Hitchens on Orwell

by Russ Roberts on August 19, 2009

in Podcast

The latest episode of EconTalk is a conversation with Christopher Hitchens about George Orwell. It was a fascinating experience to talk with Hitchens. He is one of the most articulate guests I’ve had on the program–he has a superb ability to put words together on the fly. While I am much more in line with what Orwell opposed than with what he favored, I found the exposure to Orwell quite inspiring.

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Metre August 19, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Orwell’s dystopian view of America is alive and well here in Montgomery County, MD. We now have so many red light and speed cameras that it makes me feel more like an inmate of the county than a citizen.

Anonymous August 19, 2009 at 6:18 pm

I don’t see what the big deal about those particular cameras. As long as the people in charge of them have our best interests at heart, they won’t be misused, right? Right????

AdamGurri August 19, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Uh, I think you want to rephrase that–more like “I am against the same things that he was against.” Saying you’re “more in line” with what he “opposed” sounds like you’re in line with Stalinism and Fascism, or something! hahaha

dg lesvic August 19, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Hitchens is an anomoly, a brilliant and otherwise common-sense socialist, if he is still a socialist. He once said that he still seeks a humane socialism. Why; would that one brief lapse be worth the usual price?

Justin P August 19, 2009 at 7:28 pm

That’s the fatal flaw in even Hitchens’ version of Socialism…it’s all dependent on “if” they get the right leader.
Looking at history, I think you see more sadistic leaders than benevolent ones…but they always have that hope right?

Sam Grove August 19, 2009 at 10:53 pm

The flaw in any version of Socialism is that there is no such thing as the “right” leader, except maybe for one that won’t lead you there.

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 2:12 pm

In my library I’d put Hitchens in with Marx, Lennin, Asimov, Heinlien, Bradbury, et.al., in other words in the fiction section.

The difference between Hitchens, Marx, and lennin, in comparison with Asimov, Heinlien, and Bradbury is that the latter three knew they were writing fantasy.

Anonymous August 19, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Thanks Russ – I agree this was one of your best.

You all migh also be interested in a recent talk Hitchens had at the Hoover Institution with Robert Service about Trotsky:

P1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4v3y-zFW9A
P2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RulnVx9Pik&feature=related
P3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0C12OlinLWQ&feature=related
P4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xCgk_H-ZfI&feature=related
P5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gd8mpzpEgrk&feature=related

One thing that’s easier to swallow about Hitchens is that he’s much more of an anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, anti-racist leftist than he is a pro-communist leftist. But sometimes he really does make you cringe – especially when he gets to central planning and economics questions. In the Hoover discussion, Service and Hitchens are asked whether the Ukranian famine would have gone differently if Trotsky were in charge rather than Stalin. Hitchens provides perhaps a forgivable response and says “well of course – Trotsky isn’t nearly as paranoid, nearly as bloody or authoritarian as Stalin. The famine wouldn’t have happened.”, to which Serivce correctly responds “of course it would have been about the same – the famine wasn’t a function of Stalin’s bloodlust – it was a function of the inability of planning to coordinate economic activity and provide food”. So Hitchens has those blindspots, but I think he realizes it, because he ends up spending much more time talking about his more Jeffersonian/Painian leanings.

Thanks Russ! Enjoy the Hoover Institution talk too everyone.

sandre August 19, 2009 at 6:38 pm

“anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, anti-racist leftist”

That is an oxymoron. Leftists have a hard time not seeing people as belonging to certain groups – based on sex, sexuality, race, religion, numeric strength, skin color etc. Leftists also believe in forcing their “good” on some, using the resources taken from few without their consent – hence they are imperialists. Arguably, American imperialism abroad started during the progressive era with the Spanish-American war. They are fascists because they believe less in the freedom of individual and more in the ability of a group of elites to run the lives of the proles, they also believe in all powerful government, and they like to establish control over business and labor – fits the description of corporatism, nepotism, favoritism and corruption – which is essentially fascism.

