Monday, July 21, 2003

But maybe it’s not an accident that these two self-exiles from the U.K. have dominated the American debate. Perhaps it does have something to do with their expatriate-Brit identity: As part of their intellectual birthright, both are in possession of, both are possessed by, the spirit of George Orwell. Both are steeped in Orwell; both have quoted him during the current crisis. Both have looked on our Sept. 11 through the lens of Orwell’s July 1940, when he was a lonely voice confronting defeatism on the Right and Left in the face of Hitler, at a time when England itself stood virtually alone in defying the Third Reich. One could say that Orwell is the secret weapon, the smart bomb with which Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Hitchens have achieved preeminence over their polemical opponents.

From a fascinating article in the NY Observer by Ron Rosenblum. The two ex-Brits mentioned herein are - who else - Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens. Rosenblum's analysis of their impact on the debate over the War is quite good, although I disagree with a great deal of it, especially stuff like this:

For Mr. Hitchens, this is a far less conflicted position than for Mr. Sullivan. But it is the pivot on which, in large measure, he has succeeded in turning around the Left, or a large segment of it (aside from the Chomskyites). Turning around those who saw America as somehow to blame, who sought to portray our power as the real culprit. In his columns in The Nation, Mr. Hitchens dramatically recast the terrorists as “fascists with an Islamic face” and then (an even more effective compression) as “Islamo-fascists.” (What leftist, after all, wants to be seen siding with fascists?) Mr. Hitchens fought to a standstill those in The Nation (and the nation) who, as he put it, “maintained that the al Qaeda death squads were trying to utter a cry for help for the woes of the world.”

Firstly, I disagree with Rosenblum's assertion that Hitchens has succeeded in turning around a "large segment" of the Left. The phrase "aside from the Chomksyites" is unintentionally ironic, since 90% of the Left is Chomskyite. The likes of Paul Berman and Chris Hitchens might sell books and stimulate conversation, but Chomsky is the one who fills the beer halls. The foot soldiers of the Left, the ones who march and yell and get arrested, are beholden body and soul to the Good Professor, and Rosenblum betrays a certain disconnect with reality in denying this. But I really have a problem with this:

I guess where I differ most from Mr. Sullivan is his long-term optimism, his long-term faith in the possibility of a reconciliation between civilization—civil society in every sense of the word—and revealed religion. After three millennia of people slaughtering each other in greater and greater numbers over religious certainties, I wish I could share that optimism.

I'm really getting sick and tired of the cliche that religion has been the most murderous force the world has ever known. In fact, any honest view of history reveals that a.) polytheistic societies are perfectly capable of extraordinary barbarism and savagery - witness the Athenian annihilation of the Melians in the Pelopennesian War, and b.) the most murderous force in human history has been atheistic totalitarianism, i.e. Nazism and Communism. The body count of all the religions put together is a drop in the bucket compared to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, et al.

Rosenbaum is also wrong in his assessment of Sullivan's and Hitchen's views of religion. Hitchens certainly is anti-religion, which is probably why he so dislikes Zionism; but Sullivan is a semi-believing Catholic and has expressed opinions on Judaism which can only be described as philo-Semitic. (I make the confession that I recieved an email from him on this subject that eliminated all doubt in my mind that he is a philo-Semite and a partisan for the cause of the Jewish people.) Sullivan's attack on radical Islam is almost identical to Paul Berman's. He sees in it a new form of totalitarianism, a la fascism and communism, and therefore believes that any good Liberal is duty bound to fight it. In my opinion, the way both Sullivan and Hitchens invoke Orwell is in the sense that both of them refuse to lie to themselves in order to preserve an Olympian distance from the events of history. They refuse to involve themselves in the relativistic double standards which the Chomskyian Left has engaged in in order to keep their anti-Americanism intact despite being faced with an enemy which, in objective terms, denies every one of their professed values. Sullivan and Hitchens, like Orwell, have stood by their principles in their literal form, they have remained loyal to the ideology of Liberalism, and not the vaguely defined Socialism which has adopted the name for itself. I think they are both, at heart, Tory Anarchists, as Orwell always liked to call himself.


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