatism and ideology as modern concepts. And it’s Napoleon who was the first guy to use the term ideologue as an epithet, right?
JG: He basically says that his critics, who it turns out were actually pretty much free market libertarian types to the extent that we can find analogs for them today. These were the guys like Montesquieu and the rest who supported the American Revolution, believes in the universal rights of man, believed in free markets and free minds, and all that kind of stuff. It turns out that as any conservative would have told you, that when you have an authoritarian dictator, eventually they start disliking freedom.
JG: And so at first, he likes these guys, because they help him get power. But when they stop being useful and they start criticizing him, he starts saying oh, you can’t listen to these guys, they’re ideologues. They are spellbound by ideology and metaphysics and all the rest. You have to follow me, I’m, and in not so many words, I’m a pragmatist. I go with, I just go with the facts, I do what’s best, I pursue the best policies, I’m not bound up in any ideology. And it’s this argument that gets picked up by Marx. Marx curiously buys Napoleon’s definition of an ideologue as basically someone who’s been brainwashed. And then we have a whole couple of generations of Marxists and Marxist-trained leftists who use this argument all the time. They say oh, you suffer from false consciousness. You don’t understand that the only realistic objective smart way to see the world is through the Marxist prism.
HH: And it also gets…
JG: And we hear echoes of this in Barack Obama. Remember, he had the whole thing about why conservative Democrats in the Pennsylvania primary weren’t voting for him?
JG: It was because they were clinging to their sky God and their boom sticks, and they clung to their religion and all of the rest, and their bigotries. And if they could only see reality, they would support him.
HH: It also gets picked up on the right. I did not know, I learned from the Tyranny Of Clichés that the Iron Chancellor greatly admired the little corporal’s use and abuse of power. He thought it very efficient.
JG: That’s right, and for a very long time, and this is where it gets a little confusing, and this is where some of my fellow conservative intellectual history geeks are going to come after me a little bit. For a very long time, it was the conservatives who disliked the word ideology. Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Michael Oakeshott, these are the guys who disliked ideology, because they thought conservatism was realism. Conservatism, which I think is correct, to the extent that conservatism takes into account the crooked timber of humanity, takes into account original sin, the importance of tradition and all of these things. And the problem is that they were using ideology to basically describe Jacobinism in France, or communism and Marxism and all of those things. And those are kinds of ideology, but they don’t use up all the uses of the word ideology. I sort of try to deflate the term. I simply mean ideology as your set of principles, your worldview.
JG: The way you see the world, your priorities…
HH: Your checklist, I think you use a few times. I think that’s a very useful concept.
JG: That’s right. We all go through life with a checklist of these things that we consider to be important. Does it expand freedom? Or does it constrain freedom? Does it reduce poverty? Does it increase poverty? Does it expand a woman’s right to choose? Or does it protect life? I mean, all of these things are ideological positions, and it doesn’t mean you always have to go one way or another, but it’s a checklist. It’s a series of things that we bring to reality to sort of help us understand where to go forward.
HH: Big question, Jonah. After writing Liberal Fascism and now the Tyranny Of Clichés, maybe you’re rightly positioned to answer this. I always wonder where that first setting, that first orientation towards freedom comes. You know, other than Scripture, I think One Day In the Life Of Ivan Denisovich was the most impactful book on my youth. And thereafter, I read dissident literature like To Build A Castle by Bukovsky, or Against All Odds by Armando Valladares. Dissident literature had a great appeal to me when I was young. I’m wondering, where do people like Wilson and the authoritarians of the left get that initial orientation? What did they read that made them oblivious to freedom?
JG: Well, I think, you know, when I talk about Liberal Fascism, I often use this formulation. Look, the fundamental category error that liberals on the left always make, conservatives only sometimes make, and libertarians never make, is this basic idea that the government cannot love you. The government cannot be your mommy or your daddy. It can’t be your family. It can’t be your tribe. It cannot be your church or your synagogue. Government is government. And there are enormous of people who want to get out of government what they feel like they’re missing in their families, or missing from their sports teams, or whatever it is in life. They think government can fill the holes in their souls. And they think that if we just all work together, this is the cult of unity, which is another one of these clichés, that if we just all do things together, everything will be great. And so you get these people who constantly get these bad metaphors about how government needs to be like a parent, or government needs to be a like a church, or government needs to take the place of God, which is a very big one in liberalism. They don’t say it all that often, but that’s the motive of it. That’s what you get from Rawls and a lot of these people, as if only government could do the things that God would do if God really existed.
