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October 12, 2006

Christopher Hitchens Has Gone Mad

The latest New Yorker has a (sadly offline) profile of Christopher Hitchens by Ian parker. It's not clear to me why Hitchens, whose day of influence has decidedly passed, merits a profile, but it's hard to argue when the material is this good. Parker relates a dinner party attended by Hitchens and his wife. Relaxed occasion, Hitchens and some women are shooting the shit over Gavin Newsome's good looks and Iranian politics, when one of the attendees makes a "passing but sympathetic remark" about Howard Dean, saying he felt Dean was unfairly maligned by the media. Hitchen's reply:

Dean was "a raving nut bag," [Hitchens said]...then he corrected himself: "A raving, sinister, demagogic nutbag...I and a few other people saw that he should be destroyed.

Hitchens then recalls a time when Dean spoke against mandatory parental notification laws by telling of 12-year-old child who'd come to his office seeking an abortion. The baby was her father's. But Dean hadn't told the authorities of the incident, and it seemed that it may have happened to someone else, or been exaggerated, or something. Hitchens uses this to brand Dean a "pathological liar," and when some at the table protest, Hitchens turns his shotgun full of crazy on the assembled:

"Fine, now that I know that, to you, medical ethics are nothing, you've told me all I need to know. I'm not trying to persuade you. Do you think I care whether you agree with me? No. I'm telling you why I disagree with you. That I do care about. I have no further interest in any of your opinions. There's nothing you wouldn't make an excuse for. You know what? I wouldn't want you on my side. I was telling you why I knew that Howard Dean was a psycho and a fraud , and you say 'That's O.K.' Fuck off. No, I mean it: fuck off. I'm telling you what I think are standards and you say, 'What standards? It's fine, he's against the Iraq War.' Fuck. Off. You're MoveOn.org. Any liar will do. He's anti-Bush. Fuck off...Save it sweetie, for someone who cares. It will not be me. You love it, you suck on it. I now know what your standards are, and now you know what mine are, and that's all the difference -- I hope -- in the world."

This was at, mind you, a dinner party. Why Hitchens went completely insane is a fascinating question. Parker argues, and I agree with him, that he was particularly afflicted by the Great Man of History Syndrome.

In a 2003 interview, Hitchens said the events of September 11th filled him with "exhiliration." His friend Ian Buruma, the writer, told me, "I don't quite see Christopher as a 'man of action,' but he's always looking for our defining moments--as it were, our Spanish Civil War, where you put yourself on the right side and stand up to the enemy." Hitchens foresaw "a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate." Here was a question on which history would judge him; and just as Orwell had (in his view) got it right on the great questions of the 20th century -- Communism, Fascism, and imperialism -- so Hitchens wanted a future student to see that he had been similarly clear-eyed (He once wrote, "I have tried for much of my life to write as if I was composing my sentences posthumously.)

Absorb that: This isn't about 9/11, or "Islamofascism," or repression in the Arab World. It's about Christopher Hitchens. It's about his need for an enemy great enough, dark enough, sinister enough, and threatening enough that he can match the exploits and courage of Orwell's unpopular, often courageous crusades.

It explains, too, why Hitchens and so many like him are quick to inflate the dangers posed by Islamic extremists, to make threats out of enemies and existential dangers out of garden variety terrorists. If they don't, if they allow al Qaeda to remain a degraded organization with limited operational capacity that should be mopped up through diligent law enforcement strategies, then where does that leave them in the eyes of history? Orwell battled against Communism, Hitchens is going to take a brave posture against 27 bearded nuts who want white men to leave their lands?

Of course not. So in his writings, "Islamofascism" subtly becomes communism circa-1962, an expansionist, attractive ideology bristling with nuclear weapons and demands that can neither be understood nor negotiated. It does that because nothing else is equal to the challenge of Christopher Hitchens:

"[My critics] want me to immolate myself, and I sincerely believe that, for some of them, when they see bad news from Iraq, the reaction is simply 'This will make Christopher Hitchens look bad!' I've been trying to avoid such solipsism, but I've come to believe there are such people.

Good job on dodging inflated self-regard. Hitchens literally believes this is about him. That what happens in Iraq reflects on him. That those who oppose it are quaking before Hitchens' moral clarity, and watching the IEDs for anything that will discredit this brave, occasional Slate columnist.

October 12, 2006 | Permalink


I think he's like Bender, he becomes even more disshevelled when he ISN'T drinking.

Posted by: norbizness | Oct 12, 2006 10:24:51 AM

Why Hitchens went completely insane. . .

. . .because he's a raging alcoholic who has so poisoned his system that rants like these are to be expected from him.

