I wouldn’t normally speak ill of the dead, but there is such a palaver going on and an almost unseemly desire for the early beatification of Christopher Hitchens that I think it is better to get a warts and all picture of him.
In an earlier post, I pointed out that whilst he was a significant and prolific writer he did have a few blind spots.
I am not concerned with his indulgences, rather why he chose to defend David Irving.
I imagined that his supporters will, no doubt, say it was because of freedom of speech and how he was an absolutist. That is a plausible answer, except it doesn’t address the issue of the facts.
1. Christopher Hitchens, initially, downplayed David Irving’s views.
2. Hitchens misrepresented Irving’s work to put a nicer spin on it.
3. Hitchens even gave Irving “one last chance” in the wake of the Irving v. Lipstadt trial after 2000.
If Christopher Hitchens was quite as smart, as his latter-day supporters suggest, then this is unconscionable.
I think the problem with Hitchens was that he “inherited” some strange views from his time with the International Socialists, but couldn’t bring himself to admit it.
These views could pop out when he turned to the subject of Jews and might explain why he cosied up to David Irving, even wining and dining him.
It’s very difficult to think of someone as the archetypal antifascist when they don’t understand Austria’s antifascist laws, the residual problems of fascism in Austria and why they enforce such laws.
It is a pity that Hitchens couldn’t deal with those difficult arguments and chose a rather simplistic “freedom of speech” defence, not his finest hour.
Had Hitchens had the character and judgement that we are told he possessed then he would have dealt with the stronger counter- arguments and the importance of keeping neo-Nazism in check, but instead he chose the easy path, the well trodden path.
Noam Chomsky utilised similar arguments in his defence of Robert Faurisson, they were as equally myopic and unsatisfactory.
Professor Lipstadt has dealt with many of these spurious arguments advanced in defence of such neofascists:
“Many years ago, German historian Theodor Mommsen warned that reason alone isn’t enough to keep people from believing falsehoods. If this were the case, then racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of prejudice would find no home. In despair Mommsen wrote, “You are mistaken if you believe that anything at all could be achieved by reason. In years past I thought so myself and kept protesting against the monstrous infamy that is anti-Semitism. But it is useless, completely useless.”
To expect reason, rational dialogue, and discourse to constitute the sole barriers against the pernicious attempts to deny the Holocaust is to ignore one of the ultimate lessons of the event itself. There was no rational basis underlying the Nazi atrocities. There was, however, the appeal of anti-Semitism. Mythical thinking and the force of the irrational have a strange and compelling allure. Intellectuals are hardly immune from irrational, mystical thinking. Some do so in the name of “free speech,” free inquiry,” or “intellectual freedom.”
It is this commitment to free inquiry and the power of mythical thinking that explains, at least in part, how revisionists have attracted leading figures and institutions. Noam Chomsky is probably the best known among them. Chomsky wrote the introduction to a book by French revisionist Robert Faurisson. In it Chomsky argued that scholars’ ideas cannot be censored no matter how distasteful they may be. Though Alfred Kazin was right on target when he recently described Chomsky as a “dupe of intellectual pride so overweening that he is incapable of making distinctions between totalitarian and democratic societies, between oppressors and victims,” Chomsky’s argument shocked many people, including those who thought they were inured to Chomsky’s antics.
Chomsky’s example shows why the dangers of free inquiry should be taken seriously. Even the supposed protectors of reasoned dialogue can fall for the convoluted notion that all arguments are equally legitimate. Those who argue that the deniers must be given a fair hearing fail to recognize that the deniers’ quest is not a search for truth. Rather they are motivated by racism, extremism, and virulent anti-Semitism. ”