[Marxism] Hitchens channels P.J. O'Rourke

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 18 09:32:28 MDT 2005

August 17, 2005
Hitchens’s Lazy Turn in the South

I know many folks have been saddened and infuriated by Christopher 
Hitchens’s slide into hackery. I share those feelings, tho I find it 
diverting--if not exactly comforting--to think of Hitch as a retread of the 
1980s P. J. O’Rourke.  He loudly congratulates himself on his own 
hairy-chested “realism” in matters military and diplomatic, in contrast to 
the misguided, self-defeating, and even unmanly idealism of liberals.  And 
he’s given over to a brand of travel writing that involves going to foreign 
places, bending an elbow with the locals, and pronouncing them basically 
fine fellows, even when the powers-that-be aren’t. (Hitch even worked the 
drinking angle into his recent Vanity Fair piece about Iran—no mean feat.)

The latest example of Hitch-channeling-PJ comes in the current Vanity Fair, 
in his article entitled “My Red-State Odyssey” (sorry, no link—it doesn’t 
appear to be available electronically).  Hitchens retails any number of 
lazy stereotypes about the South—about NASCAR, country music, Texans, 
etc.—with the excuse that “in the South, people don't at all mind if they 
live up to their own cliches and stereotypes.”

And he commits the common error of identifying the South with its white 
residents, spending plenty of time in the company of inebriated “rednecks” 
(his term) and visiting some of the usual suspects among white 
liberals/dissenters (Kinky Friedman), but finding little time to 
acknowledge the presence of black folks, let alone speak to 
them.  When  Hitch mentions the "silly statue" of Arthur Ashe in 
Richmond--"waving a tennis racket while the other [statues on Monument 
Avenue] flourish their swords and banners and cannons"--he does so only in 
order to praise the "southern courtesy" of the local white folks who 
tolerate this memorial to a black Southerner.

Hitchens's laziness comes up as well in the piece’s closing paragraphs, in 
a passage that may hold mild interest as gossip, if nothing else, for 
historians. Visiting Atlanta, he stops in on Eugene Genovese, who "has 
moved South and become the pre-eminent historian of the 
region."  (Personally, I'd say this gets the chronology 
backwards:  Genovese's claim to eminence depends on works written before he 
moved to Atlanta, not what he's done since--a point that might have 
provoked more reflection from a more, well, reflective essayist than Hitch.)

Hoping that his visit with Genovese and his wife, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, 
will yield "an encapsulating sentence" about the South, Hitchens writes:

     Eugene had been praising some work on the South by the historian Eric 
Foner, who is a New Yorker to his fingertips, when his wife broke in to 
say, "It's not that good.  It lacks the tragic sense."

     And that was it, in a phrase.  Never quite able to get over a lost 
past, never quite at ease with the federal government (though very much at 
ease with the armed forces), and just not quite large enough to impose 
itself on the rest of the country, the South keeps on "reviving" and 
redefining itself, always pushing at its limits and limitations--and always 
finding them.

I suppose that is it, in a phrase.  Understanding the "tragic sense" that 
some white Southerners feel about their past doesn't require adopting it 
yourself, nor sympathizing with those who lament the passing of the Old 
South and the Lost Cause.  The old Hitchens might have appreciated that, 
but the new one clearly doesn't.  And that, I'd say, is indeed a tragedy.



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