February 13, 2004

Christopher Hitchens opposes "barbarism"

I go back and forth about Christopher Hitchens. While I like his irreverency, I often suspect it's just a self-serving act.

These days, he's making hay by taking a 'courageous' stand against barbarism:

I'm a single-issue person at present, and the single issue in case you are wondering is the tenacious and unapologetic defense of civilized societies against the intensifying menace of clerical barbarism. If in the smallest doubt about this, I would suggest a vote for the re-election of George Bush, precisely because he himself isn't prey to any doubt on the point. There are worse things than simple mindedness—pseudo-intellectuality, for example. Civil unions for homosexuals, or prescription-drug programs, are not even going to be in second or third place if we get this wrong.

Why do I get the impression that the only 'courageous' thing about Hitchens' position is his willingness to ignore the barbarism that we risk by re-electing a president who doesn't know what he's talking about?

Why does Hitchens believe that our only choices are between 'simple-mindedness' and 'pseudo-intellectuality'? Well, I'm sure he doesn't actually believe this, but in his strained effort to appear irreverent and iconoclastic, he chooses rhetoric that suggests this non-existent dilemma.

My question is, does this piece display Hitchens' simple-mindedness, or his pseudo-intellectuality?

Barbarism is an obvious risk. Hitchens isn't courageous when he warns against it; he merely repeats a bit of (correct) conventional wisdom. Only when Hitchens tells us that electing a know-nothing simpleton like Bush will reduce the threat of barbarism rather than increasing it can he make any claim to courage. But I suspect, though, that Hitchens is merely indulging in the same kind of pseudo-intellectuality which he claims to despise.

And why shouldn't he? The Slate editors have been "good enough to ask" Hitchens for his opinion because he can be counted upon to cough up controversial opinions on demand.

Well, I suppose from my perspective I ought to thank Christopher Hitchens, if not for saying worthwhile things, then for providing such good fodder for blog entries. . .

Posted by Carey at February 13, 2004 02:15 PM

There's something strange about reading this as I sit next to you in Property. . .

Posted by: Jason at February 13, 2004 02:21 PM