The Dim-Post

December 17, 2011

RIP Hitchens

Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 8:56 am

I haven’t read as many of his books as everyone else seems to have. I thought he was brilliant and fiery and witty and polemical, but when intellectuals and polemicists really counted – after 9/11 – he was swept along with the tide of anti-muslim terrorist hysteria. He was wrong on the great issue of the day: the invasion of Iraq – and he was so stridently, sneeringly, viciously wrong that his vanity never allowed him to walk it back. He spent a huge amount of time, energy and words railing against the existential threat of ‘Islamofascism’ when it turned out the great threat to the hegemony of the west was our own financial system.

He wrote some interesting, funny stuff – especially about religion. But he spent his youth being wrong about Marxist-Leninsm and his middle years being wrong about the War on Terror, and because he was also wrong about the health effects of smoking – brilliantly, cleverly, polemically witty, railing furiously against the ‘anti-smoking fascists’, but still completely wrong – he didn’t get an old age to be right or wrong about anything in.

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32 Comments »

  1. The same financial system swamped in Government interference through top down dictates,phony credit and the like?

    Comment by James — December 17, 2011 @ 9:00 am

  2. But yes…..Goodbye Hitch…..thanks for coming.

    Comment by James — December 17, 2011 @ 9:01 am

  3. but when intellectuals and polemicists really counted – after 9/11 – he was swept along with the tide of anti-muslim terrorist hysteria.

    or perhaps he was a dissenting voice, rightly or wrongly, when other left-wing activists such as Chomsky, Pilger, Fisk etc trotted out the same essays they had been writing for 30 years and who (wrongly) thought the reason that bin LAden hated the US was similar to the reason they did.

    Comment by NeilM — December 17, 2011 @ 10:15 am

  4. I think climate change will end up being a more existential threat than Islamofascism or the financial crisis.

    Comment by Kahikatea — December 17, 2011 @ 10:43 am

  5. Wasn’t his railing against the anti-smoking nazis to do with them trying make his life miserable, rather than a refusal to recognise the health effects of smoking? There is a difference.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — December 17, 2011 @ 10:54 am

  6. Well said Danyl.

    My thoughts exactly.

    Comment by Kiwi Poll Guy — December 17, 2011 @ 11:03 am

  7. Tony Millionaire’s Hitchens comic:
    http://images.villagevoice.com/issues/0721/millionaire-big.jpg

    Comment by Joe W — December 17, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

  8. Both contrarian and accurate – the two are not necessarily connected. And Hitchens would no doubt have approved of the sentiment while vehemently disagreeing with the content.

    Comment by Tinakori — December 17, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

  9. He may have been wrong about a few things over the years but at least he didn’t end up like his brother.

    Comment by The Fox — December 17, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

  10. In left-liberal Ian Buruma’s critical review of Hitchens’ memoir “Hitch-22″, he argued:

    “Far from being a lone contrarian, however, Hitchens is a follower of a contemporary fashion of sorts.”

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jul/15/believer/?pagination=false

    Comment by Laura — December 17, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

  11. Tariq Ali summed it up fairly well I think in an interview on BBC radio yesterday:

    “For me Christopher really died with 9/11, the old Christopher, and a new one was born, who was pro-war, defended the war in Iraq…basically became a neo-con supporter of the Bush administration, and that I think was a big tragedy for him and for many of his friends.”

    An even bigger tragedy than his support for the war in Iraq was probably Hitchens’ embrace (post 9/11) of Islamophobia and what the critic Terry Eagleton has called the new ideology of “liberal supremacism”: the belief that so-called Enlightenment values must be enforced (at gun-point if necessary) on the benighted masses of the neo-colonial world, irrespective of their own wishes. In this respect Hitchens was not dissimilar to other former Trotskyists like Stephen Schwartz and the group around Spiked Online – they imbibed from the Old Man his literary and polemical flair, but emptied of all the progressive political content. Instead they opted for a studied contrarianism and a desire to always find “angular” positions calculated to cause maximum outrage to those of their friends who still remained on the left.

    Comment by Tim B — December 17, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

  12. David Runciman wrote a rather different, but equally critical, review of “Hitch 22″ in the London Review of Books: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n12/david-runciman/its-been-a-lot-of-fun

    Comment by rj — December 17, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

  13. A lot of people are trying to claim he had the right goals but the wrong methods, but personally I can’t write off “Let’s bomb the shit out of Islamic countries and try to force them to stop being Muslims” as just a tactic.

    Comment by Hugh — December 17, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

  14. “… spent a huge amount of time, energy and words railing against the existential threat of ‘Islamofascism’ when it turned out the great threat to the hegemony of the west was our own financial system.”

    You just nailed it. I removed the ” He ” because when I quote it, it will be used against the Republicans in America and the slightly insane right wing New Zealanders who want us to follow there insane policies.

