Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Leftby Thomas Cushman
Pub. Date: 06/01/2008
Publisher: New York University Press
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/b>/b>
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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Table of Contents
Introduction: Terror, Iraq, and the Left
Part I: Hitchens on Terror
Part II: Hitchens on Iraq
Part III: Hitchens on the Left
Part IV: Critical Responses and Exchanges
About the Contributors
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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.