HH: Wow, that is such a terrible category error. And so it does cripple a lot. But I would think it would be remediable by exposure to history. That’s what’s so amazing is we’re not making a whole lot of progress on the left in turning people from a very diseased idea tree.
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HH: So when we went to break, I was being mildly pessimistic, saying we aren’t making a lot of progress in remedying or cutting off the diseased limbs of the tree that has birthed modern liberalism. And I don’t know if you’ve seen it, yet. Have you seen the movie preview for Characterunites.com? It’s kind of one of those do-gooder ads you get in a movie theater before the show?
JG: No. It sounds awful.
HH: Oh, it’s horrible. It’s We Will Not Stand For…, and it’s a litany of clichés, and people are sitting down, and they have their we will not stand for, you know, homophobia, we will not stand for Islamophobia, we will not stand for anti-Semitism, and it goes on and on and on, and it is visually arresting, very powerful. But I saw it for the first time when I had read Tyranny Of Clichés, and it’s laugh out loud funny against that backdrop.
JG: Yeah, you know, I mean one of the things I begin the book is with this declaration that Obama gives the day before his inauguration. He stops in Baltimore…
HH: Oh, yes.
JG: And he sees this huge crowd, and he says what this country desperately needs is a new Declaration of Independence, a declaration from ideology, small-mindedness, bigotry and prejudice. And what an unbelievably idiotic thing to say, first of all.
JG: Right? This is a guy, the first black president of the United States named Barack Hussein Obama, wins in a landslide, and our top priority has to be declaring independence from prejudice and bigotry? I mean, what more evidence do you need that this is not a huge problem for this country?
HH: But that’s because it’s not measurable. I thought one of the beauties of a Tyranny Of Clichés is pointing out again and again and again how the standard is never one that can be judged by any metric accessible to anyone.
JG: That’s right, because it’s mostly emotionally empowered, right?
JG: But with the Obama statement, right? When he says ideology, small-mindedness, bigotry and prejudice, he’s lumping ideology in there. So he’s basically lumping in people who have different principles, different conceptions of the role of government, different preferences for freedom and all of the rest. He’s saying that they belong on the same list as sort of dunderheads, bigots and the rest. And that’s really deeply offensive. And one of the things that I hope people pick up on this is, you know, and this is where media bias comes in, is that you can always hear these offensive little things when you come from the other perspective. And even though it’s the lowest form of punditry to talk about what if this was George Bush. It doesn’t mean that it’s not edifying sometimes. And so many of the things that Obama gets away with saying are deeply offensive if you come from another perspective than his, but since the press clearly doesn’t, they just sort of wash over the press corps as just sort of homespun truths. Oh, he’s just saying what we all believe, and what all decent people believe, and we don’t see anything offensive about it.
HH: Yeah, the new Lincoln come to set us free from all that ails us, and without examining the precise content of what he is saying, as Jonah Goldberg does in the Tyranny of Clichés.
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HH: By the way, I was just playing the music to Game Of Thrones, Jonah. And somewhere in Tyranny Of Clichés, you run over Dune and Frank Herbert’s magnificent 5,000 book series that dominates about one year of everyone’s life if they’re sci-fi readers. I think you said it was age 16. Are you into the Game Of Thrones at all?
JG: I love the series. I have not read the books.
HH: Okay, so I just wanted to make sure that you were fully invested in what is in essence the second coming of Dune. People don’t realize that, but it’s very, very much the second coming of Dune. All right, the book ends up at the same place that Liberal Fascism did, which is that an intellectual renovation has to occur. Are you optimistic that it will?
JG: Yes, cautiously optimistic. Edmund Burke says that example is the school of mankind, and he will learn it no other, although I think Ed Koch said it better when he was asked if he was ever going to run for mayor of New York again. He said no, the people of New York have fired me, and now they must be punished. And something similar is going on, right? I mean, at the end of the day, the path that we’re on is unsustainable. It’s unsustainable for green eye shade bookkeeping reasons, but it’s also unsustainable because the American character and the American culture cannot tolerate where we’re going. And if we cannot tolerate it, the change will come. Whether it’s a pleasant process or not, I cannot guarantee, but look, the Tea Parties, for whatever flaws people find in them, are an enormously positive sign about the self-corrective nature of our country.
