April 12, 2005

A Snitch in Time: Perhaps the best accounting of the sad decline and utter gracelessness of Christopher Hitchens:
Hitchens might want to insist, contrarily, that although he has changed his allies, he has not changed his opinions. Unlike, say, David Horowitz, he still believes that the Cold War was an interimperial rivalry, the Vietnam War was immoral, the overthrow of Allende was infamous, and American support for Mobutu, Suharto, the Greek colonels, the Guatemalan and Salvadoran generals, the Shah of Iran, and the Israeli dispossession of Palestinians was and is indefensible. He still believes in progressive taxation; the New Deal; vigilant environmental, occupational safety, and consumer protection regulation; unions (or some form of worker self-organization); and, in general, firm and constant opposition to the very frequent efforts of the rich and their agents to grind the faces of the poor. It’s just that he now cordially despises most of the people who proclaim or advocate these things.


Will Hitchens ever regain his balance? Near the end of his Bush endorsement, Hitchens defiantly assures us that “once you have done it”—abandoned cowardly and equivocating left-wing “isolationism” and made common cause with Republicans in their “willingness to risk a dangerous confrontation with an untenable and indefensible status quo”—there is “no going back.”

Well, it wouldn’t be easy. After heavy-handedly insulting so many political opponents, misrepresenting their positions and motives, and generally making an egregious ass of himself, it would require immense, almost inconceivable courage for Hitchens to acknowledge that he went too far; that his appreciation of the sources and dangers of Islamic terrorism was neither wholly accurate nor, to the extent it was accurate, exceptional; that he was mistaken about the purposes and likely effects of the strategy he associated himself with and preached so sulfurously; and that there is no honorable alternative to—no “relief” to be had from—the frustrations of always keeping the conventional wisdom at arm’s length and speaking up instead for principles that have as yet no powerful constituencies. But it would be right.
[link via Crooked Timber] The tendency described in the article, of a formerly left-wing writer joining forces with the Far Right over a series of issues, is one that is typical almost to the point of banality. Weathermen become chickenhawks, just as Communists became McCarthyites and pre-Civil War Abolitionists became backers of Jim Crow. They switch sides, but still don't feel obligated to use an indoor voice.

I'm not sure I buy the rationalization the writer gives for Hitchens' shift: that in order to "speed up" the long and demoralizing process needed to "make the United States an effective democracy", he chose to ally himself with the forces of power (ie., neocons). It's hard to say what exactly motivates people, but one thing that seems to characterize many on the extremes, whether on the right or left, is that they believe their true enemies aren't those on the opposite side of the political spectrum, but rather their more pragmatic cohorts. Hitchens wrote more passionately, and with greater venom, when he was attacking Clinton for adultery than he did when he accused Kissinger of war crimes. If much of the time in your formative years is spent defining yourself as being more pure and virtuous than those of us who have tried all along to work within the mainstream, it's probably easier to identify the opposite side.

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