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Friday, 16 December 2011

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Picador

This is the best positive thing I've seen written about Hitchens today. So, for that, kudos.

Personally, though, my priorities are different. Whenever I read about somebody being sad that Hitchens is dead, my mind leaps to a picture of somebody else who is sad about his passing:

http://ideasandinfo.files.wordpress.com/2007/04/iraqi-girl-crying.jpg

Haha j/k, she is sad about her parents being butchered in front of her by Hitchens' BFFs.

SEK

Hitchens had nothing to do with the policy being implemented. He wasn't even an American. And as someone opposed to the war, I'm not going to defend his position on it, only say that he was at least thoughtfully wrong -- keep in mind he condemned the US for not going after Saddam during the first Gulf War, and reported on the plight of the Kurds in the aftermath of it when everyone else was slapping themselves on the back for a war well-done.

Ahistoricality

There comes a point where eloquence and length are defensive mechanisms: "Great line, but..." reinforces the memory of the great line while the debunking fades with time; "but what about...." goalpost moving is easier with a large field.

Given the muck you slog through, I understand your appreciation of his rhetoric, but it's not clear to me that his effective writing ever had substantially good results; mostly it just let the muckers say "even the liberal Hitchens...."

SEK

Given the muck you slog through, I understand your appreciation of his rhetoric...

This plays a more important part than I probably acknowledge, and thanks for pointing it out.

SEK

(Reposted a version of this to LGM. Thanks again!)

Wax Banks

Given the muck you slog through, I understand your appreciation of his rhetoric, but it's not clear to me that his effective writing ever had substantially good results; mostly it just let the muckers say "even the liberal Hitchens...."

It's weird, to me, to hear folks pass judgment on Hitchens's Iraq War support and use that support as a proxy for a long, storied career as one of the most eloquent voices for the not-sitting-around-jacking-off-to-the-cooing-voice-of-the-semifictional-subaltern actual fucking activist Left.

Hitchens was doing good work for the good guys before SEK and I were born, and his record is way heavier and more complex than the above-quoted bullshit.

(This is separate from my annoyance over SEK's 'wrong about it all.')

Wax Banks

To elaborate less bitchily:

Hitchens's support of the Iraq War was always, from the beginning, understood as defense of liberal democracy and secularism (not goddamn imperialism) against theocracy -- and it can't be separated from his own involvement in the disgraceful waffling that followed the fatwa against his friend Rushdie. He was right to see that situation as a matter, not of religious 'tolerance,' but of resistance to clerical-governmental authority, and quite right to see continuity between various cynical appropriations of Islam for political purposes...just as he called out (for decades) the dangerous politicization of Christianity, even in the case of George W. Bush, whose wars he supported but about whom he also said this (from the recent New Yorker profile):

Hitchens asks his opponents this: “We should have left Iraq the way it was? However I replay the tape, however much I wish things had been done differently, I can’t get to that position.” He acknowledged that his support of the war had caused him some intellectual discomfort. “The most difficult thing is having to defend an Administration that isn’t defensible,” he said. On television and radio, he explained, “you’re invited on to defend the Administration’s view on something and then someone’s invited on to attack it. You don’t want to begin by putting distance, because then it looks like you’re covering your ass. You take the confrontation as it actually is. I’m not going to spend a few silky minutes saying, ‘You know, I don’t really like Bush and his attitude toward stem cells.’ No. Wait. The motion before the house is this: Is this a just and necessary war or is it not?”

He went on, “I’m open to the prosecution of the Administration, even the impeachment of some members, for the way they’ve fucked up the war, and also the way they exploit it domestically. But do not run away with the idea that my telling you this would satisfy any of my critics..."

Part of why 'wrong about it all' pisses me off is that if anything he was fanatical about being right about it all regardless of whether that made him the 'wrong' kind of person, or yielded the wrong kind of 'friends.'

He made the same basic point about 9/11 -- that Al Qaeda et al.'s beef with the US is with its coastal cosmopolitan secularist modern society, not with its more Bush-supportive demographics -- that DFW made in 'The View from [whoever's house].' But Hitchens wasn't pathologically (and performatively) self-doubting like DFW, and was a hell of a lot more obsessed with masculinity and destiny and all that other shit I can't get behind even though I can't quite escape its shadow either. So he was able to follow a principled throughline: the fastest way to end a war is to win it, and if war exists between openly state-supported would-be theocrats and the very idea of secular liberal democracy, then it's time to break out the Theocratic Enemies List and try to minimize civilian casualties.

It seems to me that the man insisted upon his own accountability and took solidarity goddamn seriously -- and he was able to see warmaking as a way of acting in solidarity, even when those wars were ordered by vile bastards whom Hitchens had previously attacked.

Well: if that means being wrong about policy/implementation and right about principle, I suppose there are worse things. And he tried to be right about both -- which led him to break his association with former friends and collaborators on the Left who go so hung up on the former than the latter became muddled.

He was right about the threat that theocracy poses to modernity, and the damage that modern living does as well. That seems like not so small a thing.

Sean Lai

Iraq wasn't a theocracy, and the way that Hitchens saw Al Qaida and co. as part and parcel of an Islamic fundamentalist monolith, his generation's Fascism, an enemy so world-threatening that every lever must be leaned against to destroy it, is the exact way in which he was wrong.

And you are right that he viewed himself as always adhering to a rigorously singular line of reasoning; this was the most odious part of his schtick. The man couldn't admit that in four decades of political awareness, some of his ideas had changed.

I also think it's weird to call an essayist and bon vivant an activist.

Ahistoricality

long, storied career as one of the most eloquent voices....

I wasn't just talking about his Iraq War support, though Hitchens' fans need to either explain how it's consistent with his being a decent person, how most people have inconsistent views, or how he was somehow deranged and different at that point (and for the subsequent decade, which is a long time to plead temporary insanity) than during the rest of his career. I haven't seen any of those cases made convincingly.

He was an eloquent voice. Except when he was an unfair, vicious character assassin. He was a writer with a drinking problem, or a drunk with a writing habit, not an activist in any meaningful way.

Martin Wisse

He was a bully and an asshole who was more easy to take as such when his target was Henry Kissinger, not so much when he was bullying in favour of the War on Iraq. For some reason his late life turn as a professional atheist has gotten him forgiven by a lot of supposedly leftists, just because he now said nasty things about Christianity as well as Islam.

Some called him courageous for his pro-war stance, but there really wasn't much to be risked there, was there?

To compare him to Chesterton is an insult to the latter. He really wasn't that much better than a Norquist or whatever other sad sack US conservative "intellectual" you'd want to compare him to, it's just that the stupidity sounds a little bit better being delivered in a nobby English accent.

Martin Wisse

Hitchens was doing good work for the good guys before SEK and I were born, and his record is way heavier and more complex than the above-quoted bullshit.

What good work? He slagged off Mother Theresa, but what did he do for the poor in India?

Wax Banks

For some reason his late life turn as a professional atheist has gotten him forgiven by a lot of supposedly leftists, just because he now said nasty things about Christianity as well as Islam.

Yes. This has nothing whatsoever to do with my comment, as I don't have any great interest in his atheist polemics. I do, on the other hand, have great interest in the twinned facts that (1) his atheism and his anticlerical/antitheocratic fury draw from the same well, yet (2) liberals very happy to split hairs about the difference in tolerability between cynical cod-Islamisms in order to justify their a priori antiwar stance are happy as clams waving Hitchens's sometimes broad-brush antireligious tracts about.

My point is that Hitchens's post-9/11 Middle East political views took shape within a decades-long debate within the Left about the possibility of secular liberal democratic modernity coexisting with fundamentalist antimodern theocracy (and gangsters like Saddam Hussein, who -- it should be noted -- happily sorted his subjects for butchery/patronage according to too-familiar tribal/religious criteria). Reading his older articles and columns is swell.

The last line of (if memory serves) Hitchens's first big post-Iraq-invasion article was 'What if it works?' I don't think his thinking on the war and the Left can be understood without asking why so few of his supposedly in-solidarity-with-the-downtrodden comrades and friends were willing to ask the same question.

@Martin Wisse --

What good work? He slagged off Mother Theresa, but what did he do for the poor in India?

I'm not saying you have to read/review even just selections from 40 years of justly-famous journalistic work and political activism before saying shit like that, but...

Seedee Vee

"everyone else was slapping themselves on the back for a war well-done"

This One was complaining about "why the fuck are we protecting the Royalty/slave-owning class of the Persian Gulf?"

The only part of me that is sad about that war monger scumbag - Hitchens - dying, is the part that hopes that everyone has a chance to admit their mistakes before they die. He didn't and I reget my sadness.

Anonymous

you're losing the argument with conservatives online. word has it that you try to harm those with whom you disagree. folks notice that. you should watch your back asshole.

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