HH: I’ll tell you, I think there is hope in some respects and not in others. But one area where I think this is coming, change is coming rather quickly, is with diversity. Now Chapter 7, Diversity, Lord, this is good. And if Lee Bollinger, my old media law professor from the University of Michigan reads this, he could stroke out, so invested is he in diversity. But I think the Supreme Court is taking up this case, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some briefs citing this chapter in the Tyranny Of Clichés to them. It’s all a fraud. It is, 100%, and you do it in about seven or eight pages. It’s just a fraud.
JG: That’s right. Again, it’s sort of a classic tyrannical cliché, right?
JG: Everybody is taught to believe diversity is a good thing. Who can be against diversity? It’s like being against the American way or apple pie and all of the rest? And that’s why the left went there, right, because the old argument about affirmative action was a deeply moral argument that said that, and it was a serious argument, that said you know, you can’t expect men who have been in chains for generations to take of their chains and expect to compete in a foot race fairly, that you need to help them out. Now whether that was the right policy, or that we went about it the right way, that’s a good argument to have. That’s not my point. The point is the validity of that argument has hit its shelf life, and so the left went to ground, and started coming up with this diversity argument, which among other things, is an argument for the permanence of this racial quota system, the permanence of using government as a bean counter to have a populations policy of moving people around, because as Lee Bollinger says, diversity is now simply an essential part of education, and a central part of education as much as science or literature or anything else. And that means that administrators forever get to play these games. And the reality is that the social science data no way backs up this idea that diversity in and of itself is wonderful. Sometimes, it can be good. I’m not against diversity when diversity is good. But I’m also against diversity when diversity is bad. If we required the NBA to include midgets on all their teams, it would not improve the game. But it would be more diverse.
HH: I must say, my admiration for Pages 96-97 is immense, because it’s always been a very difficult argument to make for me as to explain to people why what they think they are doing is in fact not what they are doing, and what is really going on, I quote from Page 96, “At a deeper level, the agenda behind diversity is about power. It is a way to give permanent license to social engineers.” That is perfectly put. And do you know Bill Schambra at all?
JG: Oh, sure.
HH: Yeah, well Bill once said to me, you know, the way to win the diversity argument is always to get people to focus on the next person in the door who didn’t get in because some people jumped the line. And he’s absolutely correct about that. You do it at a much higher level than this. This is all about who is going to bear the burden for all this social engineering, and it’s always some Asian kid with perfect SAT’s who can play the French horn.
HH: It’s always the Jewish doctor who doesn’t get in because of the racists of the last century.
JG: My old boss, Ben Wattenberg, was sort of a classic Democrat, and he was against…Ben was always against racial quotas, as he put it, because, when they kept blacks and Jews out of universities. Now, he’s against racial quotas because they keep Jews and Asians out of universities unfairly.
JG: But this is another place for self-correction, right? I mean, this is a place to be optimistic. California, lots of places, have at the ground level, tried to reform these things, because they consider it to be unfair and untenable. And I think that that’s where the tide of history is moving.
HH: But Jonah, the people…the people, oh, you just used one. You just used tide of history. I wish you were right, but people in California voted to end it, but the administrators wouldn’t comply. They are non-compliant elite. They are completely…what is it Peter Berger said that the United States in terms of religion, if India is the most religious country in the world, and Sweden is the least, we are a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes? Well, the same is true about diversity. We cannot get them to let go of it.
JG: Look, I’ll agree it is a door to door fight, and it is by no means a one fight. But the fight is going better than it was a generation ago, you know. It’s going better than it was in the late 80s, early 90s. And some of that is because of just general social, you know, improvement. I mean, I think it’s a wonderful thing that we had black secretaries of state, and that we have a black president. It’s not the black president I would prefer, but you know, I think that’s a sign of progress. And I think, I wrote a column about this a while back, there’s this thing that kids today say all the time as a sort of sarcastic joke. Whenever confronted with any injustice, they basically say oh, that’s racist. And what they’re doing is they’re making fun of their liberal parents.
HH: Yes, they are. It’s just like people saying it’s LeBron’s fault on Twitter now, because it’s got…but I’ve got to ask you about diversity on this. I’ve got to let the audience know that if they want the best laugh they’ve had at Barbra Streisand’s expense in a long time, it’s in this chapter. And I don’t, here’s the kicker, I don’t think she’s going to get the Ron Burgundy quote. I don’t think she would. Do you think she would get it?
JG: I don’t know. It’s from Anchorman, which is one of my favorite movies…
HH: You bet.
