On Christopher Hitchens

I don’t speak ill of the dead on the day of their deaths. But after that day of respectful silence I believe a fair accounting of the person is in order.

Hitchens was an asshole, a drunk and a bully. He was a one of the most important enablers of the neocons from the left. Most of Hitchens’s ideas were repellent. While not an outright Islamophobe, he gloried in war, death and tragedy. Showed callous disregard for the suffering of others, including children.

Hitchens was horribly, horribly wrong about the Iraq War, the signature and colossal foul-up of our era. He had a few good ideas–his take down of Mother Theresa and Princess Diana were needed tonics to the prevailing hagiographies. But on balance he was mostly wrong about the most profound ideas of our time. He was a nasty person who had no tolerance for legitimate differences. He was not a good person.

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Sean Paul Kelley

Traveler of the (real) Silk Road, scholar and historian, photographer and writer - founder of The Agonist.

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  • But, oh, how Vanity Fair loved him – he had the perfect blend of celebrity status mixed with loud-mouthed self-indulgence that the celeb-watching media loves to revel in.

  • it is worth remembering that he was not always as toxic as he became post-9/11. He spent many years laboring to destroy the gauzy bullshit view of Reagan and his presidency as early as the 1990s, and laid deeply into Randite objectivisms as well. I was always frustrated by the turn he took after 2001, which soured me on his style and let many of us forget that he had been more helpful in the past.

  • “Showed callous disregard for the suffering of others, including children.”

    If you are a piece of shit you get treated like such, even more so on the day of your death. Because the world is a better place without you.

  • It may not be original with you, but I love it nonetheless. So a few people did not despise Christopher Hitchins. I suppose the praise he would most appreciate is that no one could ignore him. He was the sort of incendiary wit who goes up to Oxford or Cambridge and impresses the world with how he says things, which gives him the license to say whatever nonsense he wants. People forgive him the fact that he has no compass – moral, political or otherwise – unless they are on the receiving end of his misjudgments, like the Iraqis for example.

  • makes you think Hitchens was ‘of the Left’? I had no idea he was a Communist or a Socialist. I had the impression he was a capitalist swine of the ‘Librul’ variety.

  • I may have been living under a rock not to have been more familiar with Hitchens. After the news of his death, I started reading some of his work.

    Turns out I was lucky to have been under that rock.

    One down, a few thousand more to go…

    Libertarianism: MiracleGro for the feeble-minded.

  • Though he wasn’t much there recently, and the Iraq war marked a strong turn to the right.

    NYT Obit: Polemicist Who Slashed All, Freely, Dies at 62

    “I would do my day jobs at various mainstream papers and magazines and TV stations, where my title was ‘Christopher Hitchens,’ ” he wrote in “Hitch-22,” “and then sneak down to the East End, where I was variously features editor of Socialist Worker and book review editor of the theoretical monthly International Socialism.”

    Guardian Obit: Christopher Hitchens obituary

    For most of his career, Christopher Hitchens, who has died of oesophageal cancer aged 62, was the left’s biggest journalistic star, writing and broadcasting with wit, style and originality in a period when such qualities were in short supply among those of similar political persuasion. Nobody else spoke with such confidence and passion for what Americans called “liberalism” and Hitchens (regarding “liberal” as too “evasive”) called “socialism”.

    His targets were the abusers of power, particularly Henry Kissinger (whom he tried to bring to trial for his role in bombing Cambodia and overthrowing the Allende regime in Chile) and Bill Clinton. He was unrelenting in his support for the Palestinian cause and his excoriation of America’s projections of power in Asia and Latin America. He was a polemicist rather than an analyst or political thinker – his headteacher at the Leys school in Cambridge presciently forecast a future as a pamphleteer – and, like all the best polemicists, brought to his work outstanding skills of reporting and observation.


    His socialism was always essentially internationalist, particularly since the British working classes responded sluggishly to literature he handed out at factory gates for the International Socialists, a Trotskyist group of which he was a member from 1966 to 1976. He had little interest in social or economic policy and, in later life, seemed somewhat bemused at questions about his three children being educated privately.

    The Guardian: Christopher Hitchens: He died too young, with too much left to say

    Richard Dawkins: Illness made Hitchens a symbol of the honesty and dignity of atheism

    The Nation: Reading Christopher – a selection of Hitchens’ columns.