It's so sad how all his friends, colleagues and even casual acquaintances - not to mention those of us who read their columns - know that his alcoholism is going to kill him, yet there doesn't seem to be anything done about it. At the least, Slate should suspend his columns until he gets cleaned up, if not for quality of writing then at least because of basic humanity.

Posted by: Stephen | Oct 12, 2006 10:28:41 AM

This isn't about 9/11, or "Islamofascism," or repression in the Arab World. It's about Christopher Hitchens.

This has been clear for a while. Whenever he talks about the Kurds, he comes off as a paper mache version of the paperback hero in LeCarre's "Our Game." I keep expecting him to scream, "At what price the Ingush?"

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Oct 12, 2006 10:49:46 AM

Hitchens foresaw "a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate."

That would be all the distilleries in the world beating the crap out of Mother Teresa.

Posted by: calling all toasters | Oct 12, 2006 10:52:25 AM

I think Stephen pretty much sums it up - Hitchens likes to see his drinking as somehow wildly romantic and putting him in the tradition of those larger-than-life writers of yesteryear... many of whose downfalls and demises can also be pinned to their alcoholism. There's something to the theory that really genius people struggle with the disease moreso than others. I think Hitchens is fantastically bright; and he'll destroy himself over his love of drink.

Posted by: weboy | Oct 12, 2006 10:59:30 AM

Hitchens foresaw "a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate."

That has to be one of the scariest things I've seen in a while. No wonder there are stories about him drinking himself to death. If I had that kind of apocalyptic viewpoint on the world, I'd probably drink myself into a stupor to.

(I mean, really, putting all of your heart and soul into a war like this? Projecting your "good vs. evil" scenarios onto something so complicated as the Mid-East? Sheer madness. The folks who are trying to bring about the End of the World for religious reasons start looking sane in comparison.)

Posted by: NonyNony | Oct 12, 2006 11:02:20 AM

There's nothing pop-psych about Hitchens that isn't covered by the classic definition of a narcissist. The narcissist only sees two things ever happening to himself -- the polar opposites, aggrandizement and humiliation. Those who fail to nurture the narcissist's need for aggrandizement, are therefore humiliating him or her. The narcissist then compensates with his or her own aggrandizement to cover for an innate insecurity.

So, to apply to the example, since the party guests didn't throw themselves at Hitchens's feet over his bon mots, his twisted psyche concludes they are humiliating him. He compensates with his bombastic, dramatic outburst.

Whether the drink caused this or whether he's that way by nature is an argument for another day, but Hitchens's reputation for drink may well be part of the ploy, anyhow. After all, who is the greatest source of information on what volume he drinks but Hitchens himself?

Posted by: Rick | Oct 12, 2006 11:03:27 AM

It's not just Hitchens who plays the Clash of Civilizations as Personal Drama game. I think it's one of the defining mental habits of the dwindling pack of war advocates and neo-cons. I'm too lazy to google it up right now, but if memory serves, Beltway shill Fred Barnes was practically rhapsodic about how vital he felt, watching the TeeVee coverage of the '91 Gulf War.

What passes for our political elite is just embarrassing. I'm hoping that some recent moves to politically organize scientific professionals might fill the leadership void.

Posted by: sglover | Oct 12, 2006 11:08:55 AM

hard to believe this is the same guy who called kissinger a "war criminal" yet stands lockstep behind another corrupt president...

Posted by: christian | Oct 12, 2006 11:18:49 AM

Hitchens’s capacity for self-delusion is extreme, but many Pro-war Liberals (e.g. Paul Berman) suffer from the same narcissistic disease. It must be thrilling to see yourself as a heroic fighter in a world-historical struggle. And if you’re wrong, well, most of the dead will be brown-skinned and far away.

Most of the Neo-cons also see themselves in this heroic light. It’s always 1938 and they’re Chuchill, or it’s Thermopylae and they’re the Spartans. The only difference is that Hitch used to do wonderful literary journalism once upon a time, while Bill Kristol has always been a hypocritical bootlicker, and Richard Perle a kleptomanical toad

Posted by: Paul Gottlieb | Oct 12, 2006 11:24:04 AM

After all, who is the greatest source of information on what volume he drinks but Hitchens himself?

That and the number of times he appears in public sloppy drunk.

Posted by: Stephen | Oct 12, 2006 12:04:03 PM

"The only difference is that Hitch used to do wonderful literary journalism once upon a time"

And still does occasionally, if he stays off the subject of Iraq or Bill Clinton. I was a real fan of CH's back in the 90s, so my fascination with the train wreck of his career is all wrapped up with asking myself how someone I admired could have gone pro-Ken Starr and pro-Dubya. (It can't just be the booze.) Maybe this is why all the meta-attention to Hitchens, out of proportion to his significance.

