Saturday, October 02, 2004

Musing on Hitchens (and Miller, apparently)

This was prompted by Johann Hari's own musings on Mr. Hitchens (which are first-hand, as opposed to my own much further removed opinions), as posted on Mr. Hari's blog. (Thanks again, as is almost always the case, to Arts and Letters Daily.)

I am, personally, not so fond of Mr. Hitchens, much in the same way that I am not so fond of Dennis Miller of late. Mr. Miller was once a hilarious and thought-provoking man, that rare combination, who was not easily pigeonholed politically. I don't think it was an accident that his preferred method of delivery was what he called a "rant," a multi-paragraph consideration of a behavior, topic, or event. He was one of the few funnymen who embraced complexity instead of simplification, and I respected and loved him for it.

Whether or not September 11, 2001 changed the world, it certainly changed both Mr. Miller and Mr. Hitchens. Mr. Miller embraced the political right candidly and with enthusiasm, and Mr. Hitchens became a supporter of President Bush. This endorsement seemed out of character for both these men, who were more fond of challenges and criticisms than lining up with any particular camp, and while Mr. Hitchens' reasons have been expounded upon by himself and others at length, I think Mr. Miller's case speaks volumes about them both.

To watch Mr. Miller today is to watch a man entirely changed, and sadly, not just politically. In truth, I don't give a rat's ass about a comedian's politics. But Mr. Miller no longer rants, and seems happiest laughing at the antics of a chimpanzee which appears on his show so often that it should be given a co-host credit. Mr. Miller makes no bones of the fact that the 2001 attacks frightened him, as they frightened all of us, but it appears that Mr. Miller was frightened away from the complexity he so loved towards a comforting simplicity.

While Mr. Hitchens is not so easy to dismiss, I think a parallel can be drawn. Mr. Hari points out in his posting that Mr. Hitchens has long been critical of Islamic Fundamentalist despotism, and has (rightly, in my mind), criticized apologists for al-Qaeda and the Taliban both before and after September of 2001. It is difficult to reconcile, however, Mr. Hitchens' political and ethical views with his support for the Bush administration, particularly concerning domestic policy and their determination to tear down the wall separating church and state.

One of Mr. Hitchens' most controversial critiques was of Mother Theresa, and while I do not agree with him in whole, I must respect his stance, particularly because it requires great moral courage to declare someone wrong not just in their actions but in the beliefs that motivate those actions. Mother Theresa failed, Hitchens claims, because she failed to provide or even denied material comfort to the people around her in place of spiritual comfort. While she could have helped people improve their lives, she was far more concerned with their deaths. Hitchens decries this position as medieval, and I must admit I wish at times that I agreed with him more strongly.

Mr. Hitchens has the courage to illuminate the hypocrisy of those who dismiss the fact that the war in Iraq involved a battle for human rights comparable to the overthrow of Slobidan Milosevic. Let him also have the courage to decry the Bush administration's claim that human rights were what they had in mind all along.

1 comment:

Tim said...

I also caught the A&L link to Hari's piece on Hitchens, and found it detailed and thoughtful, which I didn't expect from the outset. It's easy to bash Hitchens for his support of Bush and the neocons, but more difficult to admit that CH's rightward drift opens up a political hole in the public debate: a humanitarian, interventionist left.

Any time you find Noam Chomsky and Pat Buchanan in agreement, you know there's trouble. Instead of letting ourselves be hijacked by the antiglobalists and the hawks, we should consider the alternatives offered by the interventionist left. There are even gradations possible within this position: say, with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton at the pro-market, classical liberal end of the spectrum and Hitchens at the other, capitalism-suspicious, anti-fascist radical end. Someone like Tom Friedman would presumably (and predictably) fall somewhere in the middle.

Such a position could applaud the military defeat of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban on the one hand and criticize the Bush adminstration for its humanitarian and human rights failures, blatant cronyism, and for allowing the resurgence of the Taliban and other fundamentalist hardliners throughout the region. You know -- demonstrate to everyone that the Bush administration only pays lip service to the ideals for which we, the interventionist left, truly stand.

It may smack of nuance (the Bush campaign reads: flip-flop) but at the same time, it strikes much closer to the sensibilities of most Americans, especially post-Kosovo, post-WTC, and post-Iraq.