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Saturday, July 25, 2020

hitchens and cancel culture (oh god)

David Brooks column has set twitter media peeps talking about, oh God, Hitchens again. And cancel culture. Oh God.

So I'm reprinting my 2004 summary of Hitchens agonistes.  Just cause.

Comrades one and all....

There's a rather genteel exchange between Doug Ireland and Christopher Hitchens in this week's LA Weekly. It begins, unpromisingly enough, with Ireland writing: "My old friend Christopher Hitchens will be in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 15, for a debate at the Wiltern Theater." The phrase "old friend" pops up with distressing frequency whenever anti-war media people start writing about Hitchens. It's the friendship that blinds them, perhaps, to the kind of figure he is. This kind of transplant from the left to the right is a familiar figure in times of violent reaction. In France in the thirties, Drieu de la Rochelle moved from a radical branch of the Communist party to Nazi sympathizer, leaving behind a similar trail of "old friends." In Drieu's case, his politics had an echo on the national level in Doriot. The political fault lines aren't as hyper-charged at present, but the phenomenon Hitchens could prefigure some similar authoritarian politician -- somebody like McCain.

Ireland is 'shocked' to read that Hitchens gave an interview in which he remarks, casually, that he would have voted for Bush. No surprise there. Ireland, though, finds this all too upsetting, and sets down at his computer and mails his old friend some woolgathering emails that are pallid even by the low standards of the baby boomer New Left. Here, for example, is Ireland arguing that Bush, being against condoms, is for AIDS, and thus for "millions" of more deaths than can possibly be contrived by evil old Saddam.

"The effects of denying people access to condoms and science-based sex ed, not to mention the continuing efforts by the U.S. to blackmail countries on access to AIDS drugs and sabotage the WTO agreement at Doha that public-health crises take precedence over patents, means that millions and millions more will become infected and die between now and 2050, the earliest possible date by which - the scientists now tell us - we might reasonably begin to hope for an AIDS cure.These are not just people who've had sex, but their many children. That's more than Saddam Hussein has killed, more than will be killed in the coming war (unless Dubya starts chucking around the nukes he has now authorized). There would be a huge difference on this issue between Bush and the likely (from here) Democratic nominee, Kerry. Just in terms of sheer numbers of dead, Kerry trumps Bush (and Saddam) on that one. Yes, I have been a sharp critic of the Democratic leadership, and will continue to be. But to go from that to supporting Bush in 04 and publicly urging others to do likewise seems to me to be a rather dangerous excursion into full-blown Stephen Spenderism, and very shortsighted to boot. So I'd ask you a further question: Since you suggest your commitment to social justice is undiminished, from what I have seen of your public expressions, how do you square that with this undiluted support for Bush's re-election? Do you no longer believe in creating a democratic social-justice movement to work for change (however hopelessly)?I remain your affectionate friend, Doug (for regime change and revolution abroad and at home)"

The lather, the lather. Plus the revolution remark, in perfectly comic juxtaposition with the support for that old Jacobin, Senator Kerry -- an enemy of capitalism if there ever was one! Eventually, Ireland gets over the rubbers issue and down to the war, and Hitchens fills in the blanks with his usual debased rhetoric, which is all about Bush fighting a war against theocracy. Which prompts this kind of reply on the part of the hapless Ireland, always trying to figure out if Hitchens is just making some super-clever Marxist chessboard move:

"I still have trouble discerning a coherent politics of a progressive hue behind your support for the re-conduction of Bush in 04, as you claim."

Well, that's because there IS no progressive hue. There is, however, a huge amount of dishonesty. Hitchens simply substitutes one war for another. This is Hitchens' role. Like a lot of the DC commentariat, his propagandist function consists of putting a consistently moral interpretation on a consistently immoral policy. Because such a policy requires a maximum of secrecy, Hitchens is just as happy to discuss and debate the war as if it were his war. He is not tied to the reality of the war -- to the war that is supposedly going to cost two hundred billion dollars, to the war that is going to use up the blood of American soldiers, to the war that is going to be crowned, according to the administration, with the appointment of Jay Garner as crown prince of Iraq -- and so can defend the war of his fantasies.Slowly those fantasies will converge with reality -- the collapse of an ideological position usually involves some transition period in which you defend a radically different politics by claiming that your only real sin is a rigid consistency. Because Ireland is much too highminded to mention things like the cost of the war, the national interest of the U.S., and other technicalities -- because he wants his wars and his protests against them to be conducted on the purest ethical plane -- he's rather flummoxed by Hitchens. It is pretty easy to convince Ireland that roosters lay eggs. But, after searching high and low for Hitchen's subtle ultra left theory that would make even Vladimir Lenin's head spin (and we know he, too, was forever signing his emails "for regime change and revolution abroad and at home" -- what a fierce change agent that Vladimir turned out to be!), even Ireland is forced to face the fact that his buddy is a reactionary not that different from Charles Krauthammer or Karl Rove.

"Well, Hitch, I shall always love my friend, but I mourn the loss of my comrade. To see such talent as yours put at the service of a truly repugnant crowd like the Bushistas makes me weep. No doubt we�ll have occasion to continue this debate, even if we�ll soon be squabbling about whether all those coming deaths in Iraq have helped shape a better and more secure world."

Let's hope that debate never comes off.

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