The last Minority Report in the Nation by Christopher Hitchens
September 28, 2002 11:45 PM   Subscribe

I can't not read anything written by Christopher Hitchens. I particularly like the versatility of his style, which he adapts to wherever he's writing (in publications as far apart as Vanity Fair and the London Review of Books) without ever losing his particular voice. I'd call it "thinking out loud" writing, which presents as conclusions and certainties, dressed as provocations, what are really only questions and positions he's trying out in a very juvenile, undergraduate, "debating society" fashion. People forget how attractive, fruitful and youthfully radical this approach always is and how difficult it is to preserve after the age of 30 or so. I find his intelligent playfulness masquerading (or, more accurately perhaps, "trying it on as") moral seriousness very entertaining and medicinal.

I wonder, however, if his recent choppy, pithy-tabloid-style pieces for the Mirror are all his own work or whether he's been ably translated by a clever sub-editor there. Here's the latest example (also on Iraq). If that's what his copy looked like when he filed it, my admiration for him as a stylist and (in the best sense) a man for all seasons just went up a notch.

As for The Nation, I'm sorry he left and applaud the gracious way the editor bade him goodriddancebye.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:38 AM on September 29, 2002

Godspeed, Hitch. If there were more principled, iconoclastic liberals like you, the world would be a much better, and smarter, place.

Truthfully, Hitch (and most of the rest of the thinking world) have simply outgrown that rag, so moving on is the best move he could have made.
posted by evanizer at 12:52 AM on September 29, 2002

Thanks to Semmi and Miguel for the Christopher Hitchens links. I have been an occasional reader of the Nation for some years, and I know that magazine will suffer greatly without the thoughtful and reasoned writing of Christopher Hitchens. I have read the Nation with growing infrequency in recent years due to what I believe to be a increasing shrillness and a failure to recognize that "incorrect" political affiliation does not mean that everything said or done by a person is automatically suspect. I would imagine that without Hitchens's rationalism, that tendency will only increase, to the Nation's detriment.
posted by Steve Hight at 1:05 AM on September 29, 2002

Indeed I think a greater threat, weren't it for the now more ominous one of Al Qaida etc, is in fact John Ashcroft and the over the top nod to corporations that the arguably legal election of George Bush gave way to, counter to where Hitchens' fears lie. We may hem and haw over the finer points of the electoral college and ultimately agree to disagree, but there has been a serious paranoia festering among us here on the left for quite some time. The Christian Coalition, The Moral Majority, let's name the ways that the right has used it's muscle, powered by the old money to force its agenda, may the truth of anything be damned, so that the most paletable truth of the right's aristocracy could have exactly what it's having first dibs on now. Indeed, the right's efforts lo these two decades or so, I fear, were that to prime the populace for some sort of a fundamentalist totalitarian state. Nope, no conspiracies spoken here, it's simply just part and parcel of the right's authoritarian agenda. I don't have any idea what begat the other, but it is clear what authoritarian fundamentalist conditioning does over the course of a few decades to those who have clung to it and have let what was Nowhereinparticular, USA it's color, its variegated culture (had it been allowed to mature against and with its neighboring communities) has been totally allowed by its inhabitants to be homgenized by the brand names and big box stores and corporate control of local media that drain us all of any identity, any opinion we're brave enough to state out loud. John Ashcroft is a harbinger of the sickness of the American individual.

John Ashcroft, according to Hitchens, isn't as big a threat as Al Qaida, we need to prioritize our enemies. However, Ashcroft embodies everything to fear in and of this so called Al Qaida. We are being ruled by the fear the terrorists, our government, our invisible neighbors who subscribe, wield over us. There is no proactive stance to cling to domestically, the only thing proactive is going to war in some fashion or another. There is no debate, merely bickering. Hatred. Our culture is ripe for the takeover, when a gay man, a black man, a poor man, a woman of any of the available personal stripes she can be, aligns herself and defends that which she has absolutely no control over the dialogue and the decisions that are made on high. Even though it's all patently fascist. How long do you think you'll last? We live here. Our government, for all intents and purposes has an eye at creating a prolonged global environment of yet another rat race, yet more generations who live in fear of annhilation, incoming suicide jetliners, yet further destruction of the environment as people continue to remain and more are born into poverty yearly, by the millions. And the Bush Admin has the answers? They don't think even ten years into the future, let alone have the foresight spanning the generations that it will take to keep Earth livable not only for humans but for the other undesirable, unimportant species.