    TruthDig: Mr. Fish interview from 2007: For Christopher Hitchens

    TruthDig: Christopher Hitchens: Reason in Revolt

  • Not to be confused with conservatism, which is quite rare on the public stage. Neo-conservative is reformed, militaristic, expansionist Trotskyism that relies on producing propaganda faster than it can be refuted to continue it’s popularity. Propaganda so strong that it can convince people to vote against their personal self interests.

  • Neoconservatism [wikipedia]

    Trotskyism allegation

    Critics of neo-conservatism have charged that neo-conservatism is descended from Trotskyism, and that Trotskyist traits continue to characterize ideologies and practices of neo-conservatism. During the Reagan Administration, the charge that the foreign policy of the Reagan administration was being run by Trotskyists: This claim was called a “myth” by Lipset (1988, p. 34).[86] This “Trotskyist” charge has been repeated and even widened by journalist Michael Lind in 2003 to assert a takeover of the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration by former Trotskyists;[87] Lind’s “amalgamation of the defense intellectuals with the traditions and theories of ‘the largely Jewish-American Trotskyist movement’ [in Lind’s words]” was criticized in 2003 by University of Michigan professor Alan M. Wald,[29] who had discussed Trotskyism in his history of “the New York intellectuals”.[30][88]

    Trotskyism is a form of Leninism. The charge that neoconservativism is related to Leninism has been raised, also. Francis Fukuyama identified neoconservatism with Leninism in 2006.[14] He wrote that neoconservatives:

    …believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.[14]

    These seem a very narrow reading of certain aspects (as of being part of a historical force-to-be-reckoned-with) of Trotskyism, Marxist as it is, applied to neocons/neoliberals, whom must take considerable umbrage at the thought.

  • Hitchens was a key enabler in the hot house environment of media and blogospheric commentary, not anything real. I’ve read a lot of accounts of the decision making process since 2001 and not once have I come across anything to the effect of “I was at the NSC meeting, along the wall and it was Hitch who came out with the bon mot that led us to invade”. Folks are saying Hitchens is important as a means of saying that they were important and frankly they just weren’t.

    Hitchens was a stylist, nothing more nothing less. He’s only important because he was allowed to be important by the fact that so many people running their mouths don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground and crowd out the few that do. This reflex of “Hitchens: good/bad or indifferent” is a symptom of the same general phenomenon. We need to ask ourselves who’s enabling whom.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • At the evident risk of seeming ridiculous, I want to begin by saying that I have tried for much of my life to write as if I was composing my sentences to be read posthumously. I hope this isn’t too melodramatic or self-centered a way of saying that I attempt to write as if I did not care what reviewers said, what peers thought, or what prevailing opinions may be.

    If you gave [Jerry] Falwell an enema he could be buried in a matchbox.

    Sarah Palin appears to have no testable core conviction except the belief (which none of her defenders denies that she holds, or at least has held and not yet repudiated) that the end of days and the Second Coming will occur in her lifetime. This completes the already strong case for allowing her to pass the rest of her natural life span as a private citizen.

    The governor of Texas, who, when asked if the Bible should also be taught in Spanish, replied that “if English was good enough for Jesus, then it’s good enough for me.”

    An old joke has an Oxford professor meeting an American former graduate student and asking him what he’s working on these days.
    “My thesis is on the survival of the class system in the United States.”
    “Oh really, that’s interesting: one didn’t think there was a class system in the United States.”
    “Nobody does. That’s how it survives.”

    I can remember when I was a bit of an ETA fan myself. It was in 1973, when a group of Basque militants assassinated Adm. Carrero Blanco. The admiral was a stone-faced secret police chief, personally groomed to be the successor to the decrepit Francisco Franco. His car blew up, killing only him and his chauffeur with a carefully planted charge, and not only was the world well rid of another fascist, but, more important, the whole scheme of extending Franco’s rule was vaporized in the same instant. The dictator had to turn instead to Crown Prince Juan Carlos, who turned out to be the best Bourbon in history and who swiftly dismantled Franco’s entire system. If this action was ‘terrorism,’ it had something to be said for it. Everyone I knew in Spain made a little holiday in their hearts when the gruesome admiral went sky-high.

    The clear awareness of having been born into a losing struggle need not lead one into despair. I do not especially like the idea that one day I shall be tapped on the shoulder and informed, not that the party is over but that it is most assuredly going on—only henceforth in my absence. (It’s the second of those thoughts: the edition of the newspaper that will come out on the day after I have gone, that is the more distressing.) Much more horrible, though, would be the announcement that the party was continuing forever, and that I was forbidden to leave. Whether it was a hellishly bad party or a party that was perfectly heavenly in every respect, the moment that it became eternal and compulsory would be the precise moment that it began to pall.

