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And the entire marvelous panorama of the war passed before my eyes
May 16, 2011 4:39 PM   Subscribe

Christopher Hitchens reviews the letters of Rosa Luxemburg, the Polish-born German political radical, intellectual, and author.
posted by beisny (37 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Drunk spouts off about old commie. I could have done this for a hundred bucks and saved the Atlantic a ton of money.
posted by jonmc at 5:05 PM on May 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


The man is dying of cancer, can we at least try to make discussions of his work not all about the lulz?
posted by nasreddin at 5:21 PM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


We're not talking about the cancer-ridden man, we're talking about his persona, and his work.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:28 PM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would like to see a panel with Hitchens, Zizek and Chomsky discussing the future of the left. Either that, or a remake of the sitcom Three's Company starring these same three.
posted by Papaver somniferum at 5:28 PM on May 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


This will be his magnum opus. Finally, a topic worth a man who cannot be helped to talk. I am just glad I was able to have him on my show. To keep him on the phone as long as I could by cajoling his agent. He was surprised. Richard Dawkins blogged about it and gave some great criticism. The podcast count went up 10,000% and stayed at 500%. I was so happy. It was one of the best days in my life that I was able to book Christopher Hitchens to debate the role of non-belief in a secular republic such as ours.
posted by parmanparman at 5:31 PM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


An excellent article, cheers.
posted by dng at 5:33 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


We're not talking about the cancer-ridden man, we're talking about his persona, and his work.

So the Hitchens+drunk meme is a concerted effort?
posted by Brian B. at 5:40 PM on May 16, 2011


The man is dying of cancer, can we at least try to make discussions of his work not all about the lulz?

Not when he's staying so doggedly true to character. His opening salvo - "The generally accepted verdict on 20th-century ideology—that its “totalitarian” character eclipses any of the ostensible differences between its “left” and “right” versions—is one that few wish to dispute" - is pitch-perfect Hitchens: lead out with casual, snotty marginalization of anyone who happens to disagree with him and proceed, angry and yet somehow unrepentantly effete, from there.

It's no surprise that anyone who can stomach more than a few sentences of his tends to agree with him, given how aggressively those first few sentences try to weed out anyone in his audience who thinks otherwise. Whatever the condition of the man, he's made himself a caricature. He might be right! But he's also, unrepentantly, a jerk. And it makes his writing really unpleasant to read.

And worse yet, if he is right and this is all we get, then I can't imagine why I would I want to spend any amount of my finite remaining time in this world reading things that are unpleasant to read, and written an unrepentant jerk.
posted by mhoye at 5:52 PM on May 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Not when he's staying so doggedly true to character. His opening salvo - "The generally accepted verdict on 20th-century ideology—that its “totalitarian” character eclipses any of the ostensible differences between its “left” and “right” versions—is one that few wish to dispute" - is pitch-perfect Hitchens: lead out with casual, snotty marginalization of anyone who happens to disagree with him and proceed, angry and yet somehow unrepentantly effete, from there.

I honestly have no idea what you mean here. Hitchens is clearly disputing this position, which is the point of the article. He's putting himself in the minority. I don't know if his view (that most people think fascism and communism are fundamentally alike) is accurate, but it's fairly plausible. And in any event, "Most people think x, but I believe y, and here's an example" is a totally normal convention routinely used by thousands of writers. Whether or not I agree with him, it's pretty hard to read this claim as particularly egregious.
posted by nasreddin at 5:58 PM on May 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


Also, the idea that having read someone's arguments should somehow be considered a mark of (what? prejudice? stupidity? evil?) strikes me as so ridiculous and perverse that I think you might just be fucking with us.
posted by nasreddin at 6:02 PM on May 16, 2011


I liked the article and lovenly refer to him as Hytch. She saw, she knew. Her view was correct about the barracks mentality. Lets face, she threatened men, she was smarter and had better intution.
posted by clavdivs at 6:07 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I could have saved jonmc a few minutes and just posted the crappiest thing I could think to say about someone without addressing their argument.
posted by lumpenprole at 6:08 PM on May 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


Whatever one's politics, I think fairness demands an acknowledgment that it would have been difficult to assign a more antagonistic author to this subject than was done here.

Although good journalism can come out of rabid antipathy, it's a long shot. I don't think Hitch manages here.
posted by Trurl at 6:11 PM on May 16, 2011


Whatever one's politics, I think fairness demands an acknowledgment that it would have been difficult to assign a more antagonistic author to this subject than was done here.