The narcissism, the Orwell complex, the search for a heroic stance--I think that's all correct. A year or so ago, Hitchens wrote a piece about Ian Fleming's 007 novels for The Atlantic (I think), and I don't know if Hitchens identifies himself with James Bond exactly, but I sensed that he really thinks of Bin Laden like a Bond villain, like Blofeld or Goldfinger.

Posted by: dix hill | Oct 12, 2006 12:16:49 PM

after that tale, it's not so hard to believe that Hitch would flip off Bill Maher's audience not once, not twice, but three times in one show.

it's also not hard to believe that Hitch has been welcomed by right-wing nutcases. It's the home for washed-up has-beens, hello Dennis Miller.

Posted by: r€nato | Oct 12, 2006 12:19:48 PM

It's a shame he's so deranged. Because, at the core of it all, Hitchens really is a wonderful writer, at least stylistically and in specific, with his command of pop- and high culture allusions.

But I'm afraid it's all shite in an attractive package.

Posted by: jimmmm | Oct 12, 2006 12:21:41 PM


This is an honest question: what makes you think that Hitches is "fantastically bright?" He does have a certain verbal facility, but what has he written that will be read after he's gone? What is his great intellectual contribution?

Posted by: Gerry | Oct 12, 2006 12:23:49 PM

I have two words for Christopher Hitchins:

Club soda.

Posted by: Tano | Oct 12, 2006 12:25:11 PM

The narcissist only sees two things ever happening to himself -- the polar opposites, aggrandizement and humiliation. Those who fail to nurture the narcissist's need for aggrandizement, are therefore humiliating him or her. The narcissist then compensates with his or her own aggrandizement to cover for an innate insecurity.

It's no wonder he gravitates to BushCo...birds of a feather, and all that.

Posted by: Phila | Oct 12, 2006 12:25:42 PM

I've long had a policy of vigorously ignoring his columns when they appear on Slate. He seems to produce naught be smug, condescending diatribes premised upon the profound foolishness of people who don't agree with him. I could stand them and if this is how he acts off of the clock, then I'm glad that I can't. Every and any thing he says can be and has been said by wiser, more persuasive, less seethingly contemptuous writers, all of whom are drastically more useful than he.

His efforst to appear as prickly and immovable, being somehow above trying to persuade people to his ideas rather than resorting to self-satisfied harangues littered with insecure admonishments that he, "doesn't care what yout think" is to me the mark of a worthless scoundrel who can be entertainment at best because he cannot contribute to any civic debate as he seems to hold it in contempt. He's the male, British, drunk Ann Coulter as far as methods and demeanor, and that's enough grounds for me to cast him off.

And I value humility to boot, so Hitchens' boozed-up arrogance damns him doubly in my book.

Posted by: Paul A. Brömmer | Oct 12, 2006 12:29:20 PM

Tell me Ian Parker asked him about Kissinger's meetings with Bush/Cheney... probably not, the profile was probably written long before. Damn! How I want that to be asked of him.

Posted by: dday | Oct 12, 2006 12:29:41 PM

650,000 massacred is nothing compared to the noble battle being fought by this hero against unimaginable odds.

Posted by: MikeB | Oct 12, 2006 12:32:32 PM

Why doesn't he go drive an ambulance in Iraq?

Or grab a gun and defend a Sudanese village?

And, oddly enough, it's unlikely he'll get credit for being an indpendent thinker when he sounds just like the ruling party.

Posted by: nitpicker | Oct 12, 2006 12:35:02 PM

In one sense Hitchens evolution is typical of Trotskyites. I've seen this happen several times before with parties far less famous, or inebriated.

Hitchens is also one of the great Publisexuals of all-time. His watch-cry is "But enough about me, let's talk about ME!"

The rotten cherry on this rancis sundae is his bisexuality.

As I'm sure you know, Ezra, Hitch went to college with Big Dog. They both indulged in the favors of a female classmate who went on to become a noted lesbian-feminist (and no wonder!) Mandy Meryck is the name most frequently emntioned.

In any event Hitch has had a thing for Clinton ever since.

He wants him. He wants him BAD!

Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Oct 12, 2006 12:35:53 PM

Let's lay off the alcoholics. Some alcoholics (Hitchens) are crazy, and other (me) are wise. Right now Rep. Foley is blaming all his crimes on alcoholism when he isn't even an alcoholic, thus tarring my good name wrongly. I don't do that kind of shit. It's like he claimed that he had a mysterious African-American grandfather whose bad genes caused Foley to become evil.

Posted by: John Emerson | Oct 12, 2006 12:35:57 PM

I'm calling it for calling all toasters.

Best laugh I've had all day.

Posted by: kid bitzer | Oct 12, 2006 12:36:37 PM

At the end of his term Bush and Cheney will steal away to their bunker and o.d. on 50 cc's of Hitchins.

Posted by: darby1936 | Oct 12, 2006 12:38:36 PM

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