    ” Not content with simply slashing benefits, Republicans also want to impose new requirements on unemployment benefit seekers. Their bill would mandate that all UI recipients hold high school diplomas or GEDs and would allow states to drug-test applicants. But the bill doesn’t provide any money to pay for those new hurdles, putting that burden on already cash-strapped state governments.”

    http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/unemployed-insurance-ged-drug-tests

    Comment by IHStewart — December 17, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

  15. Who gives a fuck ?

    Jason Richards, a good keen kiwi bloke from Nelson was deserving of far more praise than this douche.

    Where’s your eulogy for him ?

    Comment by pollywog — December 17, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

  16. Hitchen’s was a venal, sneering apologist. He said some fairly disgusting things about Edward Said prior to his death for his own self aggrandizement which set a new low bar.

    No great loss.

    Comment by Gregor W — December 17, 2011 @ 9:36 pm

  17. I don’t think he’ll rest in peace after reading your blog. But he didn’t believe in the afterlife so if he is reading it he is probably reconsidering a few things.

    Comment by Myles Thomas — December 17, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

  18. Hitchens was a suitable candidate for Shakespeare’s ” Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it”.

    Comment by Bruce Hamilton — December 17, 2011 @ 11:09 pm

  19. Christopher Hitchens was right on Bill Clinton and he was right on Iraq. What a guy.

    Appears to be a lot of sour grapes around here. Is it an after effect of the humiliating loss Labour suffered at the election just past?

    Comment by OECD rank 22 kiwi — December 18, 2011 @ 6:52 am

  20. “Appears to be a lot of sour grapes around here. Is it an after effect of the humiliating loss Labour suffered at the election just past?”

    This boring and facile thinking demeans the memory of the man you are defending. Hitchens may (or may not) have been wrong on certain issues, but at least he was never lazy or predictable in his views. Do him the honour of emulation.

    Comment by Grassed Up — December 18, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  21. OECD rank 22 kiwi is one of the elderly NZ blogosphere denizens who still thinks it’s all about Labour vs National. Boring. Go have another Horlicks mate.

    Comment by Bed Rater — December 18, 2011 @ 9:20 am

  22. RIP Hitch.

    I’m with those that couldn’t understand Hitchens’ sudden support for the US Govt actions after September 11th… He did have a strong solidarity with the Kurdish people, but I’m not certain whether that was part of his reasoning, or formed part of his later justification.

    However, he was right about the Balkans, about Kissinger’s various wars, Pinochet, Israel’s treatment of Palestine, and so on. His passion for English language and literature made reading his rants all the more enjoyable.

    @Gregor: I don’t think I read the anti-Said rant you refer to… can you link? I know they were friends for a long time and that Hitchens was always adamantly pro-Palestine… and while the obituary he wrote wasn’t all homage and sentimental recollections, the admiration for Said as a person and the solidarity with the cause of the Palestine people is fairly obvious. ( see http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/obit/2003/09/edward_said.html)

    He could make us smile, think, and yes, sometimes cringe. I would have rather had him around for another 20 years, but that’s life.

    God bless you, Hitch.

    (just a little Vonnegut joke there which I’m sure he’d appreciate)

    Comment by kim — December 18, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  23. “He was also wrong about the health effects of smoking – brilliantly, cleverly, polemically witty, railing furiously against the ‘anti-smoking fascists’, but still completely wrong – he didn’t get an old age to be right or wrong about anything in.”

    I don’t smoke, but I find all those ‘anti-smoking fascists’ just as boring and sanctimonious. People need to get over their pointless fear of death and quit denying themselves in some desperate effort to prolong their lives for the sake of it. In an interview Hitchens said of his vices: “writing is what’s important to me, and anything that helps me do that… or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation… is worth it to me.”

    Damn straight, and our own Joe Bennett has the right idea on the matter too.

    Comment by Purple-Shirted Eye Stabber — December 18, 2011 @ 11:16 am

  24. How does a populace throw off the shakles of totalitarianism if not through foreign intervention?

    Saddam’s regime was worse than Mubarak’s in Egypt, and even the current Syrian Government.

    If the United States and its allies hadn’t invaded Iraq – rightly or wrongly – in 2003, Saddam would have eventually stepped down and handed the leadership to his son Uday. Who was probably a whole lot worse than his father.

    We know there was a appalling amount of bloodshed and sectarian violence in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam, but would Danyl rather the people of that country suffered under the Baathist dictatorship for another 100 years?

    They were never going to overthrow the regime themselves, and sanctions only hurt the innocent.

    Comment by radar — December 18, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

  25. “How does a populace throw off the shakles of totalitarianism if not through foreign intervention?”

    China and the Soviet Union threw off the shackles of totalitarianism through changes emanating from inside the government.

    The recent fall of totalitarianism in Libya was due to the local populace starting an uprising, and foreign countries backing them up by bombing government infrastructure.