Fucking Lefties.
posted by crasspastor at 1:32 AM on September 29, 2002

By the way, I largely agree with the viewpoints Hitchens put forth in the Mirror article (thanks Miguel) and have just today written similar viewpoints (1, 2) in another MeFi thread, if anyone cares to read them.
posted by Steve Hight at 1:49 AM on September 29, 2002

good riddance, Snitch
posted by cru de meon at 2:04 AM on September 29, 2002

Indeed. good riddance.

I can read The Nation without threat of having to accidently pass by the useless blabber of That over-educated, unintelligent hack.

my life is better for it.

Best news I've gotten since Anne Coulter was fired.
posted by Mazelle at 2:11 AM on September 29, 2002

One cannot be over-educated.
posted by Nothing at 2:23 AM on September 29, 2002

Another thread illustrating, that in many ways liberals are just as intolerant of different viewpoints as conservatives. I mean, God forbid that anyone should disagree with the party line. Snitch? Hack? It's a bit early in the discussion to be breaking out the heavy artillery isn't it.
posted by Beholder at 2:25 AM on September 29, 2002

crasspastor: Wow, was that produced by some kind of rant generator? I read it twice, but alas only retained the word "paranoia". Anyway, good way to point out everything Hitchens' writing isn't.
posted by Turtle at 3:31 AM on September 29, 2002

In the past few weeks, though, I have come to realize that the magazine itself takes a side in this argument, and is becoming the voice and the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden. (I too am resolutely opposed to secret imprisonment and terror-hysteria, but not in the same way as I am opposed to those who initiated the aggression, and who are planning future ones.) In these circumstances it seems to me false to continue the association, which is why I have decided to make this "Minority Report" my last one.

Thankfully for everybody I do not write for anyone. Participle-lacking in places aside, my rant is the rant of, well, the rant generated by me. I did rattle that off too quick and I see the future pains in my ass as far as that goes. Still, the above (that I have in italics) is what I was commenting on, not on Hitchens' balance, that I do agree, he lent to The Nation. His absence will perhaps cause The Nation to be as venerable as the Limbaugh Letter, which of course does nothing for anybody, but fuel the bickering.
posted by crasspastor at 3:57 AM on September 29, 2002

Who's this Hitchens guy, now? People keep telling me I'm 'politically left' whatever that is - 'left behind' might be more appropriate - so I should know all about him, right? Or left?

Oh, I give up.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:21 AM on September 29, 2002

Another thread illustrating, that in many ways liberals are just as intolerant of different viewpoints as conservatives.

Um, no. It illustrates that we're living in difficult times. I don't see any contrarian voices to begin with in the right-wing weeklies -- apart from the Spectator, which is to little Boris's credit.

Hitchens has made the right decision, for the wrong reasons. I'm sure that now his ideals are paradoxically bankrolled by Cheney and Rumsfeld, he'll find a suitable paying outlet. It's not that some people think that John Ashcroft is a greater threat than Osama bin Laden, but that giving carte blanche to John Ashcroft because of the threat of Osama (or rather, the non-threat of Saddam these days) is itself a threatening prospect in the long term. Hitchens hasn't worked that one out, which is an aberration on his part, and a pity. I'm sure Martin Amis will have a little smirk, after his latest book about those supposed apologists for Stalin on the left.
posted by riviera at 4:44 AM on September 29, 2002

