Rule of Law 101 (Re: Hitchens Turns GOP stool pigeon

Rob Schaap rws at
Mon Feb 8 07:39:34 PST 1999

G'day Chris,

>I have found Nathan Newman's major statements reasoned and reasonable. So
>long as there is the wretched two party system I do not see the problem in
>purely electoral terms in leftists supporting the better of the two
>parties, and expecting it to be reasonably efficient at winning elections.
>My understanding is that Nathan has stated the importance of not tailing
>behind that party.

Well, Nathan is a very consistent and intelligent bloke. But I still reckon he's wrong on this one. Sure, back the preferred cancer by all means - I do that here (our voting system is such that one's vote ends up with the second worst option as a matter of course). But don't turn your back on a charge as serious as this, Chris! This is the very stuff of class struggle, no? Willey as abused worker, attempting to defend herself against a diabolical liberty on the part of the boss, and getting her name dragged around the S-bend by the powers-that-be for her principled efforts. If that's what's happened, those of the left who have not already done so, drop him like a hot spud! I'm not generally given to the sort of black and white pronouncements we've been wearing courtesy of comrade Lawrence (I've certainly been party to some very profound and helpful e-mail discussions on Marxism and abortion, and I needed 'em), but surely here's something we can agree about?

>I agree with his instinct that what Hitchen's has done is not a deed of
>deep revolutionary significance but an ultra-leftist individualist gesture.
>But I do have reservations about being as critical of it as Nathan is. If
>the White House played with debriefings it is inevitable there is a risk of
>them coming to light.

Hitchens is not an ultra-leftist by any criteria that come to my mind. Perhaps he's just a principled man who is capable of recognising and resolving ethical dilemmas? That's what I'm inclined to think. Were the media typically populated by such people, the whole bloody world would be a much better place.

>So far, no one has copied to this list any statement by Hitchens that he
>did it as a major blow against Clinton's middle east policy, or as a blow
>against unattributable government briefings. It comes over as some sort of
>individualist spite that is not in the context of any major collective
>campaign. Hence it can be portrayed as lining up with Starr, although it
>does not sound like that to me.

Hitchens doesn't have to link Willey to the Middle East to make the Willey case significant. If the inference of deliberate slander by the White House is well taken, we've a significant instance all on its own. You can't just decide it's a little case compared to the spectre of a GOP president - and I'm not even convinced a sacked Clinton would do the Dems particular harm.

>One factor surely is that it is easier to appear to be revolutionary in
>another country. Hitchens as an eccentric leftist Englishman has a license
>to be different, and earns his living by this. (Am I wrong?) That makes
>good journalism, but not good revolution. If in the UK Paul Foot had done
>something like this, I would expect the political relevance to be very
>clear. How much does Hitchens claim to be a marxist? Not very much from the
>following moralistic denunciation from a December article in Vanity Fair:
>>Even if you think the original offense was nugatory, and the cover-up no
>more than venal, Clintonís conduct since the original exposure has been
>hideous, and has revealed to us a very nasty and shady politician.<

Marx takes time out in the Manifesto to sink the slipper into bourgeois husbands and their hypocritical, callous philandering. Historical materialist critique need not demand amoralism - merely a critical attitude to moral discourse. I'm with Hitchens on this quote, anyway. Nasty and shady are qualities from which we can project - if he lied about, say, Willey, well, how far is that from, say, lying about a Sudanese medicine factory?

>The transcript of his Meet the Press interview today on his website, does
>not sound much more political. Denouncing bourgeois politicians as crooked
>or shady is not the most profoundly scientific of analyses.

Testing the validity of a claim against empirical evidence is scientific enough - it's more than I get from an awful lot (or a lot of awful) journalists.

>But I would also separate myself from Nathan's support for the rule of law,
>free speech and civil liberties as apparently abstract ideals. Or is the
>USA so weak on these that a campaign for these bourgeois democratic rights
>is still in general terms progressive?

Look at what many lefties have been saying about Chomsky! As I see it, all he did was behave consistently - with all he'd ever said, and with his recognition of the danger to ALL dissident discourse if the state were to be granted the power to shut up just one dissident (a grade-one bastard, to be sure, but one who could then be engaged by equally rights-endowed lefties).

>So I am puzzled by the strength of Nathan's indignation over a detail, and
>that looks like attaching too much importance to the fate of the Democratic
>Party or to one man. Besides if Clinton was tipped over into resigning and
>Gore took over now, that might be the best chance of ensuring Democratic
>ascendancy for the next 10 years.

I reckon you're on to something here.

>Sorry if this sounds like putting my nose into details which obviously I
>cannot understand fully from this side of the Atlantic, but there are
>parallels with how critical, and how tailist, we should be of the Blair
>government. I wanted to comment on the strategic and tactical principles.

We're on a Yanqui list, Chris - we gotta talk Yanqui. And I'd be part of no strategy that chooses to overlook the sort of thing that might have happened to Willey. Our means have to be commensurable with our ends - and if that sounds too moral for some, tough.

Cheers, Rob.

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