Last Thursday, Jonah Goldberg, a conservative syndicated columnist and author, gave a lecture in Griffin titled “The Tyranny of Clichés.” The lecture was a part of the Uncomfortable Learning Initiative that attempts to promote student discussion on controversial issues.
Goldberg began by discussing the recent publication of his book, also called The Tyranny of Clichés. The book discusses the problem of contemporary liberals attempting to distance their politics from ideology.
“Barack Obama says in interviews that he only wants to do what works, that he’s not an ideologue,” Goldberg said. “Basically the biggest line that liberals tell themselves is that they don’t have an ideological agenda, that they’re based on empirical data. But they do have an ideological agenda, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
According to Goldberg, liberals perceive ideology as an exclusively conservative political theme, or “a means for bigotry.” In Goldberg’s opinion, “Conservatives have an ideology, but at least they admit it.”
Goldberg believes that liberals oftentimes pretend that they “don’t care about the dogma behind their policies.” Instead, according to Goldberg, liberals accuse conservatives of wanting to “impose their values on the public” without acknowledging that their party uses a similar method.
Part of this “problem,” Goldberg said, is that “liberals view themselves as being victims; victims of the conservative party that is apparently trying to force their opinions on the rest of the world. Yet they also want to claim that they are the victims of the so called ‘cultural wars.’” According to Goldberg, liberals are also proud that throughout history (specifically the Civil Rights Movement), they have been the force of progress. But the contradiction arises, in Goldberg’s opinion, when the liberals want to both serve as a vehicle for progress, and also act as victims of the culture that they create. In Goldberg’s words, “they [liberals] like to think that they are ‘sticking it to the man.’”
Goldberg then explained how political clichés used by liberals attempt to hide the fact that their politics are extremely ideological. As an example, Goldberg talks about the term “social justice.” In Goldberg’s opinion, liberals have politicized certain phrases in ways that discourage political conversation. According to Goldberg, some liberal vocabulary is too broad to account for the real problems that the modern world is facing. In addition, Goldberg believes that liberal clichés like “social justice” portray people who don’t agree with liberal opinions as opposing broader issues such as “social justice” (i.e. painted negatively), when in reality they may just disagree with certain policies or theories.
After discussing the dangers of these clichés and exposing the use of conceal ideology by the liberal party, Goldberg explained his interpretation of the role of the U.S. government.
“The first phrase in the Democratic National Convention opening video was that ‘Government is something we can all belong to,’” Goldberg said. “But I hate that phrase. It’s so Washington-centric. Government is not here to fill the hole in your life.” Goldberg sees the function of government as not necessarily to be unified, but to have arguments and to have debates to continuously try and improve the country.
Goldberg then discussed how capitalism is “the single best anti-poverty economic system.” According to Goldberg, “capitalism is the greatest system conceived of if people cooperate to work for the betterment of themselves and others.” However, Goldberg admitted that oftentimes, this advantageous lens of capitalism doesn’t realistically exist in the United States.
One of the ways that he hopes to amend this is to make the political system more specific and to eradicate the clichés that people use to avoid facing the root of the problem.
In his weekly newsletter on The National Review online, Goldberg spoke about his experience at the College. “The war on microaggressions tells the tale,” he said. “We live in a society where racial macro aggressions are appreciably rare, particularly at places like Williams. In response, the molehills of alleged micro-aggressions are treated like the macro-aggressive mountains of yore. An alternative response is to fake instances of real old-timey racism, a very common occurrence at schools across the country (including, I’m told, at Williams), so as to heighten “awareness” of a kind of racism that is not actually present at the school.”