Here's a piece from 'that rag' that's much more important than Hitchens: Open Letter to Congress.
posted by muckster at 6:24 AM on September 29, 2002

As pointed out here in the past, the man has been looking all his life for _his_ Spanish War, _his_ chance to be more -- in his own mind of course, the real world is a different thing -- like his idol, mr. Eric Arthur Blair
On 9-11 he finally found what he was looking for, good for him. He's a Bushite Warrior against Evil, now, good luck

He lost me really when he jumped on the Starr bandwagon, oblivious to the behavior and the ethics of the Mellon Scaife crowd. And he basically did that out of sheer hate for his old college buddy mr. Clinton (Hitchens' drunken ramblings about Broadrrick accusations really belong more to the field of psychology than that of journalism). Also, his snitching (he gave Republicans an affidavit with perjury allegations against Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, a friend of Hitchens)
was particularly unplesant (and I'm not a Blumenthal fans in the least)

I still like The Nation quite a bit, I don't mind his going away. He became uncreasingly less interesting and more prone to rants, Michael Kelly-style. (It's telling that he does not feel comfy anymore at the Nation but he still digs the Vanity Fair environment -- it's maybe about different paychecks?)

Welcome to the Washington Times, mr Hitchens

Also, what muckster said
posted by matteo at 7:08 AM on September 29, 2002

I think Hitchens is getting a valid dose of "Green Backlash."

Despite his intelligence and his good intentions, Hitchens' attitude towards leaving a bastion of leftist thought because he, essentially, feels it isn't good enough for him, is seen in the same way that Democrats look at people who flock to the Green party as a source of new idealism, despite its likely inabilty to ever actually have an impact outside of splitting leftists.

Does this mean either are wrong? No. But it's just as understandable to see how Hitchens feels fed up with his iconic magazine as it is to see how obnoxious and arrogant he looks to unity-centered Democrats. Using the rhetoric that he is the only rational thought amongst a now-irrational magazine leaves little credence to the concept that leaving it will in some way make it better.

The same way Democrats are insulted by Greens leaving the party because "there's no way to fix it," liberals of all levels of extremity can have mixed emotions about Hitchens leaving under the percieved view that he's better than everyone else. Being condescending doesn't drag others over to your side as much as trying to actively fix the existing problem. If Hitchens is 100% right about his reasons for leaving the Nation, than not only is he not making the magazine better, but he is leaving it to make it worse.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:13 AM on September 29, 2002

A very good piece of writing. Some of you may be surprised that I endorse his viewpoints, even regarding the I/P P/I thing.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:26 AM on September 29, 2002

Where will he be published in the future?
posted by ParisParamus at 8:26 AM on September 29, 2002

Where will he be published in the future?

I presume that he will continue to write for Vanity Fair.
posted by MrBaliHai at 8:55 AM on September 29, 2002

I've only started reading Hitchens stuff recently.

I have to say it's refreshing to read well framed and straight forward arguments that are a joy to disagree with.

Most arguments I hear these days are diversionary, sensationalist and emotive which makes debate like herding particularly stroppy cats.
posted by dodgygeezer at 9:08 AM on September 29, 2002

The fact that the more right-leaning crowd here at MeFi seem to feel that Hitchens is a cut above The Nation only confirms my long-standing suspicion that Hitchens is not, in fact, a liberal. (Much as John McCain is not, in fact, a conservative. Funny how often these guys seem to end up playing for the opposite team.)

Kudos are due to The Nation, then, for continuing to print Hitchens' stuff on its merits, rather than trying to make him conform to the left-er views of the editors. It seems that this decision to leave is his own--he apparently just doesn't want to be the centrist/rightist voice on staff any more. It's a self-indulgent but understandable choice; after all the man is a journalist, not a hero.
posted by Raya at 9:14 AM on September 29, 2002

Wow. Orthodoxy is pretty scary, ain't it? Some of you guys are ready to call the KGB at the first sign of aberration from a party member. Glad I'm not on your side. Whatever side that is, since it sho' the hell ain't free-thinking liberalism.
posted by evanizer at 9:18 AM on September 29, 2002

Wow. Orthodoxy is pretty scary, ain't it?

