Thursday, July 20, 2006

For the love of violence


Since I seem to be suffering from the vagaries of the flu, or one of its avatars, and feel too listless and lazy to post something of my own, I'm going to reproduce the thoughtful comment that Jay Sparrow made yesterday in response to my post on the increasingly pathetic Christopher Hitchens...

Hitchens' devolution is fascinating, in an awful way.

I reckon it works like this. As he moves from Marxism (or at least radicalism) to liberalism, he loses any sense of totality. He can see the war in Iraq as a liberation, because he's against dictators. But he refuses to make any connection between means and ends, or, indeed, between GWB's overthrow of Saddam and, say, the Republican pandering to the backwater idiocies of the Christian right.
So Hitchens' writings now are all incredibly compartmentalised. He writes obsessively, for instance, about Iraq and Islam and the defense of the enlightenment -- but says nothing about how the people he supports are campaigning against Charles Darwin in the United States.

At the same time, he hides his retreat from radicalism from himself by continuing to attack liberals in the same style he used when he was a socialist. They don't go far enough; they don't think things through; they prefer snivelling piecemeal changes rather than grand gestures. In particular, they flinch from violence, while Hitchens maintains his swaggering radical persona by an overt embrace of it. Unlike most of the cruise missile liberals, he doesn't use euphemisms. He revels in talking about killing terrorists and obliterating jihadists, in much the same way a certain kind of obnoxious young man, when he joins a Trotskyist group, takes to glorying in Kronstadt (rather than, say, accepting it as a horrible necessity).

Of course, the other people on the US political scene who love violence are the Neanderthal Right -- and this is where the Galbraith review comes in. For what does Hitchens really have in common with the kinds of people his politics have drawn him towards? He's a sophisticated Oxbridge graduate, not some hill-billy reader of the Left Behind books.

That's another reason why he spends all his time polemicising against the liberals, for fighting against them (which is pretty much all he does in his Slate columns these days) at least allows him to engage with people with whom he has something in common. I reckon he's changed his tone now because he recognises that he's starting to lose his influence in liberal circles -- and once that happens, what's he left with? He doesn't want to end up with the Bible-thumping Right and, more to the point, they have no use for a cosmopolitan literary egghead, anyway. Hence the new respectful tone about the Galbraith book.
That's my theory anyway.


For more detail on Hitchens' fondness for gore, see this piece by Richard Seymour, the propietor of Lenin's Tomb.

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