smelly little orthodoxies

Probably the best piece yet on Hitchens since it places him within a wider context than the sniping and nitpicking that has been the norm on the left, or better yet the left-left,that endless recess of bourgeois values, the browned-out Larouchites, the new-Trostsky remnants, the champagne socialists, and the old guard pacifists, the left-wing dandyism, all of whom we can gratefully be aggressively indifferent. The tipping point for Hitchens was Leftist inertia regarding the fate of Rushdie as for Orwell the stubborn refusal of hard-core socialists to suck up the gut and bear arms against Hitler.   Hitchens had many faults, was deeply flawed, but not incompellingly so, he overplayed his hand,but there was still a lot of goodness and decency there, and perhaps much of what was disliked about him comes down to his own expression of “the narcissism of small differences.”

Hitchens does fit into the Edward Said characterization of the intellectual as an exile and outsider, fundamentally decent, as well as an individual whose role is to publically raise embarrassing questions,and to counter orthodoxy and dogma. The tradition of the public intellectual.  Orwell, was also against what Said termed smelly little orthodoxies driven by convention and cowardly acceptance of ideas and cliches as a ready-made. There is a lot of truth in the Orwell quote that, ” the liberal bourgeois is genuinely liberal up to the point where his own interests stop.”

Some excerpts from Simon Houpt:

…By the end, he was a one-man content-producing machine whose career trajectory neatly mirrored the transformation of media into a multi-platform, shareable, sound-bite-hungry monster, in which a smartly cutting comment can travel around the world in seconds….

---Most of Orwell’s contemporaries and subsequent critics see The Road to Wigan Pier as his personal road to a socialist Damascus. It was there that he discovered that poverty and squalor were the fate, not only of the tramps and what Marx had once unkindly called the lumpenproletariat, who had fallen through the gaps in the floor of society. He found that the miners of Wigan and the dockers of Liverpool, workers whose toil kept the whole British economic enterprise going, were trapped in hopelessness if unemployed, and dire insecurity even if they had a breadwinner working.--- Read More:

He also comfortably bridged two eras of public debate that were similar if separated by a century: fusing the tradition of highly opinionated prewar journalism to the modern era, in which media outlets strive to distinguish themselves through their points of view rather than original reporting.

If authenticity is the currency of the new age, Mr. Hitchens took that impulse to an extreme, putting himself on display in the last 18 months of his life, almost inviting the public to watch cancer take its toll. Combined with his penultimate act – a 2007 book denying the existence of God and excoriating religionists, which became a bestseller – it was a performance that, if not calculated to appeal to our angry times, had the benefit of being well-timed….

…And if the tribe of journalists and pundits who are filling their Twitter and Facebook feeds and their own newspapers with appreciations of Mr. Hitchens is honest, they might have to admit there was some envy at play. For he had the free spirit of a rock star, embodied by the four-finger whiskies served neat and the womanizing and the war stories and the celebrity friends and the feature spreads in Vanity Fair magazine – to which many of his colleagues aspire….

Bosch. The Haywain. Center Panel.---Socialists and the radical left wing are portrayed as failing to "only connect" with the working class, set to betray it and further their own interests. In redirecting liberal guilt, Orwell accuses socialism of being the liberalism of the twentieth century with modish socialist writers as the contemporary bourgeois. The liberal dream of a friendly organicism is represented as merely shifting into the socialist fantasy of collectivism; the liberal elevation of rationality now the socialist's humble reliance on technology. Orwell rejects liberal organicism and socialist collectivism indiscriminately because they both advertise themselves by bypassing the inevitability of a power structure and thus subsequent abuses of power. But deliberately confusing socialism and liberalism, calling both socialists and liberals "the bourgeois" in fact transposes the most well known criticisms of liberalism--the failure to connect with the "common people," the hollowness of the rhetoric that claims solidarity, the lurking self-interest--onto those most likely to make the criticism, socialist intellectuals.--- Read More:

…There was much to envy. Mr. Hitchens was a popular guest on the TV outlets that grew up over the past decade to satisfy a public that wants to engage the issues of the day in a fast-moving format: deba

hows anchored by stand-up comics such as Bill Maher and Jon Stewart, and raucous slugfests on cable news channels.Read More:


From George Orwell. Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun, 1943:

All efforts to describe permanent happiness, on the other hand, have been failures. Utopias (incidentally the coined word Utopia doesn’t mean ‘a good place’, it means merely a ‘non-existent place’) have been common in literature of the past three or four hundred years but the ‘favourable’ ones are invariably unappetising, and usually lacking in vitality as well.

