Friday, 25 March 2011

Hitch is Dead.

By Hitch is dead, I mean that the Hitchens who was once wrote alonside Alexander Cockburn for The Nation and stood with Noam Chomsky at conferences is no more. In this sense Christopher Hitchens has been a zombie for quite some time. In death he is, what he dreads so much, a cliché. As the soixante-huitard turned chickenhawk known as Christopher Hitchens may not live to write the obituary of Henry Kissinger. Recently Hitch (his new nickname) was in a debate with Tony Blair on whether or not religion is a "force for good". Ironically Blair thinks that Mubarak was a "force for good", but still we're too overlook the criminal and immoral nature of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. A debate over whether or not Blair is a "force for good" would make the supposedly 'radical' Hitchens appear as he is, thoroughly and blindly conservative. That reminds me, before we get our trousers off, to point out that the above picture is inaccurate as Christopher Hitchens is actually pro-life and is only permissive of abortion out of pragmatic reasons.

I have meant to write an article on Mr Hitchens for a while, especially since he charged Gore Vidal as a conspiracy theorist in his usual modus operandi in February of last year. A great irony considering Hitch modelled himself on Gore Vidal, going as far as to compare his admiration for Vidal to "penis envy". But as a result of my busy schedule at the time I put off the article to summer about the time when Hitchens discovered he had cancer. This put me off, as Alexander Cockburn pointed out that Hitchens "waited til his friend Edward Said was on his death bed before attacking him in the Atlantic Monthly". Then again I've never bought into the idea that we shouldn't speak ill of the dead and dying just out of courtesy. This is on top of the fact that Hitch has kindly pointed out that his "attack" on Edward Said was actually a critical review of Said's work and was released with the 25th year since the publication of Orientalism - not with Said's ill health.

If we want to talk seriously about Hitchens we must take note: it is no coincidence that the liberals are increasingly fixated with secularism, while the radical Left becomes interested in theology. Nor is it coincidence that Christopher Hitchens has drifted to the Right over the last 20 years. Both of these have come after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War which heralded the end of history as Fukuyama put it. The old ideological struggles were over, the power of the market and liberal democracy had triumphed over all other systems. By 1989 CHitchens, who was in Romania at the time, had been involved in Third Camp politics of the Left for over 20 years. Originally aligned with the International Socialists which stood in opposition to Really Existing Socialism as well as capitalism. Later Hitch turned towards democratic socialism. Note the prominence of leftist men of action, as well as of the pen, namely Trotsky and Orwell.

In spite of giving a pep-talk to the Bushites in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and actively defending Bush as a viable alternative to the Democrats, on issues like Palestine, he still insists that he is a radical leftist. Hitchens reserves the label of "cliché" to pin on those who accuse him of becoming a conservative. It would seem as though Hitch can't stand the idea of being looked back on as a socialist who became a reactionary in later life, a cliche if there ever was one. So out of desperation Hitchens tries to hold together a "leftism" of sorts. To clarify this version of "leftism" that Hitchens buys into, it is so vacuous and hollow that it is possible to be conservative and adhere to it. For Hitchens there is no chance of a working-class movement developing, that could replace the international movement of the 20th Century. At the void where there should be a conspicuous socialist alternative to the market economy Hitch points and shouts that Karl Marx underestimated the "revolutionary" nature of the capitalist system.

All the while he labels the anti-globalisation movement conservative for it's nostalgic for a pre-industrial world. There is a ring of truth to such claims, but the conclusion drawn by Hitchens is not entailed by them. Revolutionary America has replaced the October Revolution for him, the jump has been made from Leon Trotsky to Thomas Jefferson. The admiration for George Orwell still lingers on, one of the more conservative figures in socialism. As Richard Seymour has pointed out Hitch still buys into a scholastic type of Marxism which singles out the US as the major force of historical progress, as the USSR is gone, against the forces of reaction. In this struggle against reaction, e.g. al-Qaeda, Hitchens has adopted the language of 19th Century imperialism. Recall the words of Mill "Despotism is a legitimate form of government in dealing with barbarians, provided that the end be their improvement." The same thought-process is in Hitchens' support of atrocities in Iraq.

Rather than taking these problems as reason for the Left to "begin again", as Slavoj Žižek argues, Hitchens offered no solution and opts for identity politics. Specifically New Atheism, which is an endless intellectual war against religion in the name of Progress. Note Progress, in the Herbert Spencer sense, with a capital 'P' that holds all those Victorian connotations of liberal interventionism and free enterprise. The faith in historical Progress is a major part of the identity politics which Hitch now prescribes. In his endorsement of the "War on Terrorism" he went as far as actually delivering a pep-talk to the Bushites. To paraphrase Terry Eagleton, he's gone from dining with repulsive fat cats and giving them a piece of his mind to just dining with repulsive fat cats. Hitch has criticised the Bush administration in retrospect, as "impeachable" and "incompetent", whilst expressing modest regrets over Iraq (that the conflict strengthened Iran). But these are meaningless gestures, that have been brought on only by the misadventure itself, ignorant of the conditions under which the invasion was pursued.

It was GK Chesterton who said "Men who begin to fight the church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the church… The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them." The same is true in vice versa, that the fanatical defenders of religion have ruined religious things. The terrorists are prepared to destroy this world for love of another world, the warriors on terror are prepared to do away with democracy out of a rejection of the Judeo-Islamic civilisation. The ultimate paradox being that some of them love human dignity so much that they are even ready to legalise torture to defend it. In other words, to defend Western values we must infringe upon those values relentlessly. This could not be demonstrated more clearly than when Fallujah was virtually torn apart, killing 6,000 and forcing 150,000 to flee, Christopher Hitchens remarked "the death toll is not nearly high enough... too many [Jihadists] have escaped."

Out of his enthusiasm to invade Iraq to fight dictatorship and fundamentalism in the name of democracy and freedom, Hitchens has flung away such values and ideas. Free and democratic elections were only held after a great deal of resistance to the occupation from the Iraqi people, the aim of regime change was not to hold elections but to install a softer Saddam. Freedom and human rights are hardly flourishing in the "fledgling democracy", which is why Muntadhar al-Zaidi was tortured. Before free elections could be held the economy was overhauled, mass-privatisation and deregulation handed over the country's public services to the forces of the market without a mandate from the people for such policies. 80% of the oil was divided up, not by the "invisible hand", between American and British companies. Corporation tax was slashed and loopholes prepped to allow multinationals to transfer all profits out of Iraq untaxed. All the while companies like Halliburton and Bechtel lined up for multi-billion dollar contracts handed out by executive order.

This is the intellectual death of Christopher Hitchens, it converged several years ago with the beginning of an unjustifiable slaughter in the Middle East, the bloated corpse has been floating around face-down for quite some time now. The corpse has drifted so far to the Right it can no longer be turned from this trajectory and can only decompose along the way. It is ironic that a former Trotskyist cannot see how one can oppose both American imperialism and Islamist terror, you simply have to take a side and it better be the right one. The events of 9/11 tore apart the fantasy of American immortality and invulnerability, someone else must die and for the sake of public relations the Other slaughtered is always the bad guy. The Other being the hundreds of thousands of innocents dispossessed and killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hitch has secured his special place in the commentariat as a cheerleader for war and oppression. A contrarian so contrarian he hardly realises he is a right-winger even after voting for George the Anointed.

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