The Tyranny of Cliches


If you look around at contemporary political discourse, you might notice that, to an incredible extent, there is very little actual arguing there is. I do not mean that there is not all too much screaming, shouting, and name-calling in our politics and in the media. What I mean is that there are few logical arguments about policies developed from basic premises. There is a lot of heat and light but little real substance. Instead, what we too often hear are talking points, or statements that are platitudes repeated with very little thought as to what they actually mean, or how they apply to a given situation.

These platitudes or cliché’s if you will, are statements like, “it is better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be imprisoned” or, “I may not agree with what you said, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” or, “violence never solved anything”. Such statements as these are not entirely untrue, but they’re not actually true either. They are not real arguments, just words and phrase meant to take the place of real arguments.

Jonah Goldberg explores this phenomena in his second book, The Tyranny of Clichés. He begins by relating the problem of clichés as I have above. This, he asserts, is largely a problem of the Left who are incessantly accusing the Right of being ideologues while their positions are shaped by practical, nonideological considerations. In fact, the Left’s use of clichés undermines that whole idea that their belief are based solely on logic and facts and actually, many Liberals seem to be very bad at articulating just why they believe what they do.


Of course, according to Goldberg, Conservatives really are ideologues. But, he argues, so are Liberals. And, at least, Conservatives, by admitting their ideology can develop their positions logically from basic premises. Liberals, by asserting that they are non-ideological tend to divorce themselves from their theoretical roots and so lose the ability to explain just what their positions are and why they hold them.

After this introduction to the problem, Goldberg then spends twenty-four chapters analyzing these clichés and breaking down their meaning, or lack. He shows just why each cliché really doesn’t mean much of anything with the humor that regular readers of his column will appreciate.

I think that in many ways, The Tyranny of Clichés is a better book than Jonah Goldberg’s first effort, Liberal Fascism. Goldberg seems more comfortable this time around and more willing to be himself. I think that most readers will find the Tyranny of Clichés interesting and enjoyable.




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