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Jonah Goldberg Tackles Liberal Cliches... In The WashPost

Tim Graham's picture

The Washington Post granted some space in their Sunday Outlook section to Jonah Goldberg of National Review, spinning off his new book The Tyranny of Cliches. He began with something familiar, how liberals pretend they aren't ideologues: "Liberals insist that they live right downtown in the “reality-based community,” and if only their Republican opponents weren’t so blinded by ideology and stupidity, then they could work with them."

That sounds a lot  like the "objective" and "mainstream" media we have to endure. But he also went straight to President Obama:

This has been a theme of Obama’s presidency from the start. A couple of days before his inauguration,Obama proclaimed: “What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry” (an odd pronouncement, given that “bigoted” America had just elected its first black president).

In his inaugural address, he explained that “the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”

Whether the president who had to learn, in his own words, that there’s “no such thing” as shovel-ready projects — after blowing billions of stimulus dollars on them — is truly focused on “what works” is a subject for another day. But the phrase is a perfect example of the way liberals speak in code when they want to make an ideological argument without conceding that that is what they are doing. They hide ideological claims in rhetorical Trojan horses, hoping to conquer terrain unearned by real debate.

The best part of Goldberg's article was his deconstruction of Obama decrying "social Darwinism," which is a pretty ahistorical charge, he asserts:

Obama this month denounced the Republican House budget as nothing more than “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” Liberals have been trotting out this Medusa’s head to petrify the public for generations. It does sound scary. (After all, didn’t Hitler believe in something called “social Darwinism”? Maybe he did.) But no matter how popular the line, these liberal attacks have little relation to the ideas that the “robber barons” and such intellectuals as Herbert Spencer — the “father” of social Darwinism — actually followed.

Spencer’s sin was that he was a soaked-to-the-bone libertarian who championed private charity and limited government (along with women’s suffrage and anti-imperialism). The “reform Darwinists” — namely the early-20th-century Progressives — loathed such classical liberalism because they wanted to tinker with the economy, and humanity itself, at the most basic level.

More vexing for liberals: There was no intellectual movement in the United States called “social Darwinism” in the first place. Spencer, a 19th-century British philosopher, didn’t use the term and wasn’t even a Darwinist (he had a different theory of evolution).

Liberals misapplied the label from the outset to demonize ideas they didn’t like. They’ve never stopped.

Comments

#1 "They hide ideological claims

"They hide ideological claims in rhetorical Trojan horses, hoping to conquer terrain unearned by real debate."

This is so true, if there is one thing liberals are good at, it is renaming stale ideas (that have lost the debate), waiting for or manufacturing a crisis, and then springing their renamed ideologies on the public as something new. "Fair share," "war on women," "dog whistle," are all examples of efforts to advance Marxist ideology while avoiding any debate.

#2 Its just as inaccurate to

Its just as inaccurate to call progressives "reform Darwinists". Darwin's theory was about natural selection, not artificial selection. Even if they did want to tinker with humanity, that wouldn't properly be "Darwinism." Social Darwinism would apply to any social theory which argued that the principle of natural selection should rule and people who failed deserved to have failed and people who succeeded deserved have succeeded. And no, people like T. Roosevelt didn't want to tinker with humanity at a basic level. There is some big lines being blurred here to tar progressivism with a big brush; it would be the same as saying all libertarians are dangerous anarchists.

Mr. Goldberg's style is to correct historical wrongs by replacing wrong arguments with equally wrong arguments.

#3 Meddle with natural selection?

If liberals call conservatism as Social Darwinism, then the complementary description of liberalism should be Reverse Evolution. Surely the results of failed great social experiments point out the negative results of those attempts.

Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains. - Winston Churchill

#4 Ain't it funny

how liberals love Darwinism when it gets control by someone they don't like (God) out of the way, but they hate it when it gets control by someone they love (themselves) out of the way?

I think conservatives should accuse liberals of Social Creationism and watch lib heads explode.

"Beauty is only skin deep, but liberal's to the bone." - me

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