JG: And when Ron Burgundy is told they’re going to have to have diversity at the news station and bring on a woman, they ask him, you know, do you know what diversity is? And he says I believe it is an old wooden ship.
HH: (laughing) Tell me, tell people, just give them a glimpse of why Barbra Streisand hates Jonah Goldberg.
JG: Well, so Barbra Streisand’s favorite columnist in the world was this guy, Robert Scheer, who’s an old sort of carbuncle of the left, and he was a columnist for the L.A. Times for years. And when the L.A. Times got rid of him, I was one of the columnists they replaced him with, and it drove her crazy. And she wrote this, you know, there was this old skit on In Living Color of these jailhouse philosophers who didn’t know what words meant. And they were sort of misused everything. It sort of sounded like one of these street corner guys from the Nation Of Islam who say we must elucidate to facilitate the recimate, you know, and it makes no sense. So she writes this open letter to the L.A. Times that is largely gibberish. But part of it, she makes the case that having people like Scheer there expand the gamut of diversity of voices, or some nonsense like that. And she clearly means from the context of the letter that diversity just means things she agrees with, things she likes.
HH: Yup, yup.
JG: And so the fact is that having Robert Scheer in there didn’t increase diversity at all. It lessened it. Having me in there, you know, at least I’m a conservative on the page. But she just uses diversity to mean seems good.
HH: Goodness, basic goodness. You’ve got to choose between goodness and badness, to quote Judge Smails. You’ve got to have a choice in here at some point. By the way, Caddyshack, which you’re one of the few people I’ve ever seen who recognized its place in the pantheon of ideas, as a favorite of mine. When the L.A. Times asked me to come up with three movies that I would use to explain America to a European who had never been here, I cited Caddyshack, Cool Hand Luke and Hoosiers. What three would you show, Jonah Goldberg?
JG: Oh, you know, that’s a great question and a great list. Oh, gosh.
HH: Think about it during the break. We’ll come back, because that was, they did a symposium on that about, oh, it’s about ten years ago, and it was one of the more interesting deals. When we come back, we’re going to talk about Hollywood a little bit more. Let Them Eat Cake is the chapter. I turned to the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt when I finished this and I said did you know that John Travolta blank, blank, blank? And she said of course, everybody knows that. And I said I didn’t know that. And so when we come back, I will…did you know that, Jonah? Have you always followed celebrity stuff?
JG: I followed this a while ago, and I just, you know, it was easy to research, because there are lots of pieces about the crazy entourages and demands of Hollywood people.
HH: Let Them Eat Cake is the chapter we return to in the new book, The Tyranny Of Clichés.
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HH: I don’t know if I could ever say goodbye to Jonah Goldberg’s Tyranny Of Clichés. It may stay in the studio forever, because it’s such a compendium of useful data and wonderful illustrations of the absolute insanity of much of the left’s thinking. Jonah, of course that was Barbra Streisand, you tell with her in the chapter on diversity, but then in the chapter Let Them Eat Cake, much further on in the book, as I said before the break, I have almost zero capacity for TMZ stuff, and I don’t read much about the lifestyles of the rich and camera-ready. But I’m appalled at how they live. And they are in fact Marie Antoinette if she was in fact actually lived the way, or said the things that people think she lived and said.
JG: Right, first of all, let me answer the question you asked before about the three movies.
JG: I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks, but I would say A Face In The Crowd…
JG: And The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
HH: Oh, you see, there’s always going to be a great throwback in there. That’s interesting. I may start keeping a list of that. It was the best thing the L.A. Times ever asked me to do. And so I have to go and…I know, I haven’t seen A Face In The Crowd in my goodness, thirty years.
JG: A Face In The Crowd is a fantastic movie.
JG: I mean, it’s got some left wing tropes to it. So does Network, obviously.
HH: Yeah, a lot of let wing tropes to it, but not Liberty Valance. All right, back to this, these lifestyles of the Hollywood famous. America’s not shocked by this?
JG: You know, it’s funny. I think Americans don’t mind the way rich people live, for the most part, because they think rich people deserve their money. The thing about the Hollywood people is for all the talk about the 1%’ers and the Wall Street’ers and the Goldman Sachs people, for the most part, those guys don’t live, and you know some rich businessmen. I know some rich businessmen. They live pretty modest lives. I mean, you know, Mitt Romney sweeps out his own garage, you know?
