A conservatory of Ldotter blogs.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Though I love to read. . .

. . .Christopher Hitchens, I'm often hesitant to comment on his writing out of fear that I'll somehow miss the point in bold, very public fashion. And, it's largely for the same reason that I love to read his writing that I fear this analytical humiliation -- because you just never know what he's going to say. Unlike most modern writers from the left (and right, for that matter), you can't just hit the first and last sentences of each paragraph and have a solid understanding of what lies between. You have to give Christopher your time and full attention.

Now, before I take this on, I'll point out that I've not always been kind to my mind over the years. In the past, I engaged in various forms of recreation that are known to adversely affect the firing of the synapses, and I did it with alacrity. And, being only 35 years old, I can't say this is a thing from my distant past, as I don't yet have one. So, if I'm wildly off the mark in my reading of Hitch's mass review (requires registration) of "Hippie" by Barry Miles, "What's Going On?" by Marcia A. Eymann and Charles Wollenberg, and "Back from the Land" by Eleanor Agnew, please let me know in the plainest of terms. But, do be kind. Tackling a Hitchpiece is a big step for me -- somewhat akin to Josh Marshall attempting to give William F. Buckley a good Fisking.

My first impulse is to attempt to disabuse some of my fellow conservatives who have convinced themselves of the notion that Hitchens migrated to the right during the Clinton administration, and started driving stakes into the ground on September 11, 2001. I have no reason to believe this is true, and I imagine Hitchens would bulldog his way across the room at any crowded cocktail party to correct anyone who would make that assertion. Christopher was, is, and always will be a man of the left. Whether or not he wants to subscribe to any of the "isms" often associated with the left is a different story. The modern left has made it clear that there is no room for any school of thought on its end of the spectrum that would find common cause with the Bush administration, no matter how noble the aim would seem were it promoted by any nominally liberal entity. And Hitchens has called their bluff.

What Christopher appears to have done, at least as far as I can tell, is finally break free of the entangling alliance that has bound left-liberalism to the self-centered, me-as-God libertinism of the 60's. In doing so, he has essentially pronounced the whole idea of liberalism as having been rendered meaningless by a widely held, but seldom spoken, conviction that the goal of collectivism is really just self-actualization. He appears to say that the children of the 60's established their collectives as a means of making themselves "whole" as opposed to making everyone better -- that Woodstock had everything to do with saying "I was there" and nothing to do with setting things right.

And setting things right is what Hitchens is all about -- regardless of whether or not you happen to agree with what he believes is "right". Hitchens doesn't give a damn about the lopsidedness inherent in the fact that the most powerful nation on earth unleashed its military on a poor, wretched nation like Afghanistan in order to destroy the Taliban. He looks and sees that the Taliban is gone, that the people who fled their land under its rule are returning, that boys are flying kites and girls going to school, and says, "OK, who's next?" He is able to see that big, shiny, strong and wealthy are not inherently bad things, and that they can be used to advance the cause of humanity throughout the world, if only someone will do so.

The 60's-era (and beyond) antipathy toward anything that smacks of modernity is what appears to stick most uncomfortably in Hitch's craw. It's as though he's standing amidst history, yelling get the hell out and don't come back -- to pervert Buckley's dictum -- while antiglobalists and various other neo-Quakers amble stupidly toward drudgery. And the fact that they do this in the name of self-actualization and personal gratification seems to cause him no end of agita.

So, now, Hitch finds himself on the side of the modern conservative, which has to be unsettling. After a lifetime of leafleting and pamphleteering against the moneychangers and realpolitik powerbrokers, to wake up one day to find that they're financing your cause and unseating its oppressors must feel like the Brave New World born out of an asteroid strike. And how dismaying must it be to see your radical kin of so many years marching off to war against the formation of this world solely because of the perceived motivations of its benefactors?

All of this is not to say that the right has immaculate hands where all of this is concerned. I count myself among those who have given short shrift to what is good and right in favor of realpolitik cynicism. I can distinctly recall chiding liberals and others of a leftist stripe for their haste in getting involved in the establishment of human dignity in places where it withers under the shadow of brutal totalitarianism. It wasn't until 2001 that I gave more than a few moments' thought to the plight of those living under the heel of the Taliban. And, if I'm to be honest at all, I have to admit that until recently, the only time I ever really recognized the suffering of the Kurds was when it came time to justify action against Saddam Hussein -- and even then it was more out of a desire for retribution for his hostility toward America than basic human rights.

But, does the fact that I came late to the cause render the cause unjust? Does the fact that I required an epiphany necessarily mean that I'm unworthy of credit for finally coming around?

To the cynical left, of course it does. But, to a man like Hitchens, the motivations of the people who advance the cause of humanity are a secondary battle to be fought later -- just so long as fewer women are beaten simply because they can be, and fewer children are in prison when they could be in school, and fewer heads are lopped off in soccer stadiums. And, if that means extending some credit to President Bush for leading conservatives like myself to see that to which we were blinded for so long, so be it.

So, for the time being, I raise my glass to Hitchens and join him in sneering at the faux-left. This may be the only matter in which I'll ever agree with him, but at least I'm not so stupid as to allow his idealism to force me into an indefensible cynicism, unlike so many of his one-time fellow travelers.

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