In case you hadn't noticed, Hitchens walked, he wasn't pushed. At least, not by anything other than his own compulsions. I like this judgement: "It is surprising and regrettable that Christopher Hitchens now believes that those who agreed with him seven months ago are not now worthy of his persuasive skills."
posted by riviera at 9:25 AM on September 29, 2002

The tirades Hitchens launched against Clinton made me seriously question the man and his obsessions. I discounted him because of that though I have read him from time to time and do admire him when he is non-poliitical and writesa about literature.

the best thing about the Nation: every so often they spot what is a very minor ripple taking place and write that a landswell is building in oppostion to the status quo, as though the revolution is right around the corner. Sure.
posted by Postroad at 9:57 AM on September 29, 2002

I think Hitchens ire re Clinton was based primarily not on Clinton's conduct per se, but on Clinton's stupidity and recklessness in giving the Right so much fodder to work with; allowing the Republicans to distract, hi-jack the national debate for so long.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:04 AM on September 29, 2002

The fact that the more right-leaning crowd here at MeFi

Speak for yourself. People think I'm "Right," whereas I actually consider myself Left of center.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:06 AM on September 29, 2002

Hitchens is not so much a non-liberal or liberal, it seems to me, as a professional contrarian. He goes on and on about evil Henry Kissinger (even with Osama at large) was and is, and writes an entire book about him, already. Then he turns around and says, oh, don't fear war because, y'know, Americans really don't want it, they want peace and quiet. Maybe they didn't want the bombing of Cambodia either, or the little trouble in Chile? Maybe some things happen without their input, right? (I was chewed out on metafilter once for suggesting that war is not totally in Bush's hands. It's a settled constitutional question, and raysmj is misleading you! Blah, blah.) Thomas Friedman writes today that Americans are really more ambivalent about war, a fact seemingly backed up by recent polls. Many are, he writes, resigned to the fact that they cannot do anything about the war either way. It's out of their hands. Sheesh, even Peggy Noonan writes a more thoughtful piece on Iraq and the national debate (which she basically calls a non-debate) than Hitchens.

Anyway, I'm not a regular reader of the Nation. I always wondered why Hitchens continued to write for the magazine, when he just didn't seem to fit in there. I still admire him for not saying, "Oh, now I want everybody to vote for more moderate Republicans, because Sept. 11 changed everything and partisanship means nothing anymore," a la certain warbloggers who still call themselves liberal. Hitchens still calls himself a political opponent of Bush. That he left because he wants war (he's clearly taken a side too) in Iraq and his editors do not, however, is pathetic and sad.
posted by raysmj at 10:28 AM on September 29, 2002

Hitch. Clinton snitch, Mother Theresa basher and Stalin apologist. It's not surprising to me that he's parted ways with the Nation. He's been coming to terms with his inner hawk for some time now. Don't worry, ParisParamus, a former Marxist turned Neocon will have no trouble finding home.
posted by pejamo at 10:57 AM on September 29, 2002

a former Marxist turned Neocon

He was also a huge Rosa Luxembourg fan.
Probably still claims to be
posted by matteo at 11:09 AM on September 29, 2002

Mother Theresa basher

Have you looked at Hitchens' actual arguments on that one? Fascinating stuff, really; he paints a convincing case that her reputation as a saint is far from deserved. The accusations of substandard medical care at her facilities struck me as the most important part.
posted by mediareport at 12:27 PM on September 29, 2002

The accusations of substandard medical care at her facilities struck me as the most important part.