JG: But what the Hollywood people do is they’re sort of concentrated bundles of liberal energy. And since they have to live off their emotions and all of the rest, and they are constantly elevated as gods by their management and their agents and their fans and all the rest, that they’ve come to take on the sort of psychosis. And I know this is not true of all of them. One of the guys that blurbs my book, Vince Vaughn, is not like this at all. But a lot of them, they are just king babies.
HH: And by the way, the Vince Vaughn blurb may be the single most interesting blurb ever, just the fact that it’s there and that he’s below David Mamet and ahead of Marco Rubio. It’s…with Mitch Daniels, Brad Thor and J-Pod thrown in, along with VDH, who was for a moment at least not totally gloomy.
JG: Yeah, it’s sort of like a right wing Love Boat with a lot of great cameo appearances.
HH: It is, but you know, it’s not diverse. There’s not one woman on here.
HH: I said what, he’s just completely politically incorrect here. Back to these…
JG: Yeah, so I’ll tell you, the point of the chapter is, right, going back to FDR, going back to the 19th Century, going back to the 18th Century, you know, there’s this famous Rousseau quote about, not Rousseau, Voltaire, right?
HH: Right, Marie Antoinette, yeah.
JG: About Marie Antoinette that you know, she said let them eat cake when the people were starving. And it’s supposed to sort of send this message that the rich and the aristocratic don’t understand how the little guy lives, and so she can ask why don’t they just eat cake when they’re out of bread. And everyone sort of takes it at face value. FDR gave speeches about you know, this was the essence of sort of the out-of-touchness and aloofness of the super rich and all the rest, and it’s all nonsense. First of all, she never said it. There was a reason to believe it was said by another princess a hundred years earlier. But even if she did say it, it’s not an unreasonable thing to have said.
HH: Oh, I didn’t know any of the French economic history about bread and pastries and all that stuff. That’s a fascinating bit of archaeology here, Jonah.
JG: Yeah, so what happened was in the old, in France, you know, bread was such a staple that aristocrats passed, the monarchy passed this law that said that if a bakery ran out of cheap bread, it had to sell the expensive bread at the same price. So basically if you run out of AMC Pacers and Gremlins, you have to sell the BMW’s at the same price. Needless to say, this was a huge regulatory burden on bakeries, and they would never overproduce the expensive bread for fear of having to sell it at the low price. And it completely skewed the markets. But it is the classic sort of know-nothing, economically illiterate thing that you expect from aristocrats in the 18th Century, and also from Hollywood people today, where they say well, the world should just work this way, so let’s pass a law that’ll make the world work this way. And they have no concept of the unintended consequences. They have no concept that you pass rent control laws, that they’re going to basically be a subsidy for the upper middle class. They have no concept that if you pass free housing laws, you’re going to have a free rider problem. They have no concept that if you just require everyone to have health care, you’re going to create all sorts of externalities. They just say it should be this way, so let’s make a law declaring it. And you cannot make a law declaring that we can recycle unicorn poop as renewable energy.
HH: And that jumps us back to the early part of the book where you’re talking about Hayek, and that no one person can know enough, and that quoting now, “Planners are quite simply educated fools.” And hence, I never knew of the great pig slaughter of 1933, by the way. I knew about Mao’s war on the sparrows, but not FDR’s program against the pig, so I didn’t know about that. But I, having said that, it’s very easy to see where that belief that you can get it right, and it’s all vanity, it’s Ecclesiastes – Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.
JG: Right, and you know, in 1994, Hillary Clinton, after spending six months or eight months with 500 health care experts, with binders stacked to the ceiling and file cabinets for as far as the eye can see collecting data on the health care system, she was asked is there anything more you need before you come up with your recommendation. And her response was if only we could get just a little bit more data.
HH: Data, yeah.
JG: And it is this fallacy, it’s this mirage that somehow you can plan and scope these things out. It’s what Friedrich Hayek called the knowledge problem. The reason why we have prices and markets is that they send far more complicated signals about scarcity and all the rest than you can ever get from a five year plan.
HH: Let me also, before we leave this chapter, back up to Let Them Eat Cake. “Michael Moore is a notoriously unpleasant boss who treats his staff like peasants.” I didn’t know that. That’s very useful information to know. Sometimes, biography does tell you a lot, Jonah Goldberg.
JG: Oh yeah, no, there’s some great pieces about Michael Moore. Michael Moore, who constantly is talking about the plight of the working man and all that kind of stuff, famously fires people when they try to organize, tried to organize in his own shop. His workers finally joined the Writer’s Guild, and they had to sue him for back wages. And in fairness, Salon magazine has done some stuff on this, a left wing magazine. I think the Village Voice did. One of his former employees, I quote in the book saying that if you got everybody who ever worked for Michael Moore who considered it an unhappy experience, you would not find a stadium big enough for the reunion.
