I consider myself a liberal progressive type, and like most readers of FI am greatly dismayed by Hitchens’ political stances over the last decade or so, and especially his support for the nitwit in chief, which defies all reason and understanding. I remember the Hitchens of the eighties, the stout supporter of Salman Rushdie, going head to head with Pat Buchanan and other wakcy politicos and religious “experts.” There is one thing to keep in mind in all this, though, and that is a need not to descend into ad hominem arguments. Now, I know that Hitchens resorts to attacking the person all the time, and I know that he himself is “prickly” even when trying to be nice. But, one ought to pay close attention to his public pronouncements rather than reports of remarks he may or may not have said in private, and doubtless usually after having a few drinks as he is prone to do. I recently had a letter published in FI in support of one of Hitchens’ editorials, because on that occasion he seemed to me correct. I note here and for the record that an important consideration in writing that letter was simply how unusual it was for me to agree with Hitchens.
I have been giving some thought to why Hitchens supports this war, and why he wants to associate himself with the Bush cause. I have noted two things that keep coming up repeatedly in Hitchens’ comments: Saddam Hussein and Yugoslavia. Hitchens again and again writes about the moral responsibility of the one nation with the military muscle to remove dictators. He approvingly refers to US and UN intervention in the various conflicts that occurred after Yugoslavia fell apart. His concern in both cases is the same - the US is the only country that can stop the crimes of tyranny. For some reason, he zeroed in on Saddam Hussein as the tyrant of tyrants, here matching Tony Blair in zeal of Saddam hatred, mostly for the same reasons as Blair’s.
There are reasons to doubt the soundness of the Saddam is the reincarnation of Hitler or the devil hypothesis as a basis for justifying war. I certainly do not believe it and never did. However, the motivation, the removal of tyranny, is justifiably a humanist motivation based on humanist values. The sad part is that Hithcens has so committed himself to his line that either he cannot now admit to himself that he was wrong or cannot face the result of publically admitting that he was wrong. The result, it seems to me, is that he finds himself constantly on the defensive, and unable to come up with logical reasons to maintain the line, resorts to the tactic that the best defense is offense, and so sets out to be as offensive as he can be.
Hitchens’ personal attacks, his adherence to known falsehoods (such as the idea that Hussein was courting Al Qaida), and his overall beligerence are not “humanist,” I will admit. But we should remember that Hitchens is also a strong defender of Atheism, and has done some excellent work in favor of humanism, such as his expose of Mother Theresa and his recent book about Jefferson. Every once in a while, he even comes up with an argument that we on the left side of humanism (I know that is the majority by far, but numbers alone do not make a position correct) can agree with. And let us remember that if we are attacking one person for not having humanist values, we should nevertheless maintain our own. To me, that means addressing the arguments, not the person.