By far the best known modern Utopias are those of H. G. Wells. Wells’s vision of the future is almost fully expressed in two books written in the early Twenties, The Dream and Men Like Gods. Here you have a picture of the world as Wells would like to see it or thinks he would like to see it. It is a world whose keynotes are enlightened hedonism and scientific curiosity. All the evils and miseries we now suffer from have vanished. Ignorance, war, poverty, dirt, disease, frustration, hunger, fear, overwork, superstition all vanished. So expressed, it is impossible to deny that that is the kind of world we all hope for. We all want to abolish the things Wells wants to abolish. But is there anyone who actually wants to live in a Wellsian Utopia? On the contrary, not to live in a world like that, not to wake up in a hygenic garden suburb infested by naked schoolmarms, has actually become a conscious political motive. A book like Brave New World is an expression of the actual fear that modern man feels of the rationalised hedonistic society which it is within his power to create. A Catholic writer said recently that Utopias are now technically feasible and that in consequence how to avoid Utopia had become a serious problem. We cannot write this off as merely a silly remark. For one of the sources of the Fascist movement is the desire to avoid a too-rational and too-comfortable world….

---Hitchens is seen here at the Hay Festival in Wales in 2010. It was at this festival in 2005 that Christopher was reunited with his brother Peter whom he hadn’t spoken to in four years after a disagreement regarding Stalinism, one of his many famous fights.--- Read More:

…The inability of mankind to imagine happiness except in the form of relief, either from effort or pain, presents Socialists with a serious problem. Dickens can describe a poverty-stricken family tucking into a roast goose, and can make them appear happy; on the other hand, the inhabitants of perfect universes seem to have no spontaneous gaiety and are usually somewhat repulsive into the bargain. But clearly we are not aiming at the kind of world Dickens described, nor, probably, at any world he was capable of imagining. The Socialist objective is not a society where everything comes right in the end, because kind old gentlemen give away turkeys. What are we aiming at, if not a society in which ‘charity’ would be unnecessary? We want a world where Scrooge, with his dividends, and Tiny Tim, with his tuberculous leg, would both be unthinkable. But does that mean we are aiming at some painless, effortless Utopia? At the risk of saying something which the editors of Tribune may not endorse, I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue….

---For example, he gratuitously added a Blimpish growl against other middle class socialists to The Road to Wigan Pier, “vegetarians with wilting beards, Bolshevik commissars (half gangster half gramophone), of earnest ladies in sandals.., escaped Quakers, birth-control fanatics…) There is an element of exorcism in the exercise, since his own chosen life-style, keeping goats, running small holdings, fervent chain-smoking and ritualistic tea making, made him eminently parodiable in his own terms. For example, it is difficult to believe, looking at the perennial scruffiness of his attire in all his contemporary photographs, that he ordered his clothes custom-made from his tailor! He may have been affecting an insouciance to distance himself from his origins. Even at the end of his life, in the hospitals, he was comparing, unfavourably, the middle class accents of visitors with the regional dialects of the staff.--- Read More:

…Socialist thought has to deal in prediction, but only in broad terms. One often has to aim at objectives which one can only very dimly see. At this moment, for instance, the world is at war and wants peace. Yet the world has no experience of peace, and never has had, unless the Noble Savage once existed. The world wants something which it is dimly aware could exist, but cannot accurately define. This Christmas Day, thousands of men will be bleeding to death in the Russian snows, or drowning in icy waters, or blowing one another to pieces on swampy islands of the Pacific; homeless children will be scrabbling for food among the wreckage of German cities. To make that kind of thing impossible is a good objective. But to say in detail what a peaceful world would be like is a different matter.

Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache. They wanted to produce a perfect society by an endless continuation of something that had only been valuable because it was temporary. The wider course would be to say that there are certain lines along which humanity must move, the grand strategy is mapped out, but detailed prophecy is not our business. Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness. This is the case even with a great writer like Swift, who can flay a bishop or a politician so neatly, but who, when he tries to create a superman, merely leaves one with the impression the very last he can have intended that the stinking Yahoos had in them more possibility of development than the enlightened Houyhnhnms.Read More:
In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell argues that middle-class socialists were not being honest or circumspect in their attempts to embrace the working class. In the “deliberate, conscious efforts at class-breaking” He reads an attempt by socialists to deceive themselves that they had made a connection, to satisfy and applaud themselves over it, to expiate guilt for their comforts, and, betraying a real repulsion, to attempt to “level the working-class ‘up’” (1981, 142). Treating the working class and its culture as the enlightened man’s burden has been a regular feature of liberalism, one that George Eliot, for example, articulates disturbingly well in her “Address to Working Men.” Orwell’s point is that “middle-class socialists” would connect to the working class only if they could first scrub them down, de-class them–and even then the sanitized, Disney version would be subject to patronizing and sentimentalizing domination. Forced “into any real contact with a proletariat … they are capable of swinging back to the most ordinary middle-class snobbishness” (1981, 143). But even if it did transcend its own class boundaries, the working class, according to Orwell’s interpretation of the left’s motivation, must continue to work and remain a working class. Read More:

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