December 19, 2011

#Hitchens, #BillClinton and snobbery

While I agreed with many of the political criticisms of Bill Clinton that Christopher Hitchens wrote in his book about the two, Scott McLemee of The American Prospect wonders if there wasn't another angle behind this: snobbery.

In the context of Hitch's one-time (and always, psychologically) "Trotskyite" affiliations, he wonders:
Was his shift to the right already unmistakable in the 1990s, with l’affaire Blumenthal as the equivalent to Kronstadt? That would make the ferocious and protracted campaign against Bill Clinton as something like the Russian Civil War. To my mind, this is plausible. Despite agreeing with almost every political criticism Hitchens lodged against the administration, I could not help noticing the tone of upper-class loathing for Clinton as pushy plebian upstart. (Such an attitude suggesting that Hitchens was more of a Czarist officer than a Bolshevik.)
Interesting indeed. That could also explain part of why he rounded so much on Gore Vidal when Vidal dissolved into 9/11 Trutherism -- it wasn't just that Vidal was wrong, but that "civilized people don't engage in such things."

Beyond that, McLemee notes, we have Hitchens "outing" himself in his autobiography:
(I)n Hitch 22, Hitchens confessed that in the late 1960s he was a leftist militant by day and guest at posh dinner parties by night.
But, that was apparently no surprise:
As it happens, his double life was no secret from the comrades, according to the literary critic Terry Eagleton, who was one of them. They nicknamed him Hypocritchens.
So, the World Socialist was onto something itself:
Hitchens was the sort of private school “leftist” that British society regularly turns out, essentially snobs and careerists, who ditch their former “comrades” as soon as the wind shifts or more tempting opportunities present themselves. His autobiography is an exercise in shameless name-dropping and self-promotion. ...

In the late 1990s, by which time Hitchens had largely given up his leftist pretensions, the Washington Post bluntly portrayed the circles he belonged to in the US capital as “an elite subset of Washington society—the crowd of journalists, intellectuals, authors and policymakers, mostly in their thirties and forties, who regularly dine together and dine out on each other.”  
Too bad there's no Hitchens left any more, to turn in his grave after it being pointed out that he was filleted by an "establishment" newspaper.

And, maybe we should, like Ross Douthat, in light of this, even question the motivation for his atheism.  Douthat suggests that Hitchens' atheism was more rebellion against the ultimate authority figure:
At the very least, Hitchens’s antireligious writings carried a whiff of something absent in many of atheism’s less talented apostles — a hint that he was not so much a disbeliever as a rebel, and that his atheism was mostly a political romantic’s attempt to pick a fight with the biggest Tyrant he could find. 

This air of rebellion did not make him a believer, but it lent his blasphemies an air of danger and intrigue, as though he were an agent of the Free French distributing literature deep in Vichy. Certainly he always seemed well aware of the extent to which his writings traded on the unusual frisson of saying “No!” to a supposedly nonexistent being.
I'd have to say he's at least pretty much right on the insight about Hitchens himself. Picture Byron as atheist, British class/style and sometimes shallowness of thought, all in one. But, I think many a Gnu Atheist, like many an old "village idiot atheist," is looking to pick the same fight with the same nonexistent tyrant, only with less romantic mood and less literary style.

Per a friend of mine, who (like me) longs for the "sweet spot" of triple Venn diagram intersection of skeptics, atheists and liberals, Hitchens was spotty on all three.

Now, McLemee may be wrong. But, given World Socialist, I don't think so, on the class issues. Maybe that's even part of the rebellion against god; how dare this (non)-figure not open the first-class cabin section to talk to him?

I think, though, that the snobbery issue doesn't explain as much as the pure rebelliousness issue. Hitchens the Trotskyite, like Churchill's Stalinist USSR, was a mystery inside a riddle inside an enigma, in some ways, possibly even to himself.

At the same time, if he was known to be such a political poseur, why did the Nation "hang on to him" for another half a decade, until the post-9/11 final break? There's other riddles and mysteries connected to his life, too.

And, otherwise, yes, I'm done with Hitchens. Any new insights by me, or revelations to other pundits I think worth passing on, I'll add to what I've already written in one post or another.

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