HH: I know, that’s quoted in here, and it’s very much an eye-opener, as is the entire chapter, Let Them Eat Cake. But almost every chapter in the Tyranny Of Clichés is.
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HH: Jonah, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience. I was flying courtesy of my patrons, first class on the way back when I read your book, and I was sitting next to a rather dour business type who was clicking away on his computer for the whole, it was from Philadelphia, it was from Chicago to Southern California, the second half of my flight. And I was finishing up and making my notes, and he said what is so damned funny? And so I said I’m sorry, I couldn’t even begin to explain it to you. It’s because your juxtaposition of the casual aside. Do you think most…this is a technique question. We’ll go back to the substance. I think most writers are afraid to talk to the people who are reading the book. They’re talking to reviewers. They forget that people have to read and like a book.
JG: Yeah, I think this is something, I mean, some people just don’t like my style, but this is something that I sort of honed from getting my start writing so much on the web. There was, first of all, in internet years, I’m Methuselah, you know, and back at the beginning of the internet, there were no rules about anything. It was just sort of putting a message in a bottle and throwing it out to the world. And one of the things that I did, sort of developing my voice, was do a lot of women’s prison movie jokes and Star Trek references, and all of the rest. And it’s a style that I’m comfortable with, it’s my voice now when I’m writing comfortably. I mean, Liberal Fascism isn’t that voice, because it couldn’t be. But I think it works for me, I think, and I think it’s something that you could really only develop in some ways working on the internet, because on the internet, there is no physical limitation for how long you can go.
JG: And the hard limit of 700 or 850 or 650 words, depending on the form, makes it almost impossible to do the sort of fun tangents and asides that you can do on the web simply by virtue of the fact if you have all these tangents and asides, you never get to the end of the column in a print newspaper.
HH: Let me also, and online, the Twitter world now, in which you and our friend Podhoretz and a number of other people excel, I play there, but I don’t do it…I try not to fight up in class or down in class. And I won’t do jokes with J-Pod or you. And so that’s a different world entirely from the book length thing, but it still digs into and uses humor. Twitter is all about fun.
JG: Yeah, or at least it is for me. I mean, there’s some awfully earnest people out there on Twitter, you know, and there’s armies of people who you want to say Lighten up, Francis to. But I find it, you know, a useful means of procrastination. I’m not sure beyond that what the merit of it is, but it’s also, it’s somewhat deadly to blogging, because most blog posts really only have one joke or one point in them, and instead of taking 300 words to do it, you do it in 140 characters, and then you feel like you’re repeating yourself when you go to the blogs.
HH: Now all it is, is a signaling mechanism for the serious stuff online. Let me ask, then, going from the very funny on Twitter to the very serious, Chapter 6, No Labels, you bury in here a very important, I think, thing, that the reason people adopt the idea of no labels is to clear away principled objections to what they want to do. And I think if people understand this, they will be much less reticent to fall for the con that you go on to talk about, making people feel dumb for being smart. And I’ve run into this time and time again. When I’m lectured about al Qaeda, and I’m being lectured about the Bush administration, I’ll just turn to people and I’ll say have you read Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower? And they’ll always say no. Almost no one has read it. It’s the most important book on al Qaeda, and it’s a man of the left who wrote it, and it’s a New Yorker credentialed guy. But the people who are critiquing my understanding of the threat are dummies. They don’t read anything. And yet when you bring up things, they’ll come back at this with this know-nothing, basically intellectual cross-burning of no labels.
JG: Right, and it’s a way to sort of, in a civilized way, put your hands over your ears and say na-na-na-na-na, I can’t hear you. And you know, I’ve been following politics for a long time, and this trope of why can’t we put away our partisan differences, why can’t we get beyond this philosophical divide, which sort of plays into the pragmatism stuff, is a constant. And you hear it from liberals all the time. I never met a conservative who said I don’t believe in labels. But you hear liberals all the time say why can’t we put aside these silly labels, and the most telling thing is you never hear them say we need to get past this partisan divide, we need to get past these philosophical labels, and so therefore, I’m going to abandon all of my positions and agree with you.
HH: That’s right.
JG: They only ever say it when they want you to shut up and get with their program.
HH: To clear away principled objections to what they want to do.