    Christopher Hitchens

  • In our time, I believe that the Iraq invasion is one of two or three absolute litmus tests for acceptability versus condemnation for any public figure. Hitchens failed so miserably, it is difficult to describe the extent of that failure. He knew better.

    He died with real dignity, which doesn’t excuse his failing but leads me to recall two points at which he stood tall, so to speak, and said what was both true and very unpopular. I wish he had been more consistent.

    On election fraud, 2004 in Vanity Fair:

    “Machines are fallible and so are humans, and shit happens, to be sure, and no doubt many Ohio voters were able to record their choices promptly and without grotesque anomalies. But what strikes my eye is this: in practically every case where lines were too long or machines too few the foul-up was in a Democratic county or precinct, and in practically every case where machines produced impossible or improbable outcomes it was the challenger who suffered and the actual or potential Democratic voters who were shortchanged, discouraged, or held up to ridicule as chronic undervoters or as sudden converts to fringe-party losers.”

    On Henry Kissingers war crimes in Third World Traveler, 2001:

    “I have confined myself to the identifiable crimes that can and should be placed on a proper bill of indictment, whether the actions taken were in line with general “policy” or not. These include, in this installment, the deliberate mass killing of civilian populations in Indochina and the personal suborning and planning of murder of a senior constitutional officer in a democratic nation-Chile-with which the United States was not at war. In a second installment we will see that this criminal habit of mind extends to Bangladesh, Cyprus, East Timor, and even to Washington, D.C.”

    Bush had far greater culpability than Kisssinger and many more died.
    The Money Party RSS

    Send the UN to The Hague

  • Hitchens and Blair gave cover to those who think that the British have some corner on intelligence and civility. It was the New York Times that sealed the deal for those who might have opposed the war, again masquerading as “left/liberal.” The underlying theme was, Well, if the British left and Labour plus the NYT are behind it, it must be really serious.

    Public opinion was opposed to the war until the WMD lies which were bolstered by the above mentioned. Telling the story of the rhetorical fraud behind the war would be a worthy project (or read, if it’s been done).
    The Money Party RSS

    Send the UN to The Hague

  • Stupidity and lack of knowledge. I see little to nothing to indicate that y’all aren’t going to be handed your collective asses by the next slick stylist that comes along. Grade school rhetoric ain’t gonna cut it. Deep familiarity with ugly fact – that might do it. ‘course all the folks ceaselessly chasing eyeball share filling empty column inches with copy that’s marginally more or less informed than the next guy on the hot topic du jour have about a snowball’s chance in hell of developing that familiarity.

    You’re soaking in it.” ~ me

  • actually recognized early on that Iraq was a very effing bad idea were marginalized. They were marginalized by bullies like Hitchens.

    Bad decisions make good stories.

  • Those folks weren’t marginalized from the decision making and they weren’t marginalized from the active policy discussions – they were marginalized from Internet mediated commentary partaken in by a pretty small number of people. Me, even for all the effort and time I’ve devoted to this, frankly I think it’s pretty insignificant – playing around the margins, maybe being picked up by mainstream paper media when they’re slumming because they don’t know what they’re writing about. Whether Hitchens is a good guy or bad, influential or not, what have you – MHO, at the end of the day and at the coal face of policy, it’s angels dancing on the head of a pin.

    As to how outspoken folks were, well, I remember a lot of discussion that was long on opinion and short on fact. For me, the simple fact of the matter is that folks are perpetually waaaay behind the power curve when it comes to actually knowing the facts of things. No dispute that there’s been a goodly amount of commentary to the effect of “this is a good (or bad) idea” that has ended up being borne out. Big problems are twofold: 1) those assertions have very, very frequently been based on pretty thin, frequently groupthink-based “evidence”, and 2) for the amount of stuff that’s been borne out by events there’s been a very great deal more that hasn’t. I mean seriously, trawl through the archives – the list of doomful things that were predicted as consensus opinion that haven’t come off in the event is extremely long.

    The big thing that many of us have to absorb is that on about 98% of things in the news on any given day, we don’t know the first fucking thing and that our opinions, no matter how eloquently we might express them, really don’t amount to much that is useful. Only difference between us and Hitchens is that he played to a bigger, more remunerative audience.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • McClatchy was marginalized. They were the only media to report fully on the facts. State’s INR was marginalized. Powell was marginalized. Brent fucking Scowcroft was marginalized. This isn’t just about the dirty fucking fucking hippies on the internet. It was systemic. And Hitchens was an enabler and a propagandist.

