Thursday, September 29, 2005

On Christopher Hitchens

I wasn’t exactly depressed when I heard that Christopher Hitchens had resigned from the Nation (Read his Washington Post op-ed: So Long, Fellow travelers). His reason? He was horrified by the letters that poured into Nation magazine on the first anniversary of September 11. In his reply to Katha Pollitt’s open letter, Hitchens says:

I'll end where you began. Why would this disagreement necessitate my departure from The Nation? It's a matter of the viscera in some ways, as I told you on the telephone the other day. At public forums in the past several months, debating
with Oliver Stone in one case and with Michael Moore in another, and with several others in between, I have heard witless applause for fatuous debating points and for fatal casuistry, and have realized that I am hearing the magazine's propaganda and attitude being played back to me. It may now seem trite to say that September 11 and other confrontations "changed everything." For me, it didn't so much change everything as reinforce something. I am against aggressive totalitarian states and I am resolutely opposed to religious fanaticism. I am also sickened by any attempt to call these hideous things by other names. Most especially in its horrible elicitation of readers' letters on the anniversary of September 11, The Nation joined the amoral side. It's the customers I want to demoralize, not just the poor editors. I say that they stand for neutralism where no such thing is possible or desirable, and I say the hell with it. I feel much better as a result--though I admit the occasional twinge--and so will you when you take the small but simple step that leaves cynicism and euphemism behind.
Pollitt’s reply:

You've placed yourself quite forthrightly on the side of Bush, Cheney, Perle and Wolfowitz, whose plans to remake the entire Arab world long predate 9/11, and who seem completely unembarrassed by their own shifting rationales for invading Iraq. (Not even they, however, claim it has anything to do with opposing religious fanaticism. That is your own delusion.) These are your new friends, an Administration that supports with mad vigor everything you excoriated in Clinton--capital punishment, the drug war, punitive welfare reform, privatizing the public realm, letting corporations run wild--while pandering to the Christian right, blasting the environment, withdrawing from international agreements from Kyoto to Cairo and remodeling the federal judiciary to resemble a meeting of the John Birch Society. I think I'll stay right here.

So has Hitchens turned neo-conservative? I don’t think so, despite his articles for the Weekly Standard. (In fact, one forgets that the people one now calls neo-conservatives were originally disillusioned liberals). Hitchens’ Fighting Words column in Slate is one I read, simply for its polemical writing and no-holds-barred position. (One cannot imagine, say, Paul Berman, using the same biting tone). With his break from the left, Hitchens put into his work an almost messianic zeal although the no-holds-barred style is virtually guaranteed to win no converts. His writing culminated in a brilliant fusillade against Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 – a movie that I liked and disliked at the same time. After that Hitchens writing has dimmed; his latest column in Slate is a case in point. The case against ANSWER has been made (see this article by David Corn), did Hitchens need to make it again? And did he really have to go gaga about his debate with George Galloway?

I guess I’ll just have to keep watching what happens next.