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HH: Let’s move through a few more of Jonah Goldberg’s new book chapters. Dogma – Anthony Lewis declaring that the greatest enemy we face is certainty, Jonah, and then you’re asking do you think he’s certain about that, is really, it’s a wonderful turn.
JG: Well, thanks. I mean, this is one of these things where it just drives…because you meet so many people who think this is a serious argument, that people who are sure of what they know, or are certain, or are dogmatic, that somehow they’re dumb, you know?
JG: And there’s that old expression you can have such an open mind your brain falls out. These people who think that if you actually have thought through your positions, and that you really know what you think about stuff, that somehow that makes you close-minded is asinine.
HH: And I love the obviousness…I love the obviousness of sometimes, dogma is right. For example, you and I will agree, and I hope 99.9% of my audience will agree, slavery is always and everywhere wrong. That’s a dogmatic assertion, but I believe it to be true, as did Lincoln, as did most people of the civilized West after Wilberforce did his work, and eventually all of the civilized West. But it’s categorized, I guess, that’s the inconvenient dogma that is true.
JG: That’s right. I mean, here’s the thing. People say that they’re against dogma, and they think that dogmatic thinking is bad. Well, look, if dogma in and of itself is bad, then everything is an open question, and that we shouldn’t criticize people who say maybe we should revisit the issue of slavery, maybe we should allow, we should legalize pedophilia. What is with this dogmatic taboo against pedophilia? I like that dogmatic taboo. I would like to reinforce that dogmatic taboo. Some dogma is very good, and some dogma is very bad. The difference between the left and the right is that the right actually debates its dogma. The left just simply lives off of its dogma. The fundamental dogmatic axiom that unites all of the left is that government should do good where it can, when it can, whenever it can. They never question it, there’s no limiting principle to liberalism as we saw in the Obamacare Supreme Court hearing. They tried to ask them where’s the limiting principle in here, they cannot do it. Bill Voegeli in his great book, Never Enough, explores this. There is no limiting principle to liberalism in what the government can do, precisely because they don’t understand how dogmatic they are about it.
HH: Now I’m rambling across chapters here, but I’m jumping to my favorite, Social Justice, an Intellectual History of Where the Term Comes From. And, “It makes no sense to talk of social justice in a free society, because to do so assumes that we should not in fact live in a free society, at least not as classically understood.” Explain that, Jonah, because that was one that got my four checkmarks.
JG: Well, the basic idea of social justice, remember earlier I was saying sort of at the core of liberalism is this desire to have government do what God would do if God was decent and kind?
JG: That’s social justice, is that the essence of social justice is to fix the problems, mostly the problems with capitalism, of inequality, of different outcomes and results among different peoples. And the only way you can do that is if government actually leaps in and starts working in every nook and cranny in human life, and taking money from people who earned it, and giving it to people who didn’t earn it. And you can defend social justice in all sorts of ways as an ideological worldview. It’s essentially, you know, it’s almost indistinguishable in many ways from the sort of core tenets of social democracy and socialism. But you cannot say that it is a non-ideological, just a good thing and be taken seriously. It is a deeply and profoundly ideological approach about what the role of government in society is. And it’s basically to fix everything. And people use it glibly to sort of smooth over or skip a very serious argument about the role of government. Oh, we should do this for reasons of social justice. Well, what they mean by that is we should do it because this is something I don’t like, and if I don’t like it, the government should fix it.
HH: And at the end, a parallel argument, though it’s not parallel, it connects at one point, is that social Darwinism, in fact, social Darwinism should probably be the leader of the straw man parade. When I concluded the Tyranny Of Clichés, I said okay, which one of these is truly the one that is most widely thrown around with little understanding or application to what it was supposed to mean, and in fact did not mean that, and it’s social Darwinism.
JG: Right, well, the problem with social Darwinism, first of all, it’s just a big, honking lie.
HH: Yeah, it doesn’t exist.
HH: It never existed, and the social Darwinist is the man whom people would be shocked. It’s Oliver Wendell Holmes. Now I’ve been teaching Buck V. Bell for a decade and a half, so I know all about Buck V. Bell. But he’s the real social Darwinist.
JG: Right, if by social Darwinist you mean someone who wants to use the state to pick winners and losers along genetic lines, right?
