Kinsley Reviews God Is Not Great

Michael Kinsley hits the nail on the head, in the NYT Book Review:

The big strategic challenge for a career like this [Hitchens’] is to remain interesting, and the easiest tactic for doing that is surprise. If they expect you to say X, you say minus X.

Consistency is foolish, as the man said. (Didn’t he?) Under the unwritten and somewhat eccentric rules of American public discourse, a statement that contradicts everything you have ever said before is considered for that reason to be especially sincere, courageous and dependable. At The New Republic in the 1980s, when I was the editor, we used to joke about changing our name to “Even the Liberal New Republic,” because that was how we were referred to whenever we took a conservative position on something, which was often. Then came the day when we took a liberal position on something and we were referred to as “Even the Conservative New Republic.”

As this example illustrates, among writers about politics, the surprise technique usually means starting left and turning right. Trouble is, you do this once and what’s your next party trick?

Christopher Hitchens had seemed to be solving this problem by turning his conversion into an ideological “Dance of the Seven Veils.” Long ago he came out against abortion. Interesting! Then he discovered and made quite a kosher meal of the fact that his mother, deceased, was Jewish, which under Jewish law meant he himself was Jewish. Interesting!! (He was notorious at the time for his anti-Zionist sympathies.) In the 1990s, Hitchens was virulently, and somewhat inexplicably, hostile to President Bill Clinton. Interesting!!! You would have thought that Clinton’s decadence — the thing that bothered other liberals and leftists the most — would have positively appealed to Hitchens. Finally and recently, he became the most (possibly the only) intellectually serious non-neocon supporter of George W. Bush’s Iraq war. Interesting!!!!