The al-Qaeda attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001 did much to realign political affiliations: Jude Wanniski writes occassionally for CounterPunch, Hitchens tours London with David Horowitz and Paul Johnson, not to mention how he turns his former comrades-in-arms into the targets of his famed and prodigous mad-lib like political verdict generator–the one that couples “soft”, “idiocy”, “cretin”, “nasty”, “stupid” with the target’s ethics, morality, judgement, imagination, and intellect.
It once seemed to me that the aftermath of the attack for many on both sides of the spectrum was a return to an era when politics were clear–think the Spanish Civil War or the fight against the Nazis as the many “Bush=Hitler” signs suggest. (It still does when the passions fire up.) Enemies and enmity grew from the size of a louse to life-size to something world historical. Here’s a piece by George Scialabba from n+1 that traces an evolution (or is it revolution?) of this sort in Hitchens’ thinking. Somewhere in it seems to be a lesson about many on both sides.
“About any sufferings that cannot serve as a pretext for American military intervention, moreover, Hitchens appears to have stopped caring. . . He is ‘a single-issue person at present,’ he wrote in endorsing President Bush for reelection. This issue, compared with which everything else is ‘not even in second or third place,’ is ‘the tenacious and unapologetic defense of civilized societies against the intensifying menace of clerical barbarism.’
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Why? What accounts for Hitchens’s astonishing loss of moral and intellectual balance?
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Randolph Bourne, criticizing the New Republic liberals of his era for supporting America’s entry into World War I, wondered whether
realism is always a stern and intelligent grappling with realities. May it not sometimes be a mere surrender to the actual, an abdication of the ideal through a sheer fatigue from intellectual suspense? . . . With how many of the acceptors of war has it been mostly a dread of intellectual suspense? It is a mistake to suppose that intellectuality makes for suspended judgments. The intellect craves certitude. It takes effort to keep it supple and pliable. In a time of danger and disaster we jump desperately for some dogma to cling to. The time comes, if we try to hold out, when our nerves are sick with fatigue, and we seize in a great healing wave of release some doctrine that can be immediately translated into action.
Compare Hitchens’s widely quoted response to 9/11: ‘I felt a kind of exhilaration . . . at last, a war of everything I loved against everything I hated.’ More recently, explaining to Nation readers last November ‘Why I’m (Slightly) for Bush,’ he testified again to the therapeutic value of his new commitment: ‘Myself, I have made my own escape from your self-imposed quandary. Believe me when I say . . . the relief is unbelievable.’ I believe him.”