Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hitchens vs. Hillary

Hitchens vs. Hillary

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a website containing articles by and interviews with Christopher Hitchens. I consider myself a fan of Hitchens and I share his antitheism and commitment to Enlightenment values of reason, secularism, and Humanism. However, I noticed recently on this website that Hitchens has written an article against Hillary Clinton. This is not the first time that he has aimed his polemical gun at the family. His book No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family is a critique of much greater length. I agree with Hitchens that Hillary ought not to be president and if I was left with choosing between Clinton and Obama, I would definitely go with the latter. But there is a problem with Hitchens’ critique: he doesn’t seem to have a better vision, in my opinion, for a better society.

Hitchens was once a liberal. He was a radical progressive years ago and was a Marxist in the Trotsky tradition (as opposed to the Lenin-Stalinist branch of Marxism). I can understand his disappointment with the Clinton presidency and the excuse-making of Clinton’s ethical failures by some of the New Democrats on the Left. These are concerns that I share and this is a chief reason that I no longer consider myself a Democrat. I consider myself an independent liberal and my own views are a mixture of traditional New Deal liberalism and New Left economic liberalism. I consider myself something of an anarchist and I tend to favor the “Participatory Economics” of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel. I retain, however, a commitment to the Second Bill of Rights argued for by Franklin D. Roosevelt. This second bill should be the foundation of any liberalism whether it’s New Deal or New Left liberalism. If I should become convinced that any form of socialism, libertarian or otherwise, was flawed, I would consider myself somewhat of a modern New Deal liberal and any political economy would have to start with the Second Bill.

This brings me to the issue of Hitchens’ own platform. I once read that Hitchens was a “single-issue voter”. In an article in Slate, he writes the following:

“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. And presidents can't make much difference to the stock market or the employment rate or to income distribution. But they can and must uphold their oath to defend the country.” (
This, after having praised Dennis Kucinich? (I.e. “Dennis Kucinich is the sort of guy who we need in politics. He thinks long-term, and he doesn't think that in the short or long term it pays to trade principles for compromises. That's the attitude one wants in a president, of any party”)? Kucinich, though, is not a “single-issue voter”. The Ohio Congressman strikes me as being a principled liberal and I can agree with Hitchens that he is the sort of guy we not only need in politics but in the Oval Office itself. Yet Hitchens decided to go “slightly” in favor of Bush, because in his opinion Bush has done more for the secular cause than the secular community itself!

This strikes me as being silly! Bush hasn’t gone into Iraq to promote any secular democracy. I am not sure what his ultimate reasons are for having gone into Iraq short of avenging Hussein’s attempts to murder his father. I am not sure with what serious consistency Hitchens can pen a polemical critique of religion in god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and yet only “slightly” support a president who uses the White House to promote “faith-based” initiatives? Am I the only one who sees an inconsistency here? Well, ask Hitchens fans, what about Hussein? Was it not a good idea that we removed him when we did?

This question is not so easy for me to answer as it might seem at first glance. I think the criticisms against invading a sovereign nation like Iraq have some serious legitimacy to them. If Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” then it should’ve been a united effort by all of Europe to force him to disarm. Granted, some of the left is wrong, in my opinion, to accuse us of having gone at it alone but we were the main leader in a coalition against Hussein. We basically snubbed the United Nations when some countries were against us, wanting to give weapons inspectors more time to investigate. I have mixed feelings about the Iraq “war”, for the most part having been more against it than for it. I think that people like Hussein do not need to be in power and I do not miss his regime one bit, but questions of whose right it is to dispose of such regimes still lurk about.

The bigger problem, though, is what do people like Hitchens support though? He wants a secular democracy, as I do. But what does such a democracy include? Is it a “free-market” capitalist society? Is it a radical democracy free of hierarchies as some radical progressives would like it to be? What about abortion, affirmative action, and GLBT rights? I’m afraid that a “single issue” voting stance is far too simplistic to tackle such questions. I read that Hitchens no longer feels like part of the Left in America. But where does he stand, though? Where does he stand on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? This document, I believe, should be the foundation of any decent liberalism worthy of the name! Does Hitchens oppose all totalitarian and oppressive regimes like I do?

Here is a bigger question and what I deem the most important question for Hitchens: what political economy is best consistent with Secular Humanism? If it is Secular Humanist, then he should be able to answer that! Is Hitchens' ideal political economy capitalist or socialist? If it falls into the latter category, does it involve market socialism or participatory socialism? A “single issue” platform doesn’t answer this. Does Hitchens favor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or not? I favor the Universal Declaration although I can think of a particular place or instance where I think it might be in need of very slight modification. I would ask Hitchens a very good question: if you, Christopher, were elected president, what would your platform be? If you oppose more years of the Clinton family, good and fine--I agree. But what would your alternative be?

This is an important question here. The best way to affecting any change is to start with a positive vision and then explain the need for it. The critiques of the Clintons and the modern Democratic Party should be part of the need for it but the negative should only serve to reinforce the need of the positive. When Martin Luther King, Jr. made the case for radical social change, he began with a positive vision. He began with “I Have a Dream”. It was a dream, a positive vision of social change, and he didn’t began his famous speech with “I Had a Nightmare”, beginning with a critique.

I have an idea for Hitchens. He has several titles to his name for his literary output. Fine and good. Hitchens can easily make another name for himself with a future book on liberalism in America. He can start the first chapter by outlining a platform for the kind of ideal society he envisions as well as how to get there. He can have subsequent chapters on modern liberalism, whether it’s moderate or radical, ranging from the Clintons to Noam Chomsky, arguing what’s wrong, but only after he has explained his new dream. I hope he has one to share. He can start with a positive new dream, explain why the Left is wrong, and what are his hopes for a new dream and how to get there. He can then let history judge whether he’s made his case and whether he has a positive contribution to the future.


No comments: