Hitchens still thinks he’s Orwell

9 October, 2007

A rather disgusting “confessional” from Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair: A Death in the Family.

Hitchens has discovered that a young man was inspired by his advocacy for the invasion of Iraq to join the military mission there, and was subsequently killed. Hitchens, in writing this, obviously wanted to appear humbled by this experience, but unfortunately his inflated prose, his constant self-reference, and the reader’s knowledge that at the end of his essay he will – surprise, surprise – find his original actions and beliefs validated and indeed elevated, somewhat undermines his efforts in the eyes of intelligent readers.

I’m sure that discovering that his words helped propel a young man to his death really stunned Hitchens, but unfortunately it also seems to have given him a great ego-boost to discover that his words have such power, and that perhaps in a way he created his own Orwellian freedom-fighter hero – because it seems Hitchens is still at heart a Trotskyite* (i.e. a Stalinist out of office) who wants to turn others into emblems of his own ideals, and praise their pointless deaths.

I used to know a boy like the late Mark Daily. He was an enthusiast for life, but, more, he was an idealist in search of a cause. This friend of mine became an Anarchist, and ideological to the point where I was glad when he moved to a different city. Like all ideologues, he believed that he had found the one true Way which, followed faithfully, would lead to a literal Paradise. He was a good man, the type that sometimes makes history, but more often ends up used as cannon fodder by more ambivalent, self-serving types. It’s easy to admire this type of person, but I don’t think we should. A hero in search of a cause can easily end up in the sights of a firing squad – or else giving the command to shoot.

What about the other heroes, Hitchens? The ones who forsaw the great, pointless destruction, waste and death this crusade would bring? The many knowledgable people in the military and intelligence services who basically threw their careers away and made an enemy out of their own government in order to speak the unwanted truth (as they saw it)? The ordinary people who marched in the streets – naïfs, appeasers, cowards, fellow-travellers, anti-Americans, as you would call them all – who knew or felt that American invasion and occupation of this third-world country would almost inevitably lead to disaster, and who have been proved right?

But Hitchens is deaf to such appeals, and intends to continue proselytising for his faith. He might as well quote those dangerous words of Jesus: “Because you are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm, I spit you out of my mouth.” In other words, “Death to the fence-sitters!” In his appeal for commitment, sacrifice and (though he generally won’t admit its necessity) killing for the One True Cause, Hitchens may be little different to the Islamist maniacs of Iraq, or the Fundamentalist incompetents of George W Bush’s government (whom, incidentally, Hitchens still refuses to clearly denounce).


* Hitchens is referenced in “An Ex-Maoist Looks at an Ex-Trotskyist: on Irving Howe’s Leon Trotsky”, by Ian Williams, and a couple of quotes are pertinent to this blog entry:

A cause of Hitchens’ activism and freedom-fighter pose:
“some common thread of anxiety for politically motivated intellectuals, un impuissance des clercs, a feeling that, despite the aphorism, the pen usually wilts in the face of the sword….”

Hitchens’ self-justification:
“And with the ruthless romanticism of the revolutionary, they think the price in blood is well worth paying, that history will absolve them.”


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