JG: …of saying these people are good because their genes are good, and these people are bad because their genes are bad. If that’s social Darwinism, then that’s what the progressives were. That’s what Oliver Wendell Holmes was. That’s what the Fabian socialists in Sidney and Beatrice Webb were. That’s what H.G. Wells was. That’s what all the guys at the Wisconsin School of Progressives were, is they were soaked to the bone racial eugenicists. And the problem is that what they were, they were called reformed Darwinists, a terms that has been completely lost to time, even though they actually existed. And instead, we have this bogeyman called social Darwinism that Herbert Spencer was supposed to be the leader of, that no one called themselves a social Darwinist. Herbert Spencer never used the term. He didn’t call himself a Darwinist. He had a different theory of evolution. But the left always brings up this medusa’s head to terrify people, and says oh, if the Republicans have their way, it’s a return to social Darwinism. We never had social Darwinism, no one ever believed in social Darwinism, and yet they always bring it up as a way to sort of close off debate and scare people. It’s a place holder for fascists, right? And the best working definition of a fascist in American life is still a conservative who is winning an argument.
HH: Yeah, that’s…it is will worth the entire price of the book to go read that, so that your intellectual history is brushed off, and you know what is good and what is bad about the robber barons. And I count myself among the people who don’t know, who know a lot of things that are wrong. I always believed the boiling pot and the frog thing, Jonah. You’ve ruined one of my…I’ve always believed that, and that’s just one of the many totems that get chopped down here. But there’s a lot…do you think people will stop using some of these clichés if they read this book?
JG: I don’t know. I mean, some of them, and I find myself, and you caught me using one earlier, the right side of history, or the tide of history. There’s a reason why these things work so much, is because they are so worked into the language. We think in these categories. Orwell has this great passage where he just says clichés, you can get to the point where clichés do your thinking for you.
HH: Oh, and they will not if you read The Tyranny Of Clichés. One more segment with Jonah Goldberg.
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HH: Thanks to my guest the last two yours, Jonah Goldberg, author of the Tyranny Of Clichés. Jonah, wonderful new book, I want to close by talking about power corrupts. You include a short history of the Chappaquiddick affair, which I’ll bet will be news to many readers in a way that the airbrushing of history often means that there’s a lot of undiscovered recent history that people just don’t touch on.
JG: Right, and the point of the power corrupts thing, we all hear power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And there’s a lot of truth to that. I mean, that’s why some of these clichés are so hard to get rid of, is because there is some truth to them, you know. But the point that they were trying to make, that he’s trying to make, and when he coined that phrase, power corrupts, was that he was talking about the historians who write about powerful people. They forgive sins of the powerful in ways that they will not forgive for normal people. And when you look at someone like Ted Kennedy, who really, for most of his life, was just an abysmal human being, I mean, kind of got his act together towards the end, and I don’t know, in his umpteenth marriage, and all of the rest, and yes, if you’re a liberal, he did some good things for the country and all that, and if you’re conservative, he didn’t. That’s not my point. The man himself was a bad dude, much like Roman Polanski, right?
JG: But because they’re famous or they’re powerful, they get forgiven for this stuff. And Teddy Kennedy basically left a woman to die, and it’s very clear, at least from my reading of it, that he and his family cared first and foremost about the man’s political career and his political viability, and not about the death of…
HH: No, it ought to have been in every obituary and it wasn’t, and I’m glad it’s in the Tyranny Of Clichés. Last question, you debate a lot on campuses as I do. I was just a couple of weeks ago with Eric Alterman at Pomona…
JG: Oh, dear Lord.
HH: Oh, he was a very unpleasant fellow. But you often debate with Peter Beinart, who is a very pleasant guy. Who is the best of the left when it comes to debating this stuff? Or have they all given up?
JG: It’s a good question. I don’t have a great answer for it. I haven’t debated Peter in a little while, and I think we’re going to go at each other again in the fall. He’s on such an Israel kick that I just can’t get into it. I don’t want it to harm the friendship, and there are better people at arguing that stuff than I am. It’ll be interesting to see. You know, the book has just come out, and we’ll see whether some liberals want to take up the gauntlet. I’m still waiting for a reasonable liberal critique of Liberal Fascism, and that’s been out for four years.
HH: Yeah, don’t hold your breath. Jonah, congratulations, a tremendous second encore, and what’s next? Is there another one already in the works?
JG: Oh, I have no idea. I would love it to be a science fiction novel, but that’s, you know, we’ll see.
HH: the Tyranny of Clichés is Jonah Goldberg’s brand new book. It’s linked at Hughhewitt.com. You will enjoy it.
End of interview.