Again, I'm not a Marxist so I don't agree with Hitchens. But a "more antagonistic author"? Hitchens clearly loves Rosa Luxemburg, which is why the piece is so sympathetic (if not really all that original). They're both roughly on the same side of the barricades--the anti-Soviet/anti-Stalinist European radical left. (Whether or not he belongs on that side in reality is a separate question, but he certainly considers himself a Trotskyite.)
posted by nasreddin at 6:17 PM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


But seriously guys, are women funny?
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 6:18 PM on May 16, 2011


Great article, thanks! Too bad about all the threadshitting, though.
posted by jtron at 6:34 PM on May 16, 2011


I love The Missionary Position.
posted by box at 7:06 PM on May 16, 2011


Well, like.
posted by box at 7:07 PM on May 16, 2011


Too bad about all the threadshitting, though.

I probably could have (and probably should have) refrained from making my comment, but then again, the MetaFilter Hitchens hagiography gets to be a little difficult to take sometimes. Plus, many of my 40-something Creative Writing friends from UVic have adopted a Hitchens pose. Praise Canada (or insert nation of your choice here), down with communists and Muslims. Makes them feel young, I guess, when they are also smoking too many ciggies.

I wish Kenneth Tynan hadn't died of smoking cigarettes - at least he was into spanking, and he had plenty of witty things to say.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:16 PM on May 16, 2011


As exemplified by the first remark on the thread, KokoRyu, I don't think discussions about Christopher Hitchens tend towards hagiography here. Many, if not most, comments disparage him, usually because he had the temerity to support the overthrow of Saddam Hussain. I think he's a wonderful writer - erudite, fearless and consistently interesting about a vast range of subjects whether one agrees with everything he says or not. Hitchens considers himself a "very conservative Marxist" even now and he's consistently and specifically opposed the barbarities of Islamic terrorism, rather than muslims per se. I'm sorry that many of your friends now hold opinions with which you disagree, but I would suggest that support for communism in western liberal circles is more often an affectation of the young rather than the more experienced. Where a predilection for spanking fits into all of this is perhaps for you to say.
posted by joannemullen at 8:00 PM on May 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Given Christopher Hitchens's current health issues as known to most if not all of his readers, here, anyway, is it not possible to read something he writes outside that light? Can't we read his criticism without couching it in terms of his "death sentence via cancer," "history of smoking/drinking whatever," can't we just read the man's words outside of his own personal circumstances?

Golly, we do it all the time with Roger Ebert.

These men write well, have strong opinions, and Derrida be fucked, can't we read them without all kinds of editorializing about their current personal circumstances? Sheesh, thanks for reminding me why I was so happy not to go to grad school.

I learned a lot from this review. Thanks for posting it, because I let my Atlantic sub expire.
posted by emhutchinson at 8:01 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks, this was an interesting article. The story of the buffalo always makes me incredibly angry at the pointless cruelty and the giant waste of WW1. It appears slightly more complete in this article from March: The Mystery of Rosa Luxemburg's Corpse.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:16 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Many, if not most, comments disparage him, usually because he had the temerity to support the overthrow of Saddam Hussain.

And all this time I just thought they were whining Catholics offended by his treatment of Mother Teresa.

Seriously.
posted by Brian B. at 8:25 PM on May 16, 2011


Great essay. Thanks.

I think Hitchens supported the overthrow of Hussein because he didn't want to repeat the great blunder of British communists after WWII in continuing to support Stalin (after whom Saddam Hussein modeled himself) long past the point it became clear what was going on in the SSRs and the Gulags.
posted by jamjam at 10:26 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter Hitchens hagiography

What colour's the background of MeFi in Earth-2, buddy? Or is it just your echo chamber's damped against contrary opinion that the odd pin-drop against the tide of "drunk", "how dare he tell uncomfortable truths about Mother Teresa!" and whatnot that get dragged into any mention of Hitchens sound like thunderclaps?
posted by rodgerd at 11:35 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I learned a lot from this review.

Me too - this is why I posted. Perhaps I should be embarrassed to say that I had never heard of Rosa Luxemburg before reading this.

I am a bit surprised by the tense response here especially because by his own account, Hitchens' book reviews are noticeably less polemical in their approach (as opposed to his slate pieces which seem purpose-designed to provoke).

It is frankly a bit disappointing that almost none of the anti-Hitchens sentiment expressed here responded to any of the actual content in the review or put forward a different take on Rosa Luxemburg (which would have been very welcome, considering my ignorance on the subject). In fact, the only criticism that did address the review, addressed only the first sentence.
posted by beisny at 11:49 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not when he's staying so doggedly true to character. His opening salvo - "The generally accepted verdict on 20th-century ideology—that its “totalitarian” character eclipses any of the ostensible differences between its “left” and “right” versions—is one that few wish to dispute" - is pitch-perfect Hitchens: lead out with casual, snotty marginalization of anyone who happens to disagree with him and proceed, angry and yet somehow unrepentantly effete, from there.

That's one of the many things I like about Hitchens. He is so polarizing that he immediately reduces the reason-impaired to poop flinging. If you find Hitchens too controversial and disagreeable to respond to his points instead of his style, you're likely going to find 95% of interesting discussions similarly disagreeable, and will contribute nothing to them.

