'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Missing Hitchens 

The Independent just ran an oddly moving piece by Johann Hari about Christopher Hitchens getting turned by the dark side of the force in which Hitch informs us, I kid you not, that Wolfowitz is actually a big fucking liberal:

The thing that would most surprise people about Wolfowitz if they met him is that he's a real bleeding heart. He's from a Polish-Jewish immigrant family. You know the drill - Kennedy Democrats, some of the family got out of Poland in time and some didn't make it, civil rights marchers? He impressed me when he was speaking at a pro-Israel rally in Washington a few years ago and he made a point of talking about Palestinian suffering. He didn't have to do it - at all - and he was booed. He knew he would be booed, and he got it. I've taken time to find out what he thinks about these issues, and it's always interesting.

Yeah, no one sticks up for Palestinians like Paul Wolfowitz... Hitch also goes into a song and dance routine when Hari attempts to get Hitch on record about his current location in the political spectrum, which is somewhat amusing. To a direct question about his current political affiliation Hitchens responded, "I don't have a political allegiance now, and I doubt I ever will have again. I can no longer describe myself as a socialist. I miss it like a lost limb." Apparently he misses socialism like a lost limb that he likes to bitch about because he goes on to say

Often young people ask me for political advice, and when you are talking to the young, you mustn't bullshit. It's one thing when you are sitting with old comrades to talk about reviving the left, but you can't say that to somebody who is just starting out. And what could I say to these people? I had to ask myself - is there an international socialist movement worth the name? No. No, there is not. Okay - will it revive? No, it won't. Okay then - but is there at least a critique of capitalism that has a potential for replacing it? Not that I can identify

which is all fine and good but neglects to inform us whether or not Hitchens now believes that the best means of allocating resources in a large-scale industrial society is capitalism. If he does then one would think he would say so when discussing why he no longer applies the label "socialist" to himself.

Former Hitchens' associate Doug Ireland had the following to say about the Independent story:

Hitch's new friends, I find, range from the indigestible to the downright repugnant. Christopher and I have debated his support for Bush in print for the L.A. Weekly. However, he and I remain on affectionate personal terms (I suppose I have Forsterian notions of friendship--and then, Hitch can still turn out a piece that I can wholeheartedly agree with as well as admire for its polemical style, like Hitch's wonderfully acid dissection of Mel Gibson's incendiary Jesus film). He sends me tart and imperious notes when he thinks I'm off-base, I send notes back to him teasing him for the absurd posturings of some of his new neocon dinner partners (as when Hitch's mad chum Wolfie insisted, on the Jim Lehrer Newshour, that Iraq today was like France after World War II ! ) Every so often one of us picks up the phone and rings the other, for a friendly chinwag or a collegial exchange of precise information. Sometimes it's his wife, Carol--whom I invariably refer to as The Lady Blue--who picks up their second phone in the kitchen, where Hitch often takes refuge (and the secret number of which I wouldn't reveal even under torture). I'm always delighted when she does: Carol is delicious--intelligent, courageous, and witty. I'm quite fond of her, too.

But I miss the old Hitch. In yesterday's Independent, a former Hitchens protege, Johann Hari, interviews my friend Christopher about the bizarre political voyage he's been on for the last three years. It's a profile of Hitch written more in sorrow than in anger, very revealing and, for me, extraordinarily saddening. It made me nostalgic once again for the other Hitch, my comrade of yore. I could only agree with Hari's last line in this piece, when he wrote "Come home, Hitch - we need you." I think it unlikely, however, that Hitch will heed us...

I never really thought much of Hitchens even when he was a leftist. He always just seemed to be a kind of charlatan to me, applying the sort of posturing and preening that's common in academic discourse to political discourse, and not even a particularly good charlatan like Slavoj Zizek or someone. His old friends seem to miss him though, so what the hell do I know.

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