    Bad decisions make good stories.

  • Sorry, there’s no causal link there. Bunch of stuff moving in the same direction, yes. But one did not cause the other. All of those forces got marginalized because they didn’t have sufficient informational dominance to definitively falsify bad assertions – that’s the key capacity that was lacking. Keep focusing on irrelevant crap like whether Hitchens gets an adequate roasting and you set things up so you can be rolled again and again and again.

    Enabler, I don’t think so. To be a successful propagandist one has to be read. Some significant fraction of the population less than 1% might have read him. I’m sorry man, but this is a hot house commentariat over stating by proxy their place in the world.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • that the best facts, the best arguments, the most rational course of action is the right course of action to take and that anyone can be convinced to do the right thing if only the correct facts are marshaled in the proper fashion. The world does not work that way. People like Hitchens gave political cover to the neocons. And people like Hitchens were allowed to bully others into submissions based on a host of ur-emotional arguments. Was Hitchens the main propagandist or the war? No, not remotely. But he occupied a key spot in the machine that was created to make sure liberals were cowed into submission.

    Bad decisions make good stories.

  • …the rational thing all of the time. I do, however, that many decision makers can be convinced to do the rational thing if approached properly. (The basis for my belief is pretty solid, in that I actually do this as part of my job.) More directly to the point, I believe one can be a lot more effective for a given unit of resources with fact than with emotional argument.

    Step back and look at the debates of the last decade objectively – what about the consistent lack of success of folks who advance arguments like yours emotionally says that you should continue to follow that strategy? Seriously, you’re consistently getting creamed. Use mastery of fact – that plays to your strengths and their weaknesses. Emotive argument plays to your weakness and their strengths, and they’ve got an awful lot more resources than you do.

    Strategy 101 – dictate the terms of the battle to the enemy and force them to fight your fight, don’t fight theirs. He wants to be high and fast, you take it low and slow.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • …2003 Knight-Ridder archive like I just did. The notion that McClatchy did a good job of reporting (and they did) is founded on their post-invasion reporting.

    And for the record, INR wasn’t marginalized – their objection and their reasoning was appropriately noted; it’s the policy makers who didn’t even read the report (and decided that the DCI should be someone who was familiar to them rather than someone up from inside the IC) who wear that one.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • …but go back through Scowcroft’s statement. No mention of the possibility that Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, no mention of greatly empowering Iran, lots of stuff that’s different from the dominant foreign policy reflexes only in that it might not be appropriate to throw Iraq up against the wall right now.

    For me the bottom line is that this is a much, much bigger problem than the “heroes and villains” vision of things that you are implicitly selling to yourself.

    Quite apart from all that – you want to give Hitchens his comeuppance, hit him where it would have hurt him the most? Ignore him for the irrelevant trifle he was and move on. Seriously, yappy folks like that who are long on opinion but short on experience clearly need the crowd at some deep, fundamentally pathological, level.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • Robert Scheer, Mark Danner, Phil Donohue.

    When Donohue had the top-rated show on MSNBC, the network cancelled it to demonstrate their pro-war conformity.

    When major TV and news outlets fire anti-war voices, I think it’s inaccurate to characterize it as “playing around the margins, maybe being picked up by mainstream paper media when they’re slumming because they don’t know what they’re writing about.” Donohue was interviewing guests like Scott Ritter. Scheer was an LA Times columnist long before he wrote on the internet (which he took up because he was fired from a major media outlet as a result of his pointing out that there was no legal cause for the invasion of Iraq). These people knew more about the situation than did the war-fevered media men who won promotions for their fervor.

  • …leads to Donohue getting yanked, unless there’s one hell of a lot more crossover between daytime TV viewers and Vanity Fair readers than I think there is. 😉

    More seriously, I think we’re getting pretty far out on the limb labelled Hitchens here. If you want to argue that there was a lot of stupid groupthink on the part of the editorial/producer/media exec echelon that ignored the reality of the story and that it extended even to “correcting” rambunctious personalities, I’m right there with you. The challenge with this for me, however, is that I keep coming back to the key enabler of this being lack of knowledge and inability to falsify. These guys were not unknowingly ladled kool-aid clothed in Hitchens-speak – they drank it willingly for a whole range of reasons. The higher echelons of the media suddenly went from being very critical of what the government says to being quite uncritical consumers. In large part I think this has to do with having had the traumatic experience of mass casualty terror coming to their shores, but a lot of it also had to do with covering an exciting story that they didn’t know very well, but knew that it rated like crazy and could make careers.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

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