Anonymous August 19, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Yes… American imperialism started with the Spanish American war. Clearly a transcontinental nation isn’t imperialist, but over-running a few South Pacific islands for a couple years is.

Look, I’m not one to promote that “America is a cancer on the world” BS, don’t worry. War is part of life, as is settlement and migration. It doesn’t really bother me. But if you’re going to get worked up over Progressives in Guam and the Philipines, I have to point out you’re being a tad selective.

Listen to the Hoover Institution discussion and the Econ Talk discussion. I’m not entirely sympathetic to Hitchens’ politics but hopefully you’ll get a more nuanced view of the left from that.

sandre August 19, 2009 at 7:10 pm

War is part of life, as is settlement and migration. It doesn’t really bother me.

Which proves my point

sandre August 19, 2009 at 7:10 pm

I have no problem with migration. I’m an immigrant myself.

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 12:15 pm

What point does that prove exactly? I feel like I’m being challenged but I’m not exactly sure how. I’m not saying I like war if that’s what you’re getting at.

Sam Grove August 19, 2009 at 9:09 pm

DK,

Arguably, American imperialism abroad started during the progressive era with the Spanish-American war.

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Right… weren’t the great plains “abroad” at the time that we moved in?

Or are you suggesting that there is something especially meaningful about crossing an ocean?

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 12:31 am

… anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, anti-racist …

Can’t agree with “anti-imperialist”. Maybe he opposes British imperialism, but he has less trouble with U.S. imperialism lately. He still has some affection for Trotsky, who differed from Stalin notably in his desire for a global (imperialist) Communist revolution. Maybe, Trotsky wouldn’t have made a pact with Hitler, maybe, but would he have hesitated to dominate Eastern Europe and beyond? I doubt it.

I’ve never heard Hitchens much dispute U.S. involvement in the second world war, which arguably handed Eastern Europe to Stalin and China to Mao, and he positively cheers for the neo-conservatives, many also former Trotskyites, at least as long as they advocate imperial domination of the theocrats he demonizes. Is imperialism “not imperialism” as long as the barbaric savages we invade and occupy pray to some not so great god?

But Hitchens is the quintessential, sharp witted intellectual and always entertaining. Russ even seemed a little cowed by his remarkable eloquence and mastery of political history, if not economic history. Maybe, Hitchens the quasi-neocon is a only stop along his trek from Trotskyite socialist to something more liberal, but he hasn’t arrived at liberalism yet.

As you note, Hitchens still seems to believe that the right central authorities make the difference. He hasn’t reached the conclusion that excessive central authority itself, which is the essence of imperialism, is the problem, that even men like himself are not clever enough to rule empires or plan economies.

sandre August 20, 2009 at 1:05 am

well said Martin, and excellent observations. For a few days, you were conspicuous by your absence. I usually find your posts sometimes longwinded. This one was lucidly written.

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 1:32 am

Thanks. Presumably, I’m less long winded when you agree with me. I feel the same about Hitchens.

sandre August 20, 2009 at 1:38 am

I don’t think we vehemently disagree that much.

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Definitely – and forget about WWII – what about Iraq? Hithcens certainly hasn’t escaped criticism on those inconsistencies.

Two things – first, I don’t think U.S. involvement in WWII can really be chalked up to imperialism. Sure, the Soviets dominated Eastern Europe. What was the “anti-imperialist” alternative – let the Nazis dominate Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and North Africa? And what exactly did we imperialize? A military government in Bavaria for a couple years before passing over sovereignty? WWII strikes me as the epitome of an anti-imperialist war.

I wouldn’t be so hard on him with Communist imperialism either. He considers Hungary, 1956 to be a watershed moment. You can blame him for being naive about what Trotsky would have done, but you can’t consider him a friend of Communist imperialism at the same time when the whole reason he appreciates Trotsky is because of his disdain for Communist imperialism. Hitchens is in the crowd that denounced Stalin when he turned imperialist. Why wouldn’t you assume that he would also denounce Trotsky when he became imperialist?

