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Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Left

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Overview

Christopher Hitchens—political journalist, cultural critic, public intellectual and self-described contrarian—is one of the most controversial and prolific writers of his generation. His most recent book, God Is Not Great, was on the New York Times bestseller list in 2007 for months. Like his hero, George Orwell, Hitchens is a tireless opponent of all forms of cruelty, ideological dogma, religious superstition and intellectual obfuscation. Once a socialist, he now refers to himself as an unaffiliated radical. As a thinker, Hitchens is perhaps best viewed as post-ideological, in that his intellectual sources and solidarities are strikingly various (he is an admirer of both Leon Trotsky and Kingsley Amis) and cannot be located easily at any one point on the ideological spectrum. Since leaving Britain for the United States in 1981, Hitchens's thinking has moved in what some see as contradictory directions, but he remains an unapologetic and passionate defender of the Enlightenment values of secularism, democracy, free expression, and scientific inquiry.

The global turmoil of the recent past has provoked intense dispute and division among intellectuals, academics, and other commentators. Hitchens's writing during this time, particularly after 9/11, is an essential reference point for understanding the genesis and meaning of that turmoil—and the challenges that accompany it. This volume brings together Hitchens's most incisive reflections on the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and the state of the contemporary Left. It also includes a selection of critical commentaries on his work from his former leftist comrades, a set of exchanges between Hitchens and various left-leaning interlocutors (such as Studs Terkel, Norman Finkelstein, and Michael Kazin), and an introductory essay by the editors on the nature and significance of Hitchens's contribution to the world of ideas and public debate. In response, Hitchens provides an original afterword, written for this collection.

Whatever readers might think about Hitchens, he remains an intellectual force to be reckoned with. And there is no better place to encounter his current thinking than in this provocative volume.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The controversial pundit dishes out and takes punishment in this anthology of rancorous essays by him and the leftist comrades he abandoned to embrace the invasion of Iraq. The editors laud Hitchens as a "morally courageous," "indispensable" thinker whose elegant polemics sparkle under fire; sadly, this selection hardly supports such glowing tributes. Hitchens's post-9/11 pieces rehearse themes that he considers too self-evident to bother justifying: the irreconcilability of Islamist "fascism" with humane liberal values; the mortal peril posed by Saddam's dictatorship; the imperative to destroy both and the left's "moral cretinism" in questioning the rationale or methods for doing so. Hitchens's arguments rely on debater's tactics-stiffened with muscular rhetoric ("When [cluster bombs] are dropped on... Taliban troops, they do have a heartening effect"), personal vitriol ("fat sluts," he dubs the Dixie Chicks) and school-yard taunts ("Well, ha ha ha and yah, boo"). His detractors sometimes reciprocate (Richard Seymour calls him a "tumescent cadaver"), but Gary Malone, Juan Cole and George Scialabba offer poised rebuttals. There's red meat aplenty for pro- and anti-Hitchens readers, but more blood than light is shed on the underlying issues. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
“The controversial pundit dishes out and takes punishment in this anthology of rancorous essays by him and the leftist comrades he abandoned to embrace the invasion of Iraq. . . .There'’s red meat aplenty for pro- and anti-Hitchens readers.”
-Publishers Weekly

,

“Most of Hitchens’s reasons for keeping the hawkish faith can be found in this collection.”
-New York Review of Books

,

“The 52 essays, articles, and exchanges are among the best in post-9/11 literature, and shimmer with pugilistic intelligence and wit.”
-Capitol File Magazine

,

“Hitchens’s style is so dazzling it is easy to forget that it is rooted in a solid belief in secularism, feminism, and reason. These are the core principles of the Left and we have no choice but to defend them. As they are assaulted by psychopathic Islamists abroad and betrayed by empty headed phonies at home, it is good to know that Hitchens is on our side.”
-Nick Cohen,columnist, The Observer

“Cottee and Cushman have produced not only a priceless collection of Christopher Hitchens’s key writings over the past few years; they have also documented wonderfully the most essential characteristics of the post-9/11 Anglo-American left. Christopher Hitchens and His Critics is must reading for anybody interested in the big topics befalling our lives.”
-Andrei S. Markovits,University of Michigan

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814716861
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2008
  • Pages: 712
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Cushman is Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and the founder and editor-at-large of the Journal of Human Rights. He has written or edited numerous books, including George Orwell Into the 21st Century, A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq, and This Time We Knew: Western Responses to Genocide in Bosnia (NYU Press).

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Table of Contents

Introduction Terror, Iraq, and the Left Simon Cottee Cottee, Simon Thomas Cushman Cushman, Thomas 1

Pt. I Hitchens On Terror

1 American Society Can Outlast or Absorb Practically Anything 39

2 The Pursuit of Happiness Is at an End 42

3 Against Rationalization 44

4 Of Sin, the Left, and Islamic Fascism 47

5 Ha Ha Ha to the Pacifists 52

6 Stranger in a Strange Land 54

7 Saving Islam from bin Laden 59

8 It's a Good Time for War 62

9 Inside the Islamic Mafia 70

10 Al Qaeda's Latest Target 73

11 To Die in Madrid 77

12 Murder by Any Other Name 79

13 Bush's Secularist Triumph 82

14 Jihad in the Netherlands 85

15 We Cannot Surrender 87

16 Yes, London Can Take It 90

17 Why Ask Why? 93

Pt. II Hitchens On Iraq

18 Appointment in Samarra? 99

19 Taking Sides 101

20 So Long, Fellow Travelers 104

21 I Wanted It to Rain on Their Parade 108

22 Weapons and Terror 112

23 Restating the Case for War 114

24 The Literal Left 120

25 Guerrillas in the Mist 122

26 Fallujah 125

27 Vietnam? 128

28 Second Thinking 131

29 Abu Ghraib Isn't Guernica 134

30 History and Mystery 137

31 Unmitigated Galloway 140

32 Losing the Iraq War 150

33 A War to Be Proud Of 152

34 Anti-War, My Foot 160

Pt. III Hitchens On The Left

35 An Interview with Christopher Hitchens, Part I: Radicalism, Liberty, and the Post-Socialist World 167

36 Don't. Be. Silly. An Open Letter to Martin Amis 177

37 Europe's Status Quo Left: A Review of Language, Politics, and Writing: Stolentelling in Western Europe Patrick McCarthy McCarthy, Patrick 184