Substandard as opposed to the hi-tech, quality health care those homeless Indians usually enjoy?
posted by matteo at 12:39 PM on September 29, 2002

matteo, I believe the accusation is that Mother Theresa's care was substandard in comparison to other organizations that actually provide medical treatment along with the homilies. Hitchens:

It wasn't so much that it showed that her facilities weren't any good, but it showed that they weren't medical facilities at all...And in fairness to her, she has never really claimed that treatment is the point. Although she does accept donations from people who have fooled themselves into thinking so, I haven't found any occasion where she has given a false impression of her work. The only way she could be said to be responsible for spreading it is that she knowingly accepts what comes due to that false impression.

FI: But if people go to her clinics for the dying and they need medical care, does she send them on to the proper places?

HITCHENS: Not according to the testimony of a number of witnesses. I printed the accounts of several witnesses whose testimony I could verify and I've had many other communications from former volunteers in Calcutta and in other missions. All of them were very shocked to find when they got there that they had missed some very crucial point and that very often people who come under the false impression that they would receive medical care are either neglected or given no advice. In other words, anyone going in the hope of alleviation of a serious medical condition has made a huge mistake.

I've got so much testimony from former workers who contacted me after I wrote the book, that I almost have enough material to do a sequel.

posted by mediareport at 12:46 PM on September 29, 2002


I read Hitchens' MT book, just as I've read his Kissinger book, his collection of essays and his "UK-USA relationship" book (I did not read the Clinton rant)
I'm not necessarily a fan of MT, but the whole pamphlet comes more, I think, from Hitchens' contrarian nature than from real reasons of attacking her (her brand of Christianity is of course pretty medieval, and yes, she kept some embarassing company -- various dictators -- in order to receive funding)

The real reason for scandal would be, did she keep the money for herself? Did she bomb Cambodia? Or stuff like that. But that apparently that was not the case

(offtopic, between you and me: I'm not a MT fan, but between her and Hitch's new buddy Judge Starr, well, I'd choose the old nun, sorry)
posted by matteo at 1:00 PM on September 29, 2002

Mother Theresa basher

Hitchens' most valid point about MT, to my mind, was that if there was one thing that Calcutta certainly did not need it was somebody preaching against contraception.

a former Marxist turned Neocon

I think he deserves a little more credit than that, his views have much more nuance than most neocons can manage. He maintains the drumbeat against Kissinger, too, a man who most neocons genuflect to.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:13 PM on September 29, 2002

Are there any awards given for the most drunken, rambling, incoherent post one can write? I shoulda just gone to bed after I came home.

:::hangs head in shame:::
posted by crasspastor at 1:36 PM on September 29, 2002

I am a staunch opponent of many of the tactics used by Mother Teresa in her mission (crusade?). Depriving the most overpupulated part of the earth birth control and refusing sterilized needles or euthanasia for the dying because of your religion is not what they talk about in the Canonization brochure. Oh, and let's not, of course, forget the refusal to return her donations from Charles Keating after he was proven to have embezzeled them.

If the link mediareport provided wasn't enough for you, Hitchen's viewpoints on Teresa were enough to fill an entire book, which you can find here.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2002

Hitchens was becoming progressively more annoying for months. I wish him well in his new life as a Norman Podhoretz imitator.
posted by riptide at 3:55 PM on September 29, 2002

One place Hitch will undoubtedly continue to be seen is The Atlantic; in the most recent issue, he responds to Amis (cf. pejamo's link) in the time-honored guise of a book review. (It is convenient to lump Trotskyites and Stalinists together, but important to remember that they labeled each other as such because of bitter internal opposition. Stalin had Trotsky murdered, of course, and that made some of the difference.)

He recognizes -- though not without contradictions -- that a left which refuses to stand up to totalitarians and other breeds of dictator is nearly worse than useless, both in moral stature and in terms of practical politics. His compass points in different directions from the ones that other people carry, of course, and I suspect whatever room you put him in he'll migrate to the corner where the iconoclasts are kept. He's certainly nowhere near following Amis & Co. into neocon territory, judging by the parameters of that feud. It may help him find work, to be sure.
posted by dhartung at 8:38 PM on September 29, 2002

The Left doesn't stand up to dictators in any kind of meaningful way. Which is why, by default, my Leftist tendancies are neutralized by my disgusts at Leftists. And I the same on the Right, and I find myself neutralized to the Center.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:06 PM on September 29, 2002

Have you stood up to Musharraf in a meaningful way here? No. Do you agree that we should support him in any fashion for help with Iraq? Or do you think such support is justified, since the ends justify the means? Have you done a little moral calculus there? Are you seriously going to tell me "no?"

