Hitchens Mourns Loss of Liberty, Attacks Relativist Left
by Ari Armstrong, June 27, 2005
Christopher Hitchens, the guest speaker at the Independence Institute's alcohol, tobacco, and firearms party on June 25, intensified criticism of nannyism by blasting the drug war and throwing in some swearing for good measure. He began his talk by holding up a drink and a cigarette and blaring in a British drawl: "From my cold dead fucking fingers, okay?" He closed by suggesting John Bolton ought to have told his superiors to "fuck off," rather than criticize his underlings. (Then he wondered aloud whether the phrase "fuck off" was an appropriate close to a speech.) Yet among the f-bombast was some interesting analysis of foreign policy from a guy who has traveled the "axis of evil" circuit: Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. I haven't heard any reports of complaints from conservatives in the audience.
He said, "I don't feel like speaking in celebration of freedom at the moment. I feel mournful about it." He discussed smoking bans, for instance. He said of many on the left, "Diversity for them is another name for uniformity." He pointed out that the arguments made in favor of smoking bans would, if valid, actually justify the complete prohibition of tobacco. Hitchens said that, if you're not allowed to put out a shingle and invite smokers into your establishment, then we're really not living in the United States anymore. "You're not allowed commercial speech," he said, at least when it comes to "this wonderful weed."
"I think I appreciate the Bill of Rights more than [native-born] Americans sometimes do," Hitchens said. "I'd had enough of paternalistic society," he added, which is why he moved here. Yet "the prohibitionist mentality doesn't intend to stop with tobacco."
Hitchens said, "I don't care for narcotics, at all." Yet the drug war is not working, and illegal drugs remain widely available. The drug war also creates terrible levels of violent crime in places like Washington, D.C. -- the nation's capital. We don't have "controlled substances," we have "mayhem," he noted.
Nor is the right of self-defense allowed in the nation's capital. "They won't defend me, but I can't defend myself, either," Hitchens said, noting that the situation is bizarre for the capital of a free republic.
Hitchens argued the money spent on airport security was sent "straight down a rat hole." Americans are treated with the presumption of guilt and common punishment, and their personal belongings are confiscated. Such a situation might arguably be justified, Hitchens said, if it created additional security. But these losses of liberty have been suffered "in exchange for no security at all. None." What's more, "every possible precaution has been taken to assure that you have been completely disarmed" and unable to respond to terrorist violence. "This is a condition of servility," Hitchens said.
"The problem is our readiness to conform... to become the property of the state," Hitchens said. He described the new American passivity as a "Disneyland of the mind."
I was sitting near State Senator Lois Tochtrop, a Democrat. She said, loud enough for the Republicans seated next to her to hear, that a Republican administration has given us the policies that Hitchens described.
Hitchens then turned his attention to foreign policy. He described the proposed constitution for the European Union as a super-state "without the consent of the governed." He had some harsh words about Jacques Chirac, whom he accused of corruption and collusion with Saddam Hussein.
Hitchens argued that a strong military response against terrorism is necessary. Indeed, he defined a citizen as "someone who is at all times ready to be a soldier."
Of North Korea, Hitchens said, "It's as if someone translated 1984 into Korean, gave it to Kim Jong-il, and said, can we make this work." He described the mass graves of Iraq. "It's the smell... the kind of stench you can't imagine." He described Iraq under Saddam as a country of mass graves and dungeons.
Iran is a "very young country," in terms of the age of its population. Though the goal was to replace those lost in wars, the result was a "baby boomerang," and "they hate the mullahs." He described the current situation as a race between a "crumbling theocracy" and "those who want to live in a free society." "I think we will live to see great things in Iran," Hitchens predicted.
Somebody from the audience asked whether the war on terror is a war between Islam and Christianity. Hitchens described a "civil war within Islam." The regressive side of that battle hopes to win, in part, by feeding global conflict. "That's their strategy for victory... make it a holy war that would be global." If the totalitarian theocrats can prove they're mighty, then they can win the cultural war. For instance, Bin Laden described Americans as having no will to fight and as being pushovers.
Our goal is to show the terrorists and militant Islamists "how many ways that they're wrong." "But I'm not very optimistic," Hitchens added. He explained, "I think the jihadist course is doomed, but it can't be defeated by people who think in relativistic terms" and try to draw moral equivalence between America and nihilistic, mass-murdering terrorists. Hitchens summed up the views of people like Michael Moore: "He believes the fight against terrorism is the cause of it."
Hitchens worried that terrorists will attack the United States again, perhaps with a nuclear device.
"In Holland, the bad guys are winning at the moment. but I don't believe they can win long-term," he said. Hitchens argued that the militant Islamists have a "fundamentally irrational view of the world." For instance, they believe Allah is on their side, though this belief is often undermined by the force of the U.S. Marines. What's more, the militant Islamists are "betraying each other... they're corrupt."
Hitchens said we ought not use the word "insurgent" to describe the Iraqi terrorists, "the fascists... these scumbags."
What about Africa? At least in Sudan, Hitchens said, the left isn't obsessed with the grievances of the militants engaged in genocide. Yet ethnic cleansing is "happening before our very eyes," he said. He believes Bush is "too weak on this." Hitchens would like to see air attacks. He said the slaughter in Sudan parallels the earlier one in Rwanda. "It's a terrible disgrace."
Hitchens suggested some Europeans disdain the U.S. because they owe it a lot, and "people don't like to feel grateful." But Hitchens quickly added, "Don't get self-pitying yourselves. It should be enough to do the right thing. Whatever you do, don't start feeling sorry for yourselves... Americans must never do this."
Hitchens's criticism of Bolton is that he's "not an internationalist." My criticism of Hitchens is that he is too much of one. Earlier in the day, Dave Kopel gave an interview in which he explained some reasonable ways to help potential victims of genocide. The main thing is to allow these people to defend themselves. I would have no problem giving money to a voluntary effort to help arm and protect potential victims of genocide (with at least some level of governmental approval), but I'm not persuaded that the U.S. military should be used (except maybe through special voluntary forces funded exclusively through voluntary donations). Hitchens's criticisms of Bolton only left me more supportive of him for the United Nations post. However, it remains the case that "never again" has turned into again and again. See Hotel Rwanda or read some of Kopel's material about genocide in Africa or Google "Darfur" to get some sense of the horrible problems there. We do well to pay attention to people like Hitchens. The 20th Century was a bloody one. If we're not careful and diligent and prepared to stand our ground, we may be doomed to a repeat performance.