I'm off to read the article, and even though as someone who grew up in Soviet-occupied Estonia I'm pretty sure I'll disagree with any apologia of international socialism, I'll do so because of reasons other than "Hitchens is a big fat jerk who supported the Iraq war!".
posted by unigolyn at 12:01 AM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


As usual, Christopher Hitchens demonstrates a pretty sketchy acquaintance with history:

we have no real record of any “dissident” writing by the minority of intellectuals who were drawn to Fascism and National Socialism.

What?! No Curzio Malaparte? No Dionisio Ridruejo? Oh, Hitch, Hitch...
posted by Skeptic at 12:15 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


mhoye, the sentence you quoted does absolutely nothing you complain about. That wasn't snottly, marginalizing, aggressive or unplesant.
posted by spaltavian at 5:55 AM on May 17, 2011


This was a hell of a lot more engaging and interesting than most of that train wreck of an autobiography he produced. Hitchens often seems to be at his best when he's least personally engaged in the issue - seemed like he had a warm respect for Rosa Luxemburg but little else, and could just let his pen do it's thing.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:56 AM on May 17, 2011


What?! No Curzio Malaparte? No Dionisio Ridruejo? Oh, Hitch, Hitch...

The articles you linked to suggest that they weren't so much heretical fascists as lapsed fascists who turned to the left (in the first case, to Communism, and in the second, to social democracy).

The only figure I can think of fitting the description of a heretical or unorthodox fascist is Richard Wolstencroft, the former organiser of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, who described himself as a "transcendental fascist". Though such an ideology sounds a lot more idiosyncratic than the romantic Marxism of Rosa Luxembourg.
posted by acb at 7:36 AM on May 17, 2011


acb As you'll see in those articles, both Malaparte and Ridruejo went through a longuish "heretical fascist" phase before turning to the left. It must also be said that in both cases only their reputation within the regime kept them alive long enough to reach that point. Others would have been less lucky.

Most totalitarian far-right regimes had pretty strong internal tensions between traditionalists (usually right-wing conservatives) and revolutionaries (quite often disenchanted leftists). For the latter, accusing the leadership of betraying their movement's principles on behalf of the former was quite common (even if notoriously risky: see the Night of the Long Knives).
posted by Skeptic at 8:35 AM on May 17, 2011


the romantic Marxism of Rosa Luxembourg.
Social Democracy isn't particularly romantic - it is one of the strongest political movements in Europe after 1918. The history of the German Social Democrats is somewhat tragic though, not least because of the loss of Luxemburg and Liebknecht. The central point of Hitchens argument: that history could have been entirely different, is in my view valid.
Just imagine a Social Democratic Germany as a practical and livable alternative to Russian/Sovjet Marxism in 1930, including compromises with industry, functioning welfare, and growth through consumerism rather than arms. That would include a lively European Jewish community, and other European countries being inspired by the "German" model. No East Block. No cold war. No Israel. Maybe a very different US (since the ww2 industrialization wouldn't have happened, but German socialism would have inspired).
Counterfactual history, yes. But thinking about it, it isn't strange that the Koch-brothers of the age did what they could to oust the Social Democrats and promote Hitler.
posted by mumimor at 1:51 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm referring to Luxembourg's version of Marxism as "romantic Marxism" as per David Priestland's taxonomy in The Red Flag, in which he describes three strains of thought in Marxism: Romantic Marxism (i.e., freedom and self-actualisation for all as brothers and sisters, "if I can't dance I want no part in your revolution"), Radical Marxism (absolute equality, extreme redistribution of resources; Mao's perpetual revolution is one example) and Modernist Marxism (the Leninist 5-year plan/Stalinist technocracy, a sort of pragmatism, in a totalitarian framework). Where Communist states existed, the tension was usually between the Modernist and Radical varieties, with Romantic Marxism on the sidelines (though it made a partial appearance during Khrushchev's thaw); Romantic Marxism, for obvious reasons, is better suited to recruiting for the cause than to statecraft.
posted by acb at 3:02 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hitchens has my sympathies for what he's going through, but when I see articles like that, I still can't help but think it's just a load of intellectual wankery. I'd really hoped to see something different.
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 4:19 PM on May 17, 2011


Lefty trainspotters might enjoy council communist Paul Mattick's critique of Luxemburg.
posted by Abiezer at 9:47 PM on May 17, 2011


I'm referring to Luxembourg's version of Marxism as "romantic Marxism" as per David Priestland's taxonomy in The Red Flag
Well, good for you. I'm referring to the reality of European politics, where Social Democracy was immensely successful, before and after WW2. Where freely elected Social Democratic governments existed, they secured more rights, wealth and welfare for the working class than the totalitarian communists did next door. Which is something the working class at the time appreciated.
I suspect Hitchens has a similar perspective.
posted by mumimor at 11:21 PM on May 17, 2011


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