Friday, 16 December 2011

Hitch is Dead, again.

Requiescat in Pace.

So Christopher Hitchens has given up the ghost, to borrow a Biblical turn of phrase, for the second and final time as it was around a decade ago that Hitch died intellectually. He was a gadfly so contrarian he eventually became conservative. The transition from revolutionary soixante-huitard to heartless war-mongerer was not a sudden one. When Hitchens first became a journo he was an international socialist, which might be understood as a heterodox Trotskyist, the shift began as Hitch turned democratic socialist in Orwellian vein, no doubt, a position as oppositional to the Communist Party as it was to the Conservative Party. He supported the Falklands war, as well as the intervention in the Balkans, before the notorious defences he gave in favour of the criminal invasion of Iraq. The worship of a particular kind of masculine hero is constant in Hitchens' thought. Even though he admired great radicals like Rosa Luxemburg and Decca Mitford it was Leon Trotsky who he nominated as a subject for discussion on Radio 4.

It's hard to believe that he's actually pro-life as he rails against the Vatican on issues of family planning, contraception and birth control. But after that realisation it isn't a surprise that he has a problem with women in the workplace. Then we find Hitchens calling the Dixie Chicks "fat sluts" and claiming that it is only unattractive women who need to be funny. The way in which Hitch lambasted Diana Spencer carried the tone of sexism, she was a "gold-digger" comparable to a landmine in that she was "easy to lay" as well as "dangerous" and "expensive" to get rid of. It may even be said that Hitchens picks on what he considers to be "lesser" men, that his fixation with the sex life of Bill Clinton came down to the view that he was not a real man. No wonder feminists are suspicious of the Hitch for his shallow attacks, which repeated what we all knew already, on the likes of Mother Teresa with the title Missionary Position which he picked over Sacred Cow. Apparently the latter was in bad taste, which Hitchens would never sink to.

As wonderfully righteous Hitch was as he cast aspersions on Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger, Hitchens was never that left-wing when Alexander Cockburn knew him and always foresaw he would jump ship to become an "insider". Even in the critique of Clinton and Kissinger he only ever repeated what was already known, but it had to be articulated in a clear and concise manner which would captivate, entertain and persuade. The list of the crimes Henry Kissinger committed had to be put together and by the late 1990s it was well overdue. As for the "horrible primate" William Jefferson Clinton, the point that the man may be a serial rapist had to be pulled into public view by someone as the mass-media was too compromised to do so. The defences he gave of George Bush and attacks on God were not so much contrarian as complicit and shallow. Noam Chomsky was right to characterise the media as a parade of "independent minds", as it was Christopher Hitchens posed as a "free-thinker" as  he endorsed the Republican Party platform and bought into American exceptionalism. Not to mention the shift from the Bolshevism of Russia to the classical liberalism of America.

It should be noted that the Hitchensian idiolect, as Richard Seymour calls it, was nothing original as Hitchens never broke the intellectual mould. The form of the argument was the main attraction and not the content. We get the feeling that it was the same for Hitchens himself, at least to some extent, when he said that he wouldn't rid the world of religion if he could because there wouldn't be anyone else left to argue with. But he had difficulty in handling complex ideas, as Seymour notes, which was matched by his ability to spew an emotionally potent tirade. We find this may be the case when it came to Hitch's eventual abandonment of socialism. Hitchens points out that there is no international working-class movement nor a socialist alternative (at hand) to the market economy, as for the anti-globalisation movement it is frightfully conservative insofar as it yearns for a pre-industrial world. He never engaged with the view that the Left needs to "begin again", as Slavoj Žižek would advise, nor did he attempt to solve these problems and instead retreated into a strange mission indeed.

To be more precise, the collapse of Communism had convinced this former Trot of nothing less than the mission to export the American Revolution. Everything else had become reactionary, no "excuse" could be made for Islamo-fascism nor could it be "accommodated" and it could only be annihilated. This is when Hitchens became a chickenhawk. And so it was, the radical Hitchens was long gone and now arse-licker Christopher Hitchens dedicated his energies to the values of the Enlightenment as best manifested in the establishment of the United States. Here we should turn to the prescient words of GK Chesterton: "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." As Hitchens sought to secure the Enlightenment values of the West he supported the invasion of Iraq and, in doing so, helped make al-Qaeda the most successful terrorist organisation in history.

We might detect the fumbling Hitchensian egomania in the background of this most destructive endeavour. As Hitch himself notes in the aftermath of 9/11 "I should perhaps confess that on September 11 last, once I had experienced all the usual mammalian gamut of emotions, from rage to nausea, I also discovered that another sensation was contending for mastery." He went onto add "All my other foes, from the Christian Coalition to the Milosevic Left, were busy getting it wrong or giving it cover." Before finally spilling for all to see: "Other and better people were gloomy at the prospect of confrontation. But I realized that if the battle went on until the last day of my life, I would never get bored in prosecuting it to the utmost." The fight was guaranteed to go on and on because the fight regenerated the opponent in the very act of confrontation and would do so endlessly. We can bomb Muslims to stop terrorism and in doing so create more terrorists which leads us to bomb more Muslims and in turn create more terrorists...

It was with the rise of New Atheism as the Iraq war descended into a bloodbath that the Hitchite cult emerged, it proclaimed itself beyond Left and Right as it voted Republican and ranted about Muslims. This was the low-point of Hitch's career in journalism and writing, it became evident that he would never rise to the heights of Gore Vidal whom he had set out to ape out of a self-described "penis envy". It is difficult to ascertain to what extent the lurch to the Right Hitchens took in public, and not just behind closed doors, may have been a careerist publicity stunt. We may never know. Noam Chomsky said 10 years ago "Since Hitchens evidently does not take what he is writing seriously, there is no reason for anyone else to do so. The fair and sensible reaction is to treat all of this as some aberration, and to await the return of the author to the important work that he has often done in the past." Of course, we wouldn't have want him back after everything he had done to ingratiate himself with power and massage his ego.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Bit of an aimless rant, won't help your argument by calling someone an 'arse licker' either.

Whitey said...

If you want to see a real rant I refer you to 'Shame on You, Mr Blair!'...