I don't consider myself left - more the liberal of the type Hitchens considers himself, or at least used to, or something. But I don't support going to war with Iraq regardless, because the costs far outweigh any potential benefits, as I see it, and I'm certainly not alone. Hitchens fails to address these potential costs (such as, say, regional destablization and the use of weapons of mass destruction - which, the Bush administration says, he probably has - by Saddam in an end-game scenario, etc.) in any meaningful way. Instead, he points to the anti-war position of Kissinger (who really disagrees with the how and when) and Sharon (an outright falsehood). He more or less trashes his opponents as paranoid, unpatriotic and out of touch. Then he quits on the editor who brought him to the U.S. and hosted his wedding. I've loved reading Hitchens in the past, and will continue to check in with him from time to time, probably, if only for the entertainment value. He needs some time off, though, clearly.
posted by raysmj at 10:14 PM on September 29, 2002

refusing euthanasia for the dying

because certainly all hospitals in the world practice euthanasia and she just didn't want to do it in her hospital, right? how many hopsitals practice euthanasia in your neighborhood? maybe it's me but I dont see many of them.
Man, if you expect a conservative nun to hand out condoms and preach euthanasia and maybe take a few hits of a big fat joint, well, you've been staying too long in Amsterdam -- the real world doesn't work like that

One place Hitch will undoubtedly continue to be seen is The Atlantic

Definitely. It's edited by Michael Kelly, the professional Clinton/Gore/Democrat hater
Oh, he's also famous on MeFi for his hate of the overweight

a left which refuses to stand up to totalitarians and other breeds of dictator

"refusing to stand up to" is one thing.
"bombing the fuck out of without a serious debate in Congress and at the UN", it's entirely another.
Of course the beloved "traitor" argument (so well detailed by mr. Ashcroft and the new McCarthyites in Washington and on MeFi) wouldn't be possible then.
It's much more useful to confuse the two positions, no?

"Left = refuses to stand up to monsters = traitors"
Such a refreshing argument...
Even Classic Reaganite and Clinton-hater Peggy Noonan had some doubts in the WSJ editorial page about this argument, that tells you something
Not even the Nixon people had the gall to talk like that during Vietnam
posted by matteo at 2:41 AM on September 30, 2002

matteo, you pissant fuck, stop putting words in my mouth. Like "traitor".

Also, where have I stated opposition to debate either at the Capitol or the UN? Cite, or shut the fuck up.
posted by dhartung at 4:06 PM on September 30, 2002

In the Mirror piece where Hitchens defends Bush's war plans against Iraq he does some amazing reasoning:

But one proof of the worthwhileness of this enterprise is its riskiness. Nobody can guarantee a successful outcome, and both Bush and Blair know they could face great reproach for failure.

Following this logic it is worthwhile to play Russian Roulette as this is risky as well. The reproach for failure is even greater, it is usually called death. WTF. This guy is mentally insane.
posted by alex63 at 2:19 AM on October 1, 2002

Sorry, can't resist:
The Left doesn't stand up to dictators in any kind of meaningful way.
'At the Rivonia Trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela said: "For many decades, communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and as their equals." '
posted by talos at 6:30 AM on October 1, 2002

The Left doesn't stand up to dictators in any kind of meaningful way.

This person mean to place the word "violent" where he accidentily typed "meaningful".

As guilty as I am, this much talk of Hitchens is far better than he deserves.

And I'm honestly done.
posted by Mazelle at 3:52 AM on October 5, 2002

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