38 Left-Leaving, Left-Leaning: A Review of Left Illusions by David Horowitz and Not Without Love Constance WebbWebb, Constance 189

39 Polymath with a Cause: A Review of From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map Edward W. Said Said, Edward W. 193

40 Susan Sontag: An Obituary 197

41 An Interview with Christopher Hitchens, Part II: Anti-Fascism, Reactionary Conservatism, and the Post-September 11 World 201

Pt. IV Critical Responses and Exchanges

42 Letter to the Nation, October 1, 2001 Noam Chomsky Chomsky, Noam 221

Hitchens Responds 222

43 Letter to the Nation, January 10, 2.002 Edward S. Herman Herman, Edward S. 228

Hitchens Responds 229

44 Christopher Hitchens: The Dishonorable Policeman of the Left Scott Lucas Lucas, Scott 230

45 Letter to the Nation, January 6, 2003 Studs Terkel Terkel, Studs 237

Hitchens Responds 238

46 Hitchens as Model Apostate Norman Finkelstein Finkelstein, Norman 242

Hitchens Responds 250

47 Obituary for a Former Contrarian Dennis Perrin Perrin, Dennis 257

48 Farewell Hitch George Scialabba Scialabba, George 264

49 The Passion of Christopher Hitchens: A Review of Love, Poverty, and War Christopher Hitchens Hitchens, Christopher Michael Kazin Kazin, Michael 273

50 Christopher Hitchens: Flickering Firebrand Gary Malone Malone, Gary 279

51 Christopher Hitchens's Last Battle Juan Cole Cole, Juan 302

52 The Genocidal Imagination of Christopher Hitchens Richard Seymour Seymour, Richard 312

Afterword Christopher Hitchens Hitchens, Christopher 331

About the Contributors 343

Index 347

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  • Posted September 18, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Worth reading, but more for the critics than for Hitchens

    The late Christopher Hitchens was always a controversial writer, never more so than after 9/11 when he backed George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror’ and the attack on Iraq. The editors’ introduction is full of praise: “Hitchens’ work represents a template for polemical excellence”; “Hitchens deserves to be taken seriously as a unique kind (sic) of intellectual and … his thinking is indispensable for strengthening the project of secular, democratic cosmopolitan humanism.” The editors accuse Hitchens’ critics of having no ‘moral compassion or sorrow for the dead and bereaved’ of 9/11. The editors claim that his writing is ‘elegant’, that he ‘never lets a cliché or a euphemism pass uncontested’. But are his accusations of ‘moral cretinism’, ‘spouting sinister piffle’ and ‘spouting fascistic nonsense’ really much above the level of a Rush Limbaugh or a Richard Littlejohn? All too many of the pieces in this collection are marred by personal abuse, but as Hitchens acknowledged, “I was the one who issued the first barrage of insults.” The editors reprint Scott Lucas’ brilliant piece in the New Statesman, to which Hitchens made no reply. Lucas observed, “Like Orwell, Hitchens has made himself the poster boy of ‘principled opposition’, even as he sides with the dominant powers in the US …” They reprint Norman Finkelstein’s devastating essay which noted that Hitchens opposed the right to abortion. Finkelstein pointed out that Hitchens claimed falsely in his 2003 book that ‘empirical proofs have been unearthed’ that Iraq did not disarm, a claim that Hitchens did not mention in his eight-page response. But Hitchens then claims in his afterword, “I did not in fact believe that Saddam Hussein had an arsenal of WMD.” Though he at once states, “I did believe that he was concealing some of what he had earlier unarguably amassed.” Very clear! Dennis Perrin, George Scialabba, Michael Kazin, Gary Malone and Juan Cole all have fine pieces criticising Hitchens’ politics. Malone noted that Hitchens persuaded himself “that the reason for invading a country was wrong but that we could only know this for certain by carrying out the invasion anyway.” Hitchens had claimed, without presenting any evidence, that the UN weapons inspection teams were ‘infiltrated, or suborned, or both’. Malone quotes UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, “We have the United Nations record of Iraqi disarmament from 1991 to 1998. That record is without dispute. It’s documented. We eliminated the nuclear programme …” But Hitchens wrote, “I had been believably told of stuff hidden in a mosque”, so who needed real weapons inspectors? Hitchens’ support for George W. Bush spread across the board. He backed Bush for re-election. Hitchens said how he admired Thatcher, that that he had wanted her to win in 1979 and that he regretted not voting for her. He said in 2001, “There is no longer a general socialist critique of capitalism – certainly not the sort of critique that proposes an alternative or a replacement.” Hitchens was a frequent warmonger: he backed Thatcher’s war over the Falklands and NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia. If you make opposition to one-party states (rather than peace) your top priority, as Hitchens did, you accept NATO’s rationale for endless wars of aggressive intervention. The editors write that six authors refused to allow them to reprint their work in this volume, and end by accusing the six of hypocrisy, which may hint why they refused permission.

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