« NY Times on Blogger Ethics | Main | N. Korea's nuclear arsenal: what the scientists say »

May 09, 2005


I heard a Robert Frost quote back in college that I think applies to Hitchens/Horowitz et al. -- "I never dared be radical when young, for fear I'd turn conservative when old".

Hitchens is like a more classically educated Camille Paglia -- he can throw off erudite or obscure references that sound like they mean something but that, as you point out, fail to scan intellectually. At this point, one has to think the years of imbibing have done something to his cerebral cortex.

Slate is like most of the mainstream media right now -- bullied by the right into accepting at least part of their arguments in the name of "balance".

I almost mentioned his drinking, because I can't help but think it's a partial explanation for his dishevledness extending beyond his appearance into his thought, but I held back. But I think you're correct, and it's becuase now when he writes stuff it doesn't even, as you aptly put it, "scan intellectually." Sure, he writes some find sentences, but as a supposed attempt to present a coherent argument, that essay is a failure.

I think, also, that Hitchens is perhaps just the most pathetic example of a wider phenomenon among a lot of intellectuals, including many I deeply respect: they believe that 9-11 created an imperative where they needed to stand up and show the courage of their convictions. However, there are two huge problems with applying it as many have done.

First, the model of the 1930's through the 1950's doesn't fit, because I can't think of any serious or notable thinkers, writers or "all-purpose intellectuals" who are really apologists for terrorism or extremist political Islam. There aren't "fellow travelers" or people who are clinging to outdated beliefs of who's on "our side" based on an earlier "popular front" alliance, at least not on the left. The Mujahadeen's allies were in the CIA and among the rabid anti-communists (such as the neocons). And we don't have to worry about bin Laden-style anti-Westernism spreading among American intellectuals or finding apologists; there is no "war of ideas" among Western intellectuals like there was with fascism, the various strands of the socialist/communist left, liberals and conservatives. (I'm thinking of Paul Berman's fevered writing about the Egypitian intellectual Qutb and the roots of political Islamism.)

The other thing that's different is that the people the pro-war liberals are arguing with genrally don't disagree with the pro-war liberals in regards to terrorism, most of us just think Iraq under Saddam was irrelevant to al Qaeda-influenced Islamic terrorism, and that if the war did anything, it made things worse. Most of the pro-war liberals understand this, and are, I suspect, uncomfortable in having not spoken against the war, or at least regretful about being on the opposite side of their usual allies. (I'm thinking here about people like David Remnick or Michael Ignatieff, even the delusional Tom Friedman.)

The era of the World Wars was, I guess, sort of a "heroic" time for intellectuals; Orwell, Koestler, the founders of ADA, Malraux, Camus, the post-Magic Mountain Thomas Mann, Isaiah Berlin, Raymond Aron, Hannah Arendt...I suspect that among some intellectuals, especially those who think of themselves as serious liberals (as opposed to the fuzzier and harder to classify "progressives") saw the post 9-11 time as their "Orwell imperative."

I generally don't read, and serious outlets probably shouldn't publish, anyone who attributes anything to "leftists."

I generally don't read, and serious outlets probably shouldn't publish, anyone who attributes anything to "leftists."

That's fine as long as its confined to those who use "leftist" as a pejorative, or attribute ridiculous things to "leftists." I regularly read Dissent, which is always full of article that talk about, try to define, and even wonder if there's anything viable that can be called "the left." But yeah, I know what you mean about "leftists"=Free Mumia=against the Iraq War=Democrat.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Where We Met

Blog powered by Typepad