Liberal Clichés 101: Abstract Democracy and Unity

As noted in my previous reviews here and here, Jonah Goldberg’s “Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas” provides a quick, enjoyable, highly readable analysis of the memes employed by progressive argumentation. Repeated often enough, these clichés seemingly have a ring of what faux conservative comic Stephen Colbert would call “truthiness.”

Therefore, a field guide such as Goldberg’s is in order to better enable those who would identify and refute such liberal claims that either stall or prevent completely honest and open public policy discourse. Liberals or progressives or what-have-you aren’t the only portion of the political spectrum subjected to Goldberg’s opprobrium. Conservatives also take a bit of a lashing for their repeated mantras of capitalism and democracy, about which Goldberg notes:

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(Lost on many conservatives is the fact that the two core stanchions undergirding the American system are quite simply unnatural. Democracy is not natural. Capitalism is not natural. Both depend on and exploit natural phenomena — self-interest, the yearning for respect — just as a house depends on stone, wood, and metal. But you won’t find a naturally occurring house in the woods, will you? Capitalism is the greatest system ever created for peacefully universalizing prosperity, but it doesn’t feel like it because it is unnatural. Democracy is the noblest of experiments; you will be hard-pressed to find a tribe putting everything up for a vote as a matter of custom and ritual, never mind binding law.)

Lastly, Goldberg decimates the continued calls for unity (expressed by every president in this writer’s memory) as a greater good. Unity for a “good” cause is, of course, wonderful, but there are also groups that unite for undesirable or even evil purposes. Think of the gangs joined together to brutalize neighborhoods and countries united under despotic regimes. After all, sometimes the urge to Kumbaya leads to the socialist salsa, the Pol Pot polka, or the Taliban tango. Again, to quote Goldberg directly:

In short, black hats and white hats alike can admire the principle of unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (all for one, one for all!). And yet, once you start paying attention you’ll see how thoroughly the cult of unity infects our politics. On the right it generally gives its expression in the form of patriotism and is honest about it, though George W. Bush hammered the whole “I’m a uniter not a divider” refrain until it was wet mush. On the left and in the “center,” overt appeals to patriotism are less common or more forced. What comes more naturally are appeals to unity and coming together. Unity is the secular humanist euphemism for patriotism….

But taken to its rational conclusion, appeals to unity are troubling because they work on the assumption that strength in number is, on its own, a virtue. That is not the American political tradition or creed. In America the hero is not the mob. It is the man – or woman – who stands up to the mob and says: You will not lynch this man today.

Leaving aside the polarized “liberal vs. conservative” dynamic, which itself admittedly is a cliché, Goldberg’s “The Tyranny of Clichés” should be required reading for all competitive debaters, public officials, opinion writers and anyone compelled to post comments on the Web pages of their local newspaper — because the only thing better than the ability to recognize the empty and/or lazy rhetoric behind the deployment of these clichés is the avoidance of using them in the first place.