The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed
A review of Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens by Richard Seymour.
March 3, 2013 - 7:00 am
And who better to conduct such violent proceedings than a Marxist-Leninist? Seymour is a British writer who runs a blog called “Lenin’s Tomb.” Please note that his username on the blog is indeed “lenin,” lowercase and everything, and that I cannot detect any hint of irony or shame in his use of the moniker. His other work includes a book titled The Liberal Defence of Murder, in which he investigates how Western liberal “imperialists” have justified military intervention in the dubious name of humanitarianism. (The inherent “imperialism” of “liberal capitalist” societies is a concept that, for Seymour, has achieved the same epistemic status as Mount Everest or the germ theory of disease.) You might feel uncomfortable reading moral judgments from someone who proudly bears the name of one of the great terrorist-murderers of the 20th century. Then again, Seymour isn’t himself a murderer; he just plays one on the Internet.
Unhitched is an attempt to demonstrate that its subject’s career was defined by a thoroughgoing intellectual shoddiness and “gratuitous self-display”: nostalgia for empire, racism, misogyny, etc. I can only say that this book is about as close to a waste of time as you can get, unless you’re being paid to review it. It tries very hard not to appear to be what it is: revenge against a deserter of the faith. As someone who turned away from “anti-imperialism” to defend the freedoms of the West (terms that are, in this book, permanently ensconced in scare quotes), Hitchens is the ultimate target for the hard left, confirming Alexander Cockburn’s observation that, for Marxists, the idea of political debate is to stand in a circle, point the guns inward, and pull the trigger.
Seymour alleges that Hitchens’s nastiness even took the form of piracy. He writes, for instance, that Hitchens’s book The Missionary Position, an indictment of Mother Teresa, was actually the work of an uncredited Indian author:
The manuscript was judged to need rewriting, and was purchased by Verso with the intention of offering the idea to an Anglophone author. Hitchens, with his acknowledged contempt for religion and propensity for refined iconoclasm, could hardly have been more well suited. What he produced was an intelligently written indictment, but the original hardback made no acknowledgment of the input of several colleagues.
This makes Verso, the publisher of the very book in which these words appear, complicit in what Seymour obviously regards as plagiarism. If they bought the manuscript, they knew to whom partial credit should be given, no? And yet no editor or executive chose to give it. Perhaps Seymour’s next book should be The Trial of Verso, published, of course, by Verso. The only source for the charge is an “interview” (more likely a barroom chat) with Tariq Ali, a figure who appears regularly in these pages to fire random shots at Hitchens’s character. It’s amusing but ultimately tiresome: Ali is an admitted defender of “the resistance” in Iraq, including those who “resist” by blowing up fellow resisters. Anything he says is tinged with the same moral cretinism of which Seymour accuses Hitchens.