    Personally, I do not believe the Iraqi government would have held for long after Saddam’s death. There was a huge concentration of power in saddam’s hands, and he knew how to use it ruthlessly. His sons certainly had the brutality, but I don’t think they would have had the leadership skill or attracted the loyalty. I think they would have ended up being overthrown from within the government.

    Comment by Kahikatea — December 18, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  26. The man would heartily disagree with you dmc. And have a blast with it. Let it r.i.p and *respect* to you Mr Christopher.

    Comment by Cnr Joe — December 18, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

  27. Hitchens drew a false dichotomy between the anti-imperialist left and the anti-totalitarian left, criticising the former and identifying himself with the latter. In reality, however, global politics rarely allows the luxury of such a distinction. America’s rulers created Saddam when it suited them, and they disposed of Saddam when it suited them. Imperialism creates and sustains totalitarianism, and – as we are seeing in the Middle East now – anti-imperialism is the best route to genuine popular sovereignty (though I suspect America will be so alarmed by what popular sovereignty throws up in Egypt that – as in Palestine – it will move very quickly to incapacitate it).

    As for Iraq: you can prove whatever you want using counter-factuals (as Niall Ferguson constantly demonstrates) but one of the interesting things to emerge from the invasion of Iraq was just how weak the Baathist regime was in 2003. Already after 9/11 Saddam was making compromises with the Sunni religious authorities in an attempt to shore up his rule, and the ease with which his regime eventually was toppled amazed even the Pentagon. What if the Arab Spring had come to Baghdad in 2011? Would the same level of bloodshed and sectarian division have resulted? Would the new Iraq have found local leaders rather than relying on American-based puppets, and would it have opened its borders to foreign insurgents? It would be speculative to try to answer any of these questions, but imagining that a thousand-year Baathist Reich was the only realistic alternative to invasion in 2003 is absurd.

    Comment by rj — December 18, 2011 @ 6:55 pm

  28. America’s rulers created Saddam

    this is, as a matter of historical record, not true. Saddam’s primary supporters were France, Russia and China – the very countrries that sabotaged the UN’s ability to act in any unanimous manner.

    The US did briefly support Saddam during the Iran/Iraq war by providing intelligence on Iranian millitary deployments. That was at a time when it looked likely the religious extremeists in Iran would overrun Iraq. The US politicians at the time thought that might not turn out too well so provided just enough intel to bring about a stalemate and hence an eventual political settlement.

    Not pretty, not much moral high ground but a long way from the Left’s “America created Saddam” lie.

    Worth remebering who sold Saddam a nuclear reactor for his nuclear weapons programme.

    you can prove whatever you want using counter-factuals

    well indeed.

    However we do have a real world example, non-counterfactual of when the Iraqi populace rose up against Saddam ands were massacred. That was in 1991. The US at the time was criticised for not intervening. That uprising failed. Saddam’s security forces ensured all opposition was violently surpressed.

    At present the dictatorship in Syria is holding out despite what other sucesses the Arab Spring has had. Given Saddam’s regime was more like that of Syria – but far more ruthless – and unlike that of Egypt, the chances of a peaceful transition would have to have been slim.

    Comment by NeilM — December 19, 2011 @ 12:11 am

  29. Already after 9/11 Saddam was making compromises with the Sunni religious authorities

    that seems an odd thing to do, the Sunnis were the minority community from which the Baathist regime drew it’s support. It was the Shi’ite population that were mostly in opposition and indeed Saddam was eventually executed for the killing of Iraqi Shi’ites.

    And it was the Shi’ite leadership under al-Sistani that did not oppose the US invasion. Why would they, it got rid of their enemy – Saddam.

    Comment by NeilM — December 19, 2011 @ 12:53 am

  30. @ Kim

    Not really an anti Said rant – more that he made an effort to discredit his friend, his beliefs and his scholarly work (‘Orientalism’ in particular) when Said was on his deathbed.
    It seemed gratuitous, smug, engaged in damning with faint praise and generally a bit vulgar. Pure Hitchens.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/2003/09/hitchens.htm

    Than again, maybe I’m reading too much into it.

    Comment by Gregor W — December 19, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

  31. @Gregor W

    I’m not sure if it’s fair but in the context of the rather long history of internecine warfare amongst leftwing intellectuals I don’t think it’s particularly out there interms of rudeness or unreasonableness.

    Camus and Satre had a lot of bad things to say about each other and with the great advantage of time one can, for the time being at least, conclude that both of them got some things right and some things wrong.

    Comment by NeilM — December 20, 2011 @ 12:49 am

  32. @NeilM

    I wouldn’t class Hitchens as a left-wing intellectual. He was a marxist in his early days but made a very public break from those views.

    It’s that Hitchens backhanded and undermined Said on his deathbed then followed it with a bathetic eulogy that sums up his character for me.

    Comment by Gregor W — December 20, 2011 @ 9:50 am


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