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 12:20 pm

We don’t know that the Nazis would have dominated Eastern Europe, Western Europe and North Africa without U.S. involvement in the war and other factors. This assumption is counter-factual. If they had tried to dominate Europe, we don’t know that they would have succeeded or if they succeeded for how long or what their system ultimately would have become.

Hitler wanted former German territories. Maybe he imagined reconstituting the Holy Roman Empire, but this empire was far more limited than all of Europe and North Africa, and we have no reason to suppose that he could have reconstituted it anyway.

We only know what did happen, and that was Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and Maoist domination of China, while the U.S. replaced Britain and France in other imperial domains. The idea that U.S. involvement in W.W. II was “anti-imperialist” is the idea that imperialists opposing imperialists aren’t really “imperialists”.

Which opponents of Hitler weren’t really imperialists? The British? They declared war on him long before the U.S., and if they hadn’t, the U.S. might never have.

I’m not being hard on him. I just don’t think he’s properly “anti-imperialist”. Preferring one empire to another is not what I call “anti-imperialism”, even if the empire you prefer is Just, Right, Proper and Noble. Aren’t they all Just, Right, Proper and Noble?

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Martin Brock -
But when the British joined the Nazis already had an Eastern European Empire. By the time any heavy British involvement started they had a Western European Empire. By the time the Americans got in, they had a Pan-European and a North African Empire. It wasn’t a counter-factual at all. It was a reality. In 1941, the counter-factual that nobody knew for sure about was the East European Communist empire.

I am not a fan of the British empire. It’s one of the things I like about being American so much – we’re not British. But in the real world I think you can choose. I have no qualms about fighting alongside British imperialists against Nazi imperialists, while continuing to insist to my British imperialist allies that they should loose their colonies. That isn’t problematic for me, personally. I’m not of the neo-conservative mindset that you have to wage war on all imperialists and “bad guys” everywhere to be genuinely anti-imperialist. And perhaps that’s somewhat inconsistent, but it seems like the best approach you can take in an imperfect world.

In other words – I don’t think you have to wage a war against all imperialism to be considered sufficiently “anti-” imperialism.

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 3:14 pm

But when the British joined the Nazis already had an Eastern European Empire.

Hitler sided with ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland (and they with him) who lived within a Czechoslavak state that had only existed since 1918. Like the annexation of Austria, the annexation of the Sudetenland occurred with hardly a shot being fired.

When Nazis also took Bohemia and other territories of the Czechoslovak state, he arguably had an “Eastern European Empire”, tiny by comparison with the later Soviet empire, but we’ll never know what would have happened if Britain, with a genuinely global empire, had not declared war after Hitler invaded Poland to incoporate other border territories he regarded as ethnically German.

I’m not defending any expansion of the German state under the Nazis, mind you. I’m only saying that we don’t know what would have happened without the second world war or whether the outcome would have been any worse than what did happen, which was pretty freakin’ horrible. The Nazis and the Soviets might have spent their might on one another with much less effect to the west.

By the time any heavy British involvement started they had a Western European Empire. By the time the Americans got in, they had a Pan-European and a North African Empire. It wasn’t a counter-factual at all. It was a reality.

First, you wrote “dominate Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and North Africa”. That was your counter-factual. The Nazi dominated territories at the time of British declaration of war hardly fits this description. Second, Germany had nothing you could call a “Western European Empire” when Britain and France declared war.

In 1941, the counter-factual that nobody knew for sure about was the East European Communist empire.

Well, they knew it well enough by 1951. We never know counter-factuals. That’s the point.

I’m no fan of any empire, but I can’t say the same of Hitchens these days, and if you like being an American because we’re so anti-imperial, I just think you’re deluding yourself. The continential U.S. itself is an empire, much larger than anything Hitler ever effectively held. It’s a fairly “liberal” empire by some standards, and I’m not itching to move to some other, but let’s not kid ourselves.

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 4:12 pm

“Second, Germany had nothing you could call a “Western European Empire” when Britain and France declared war.”

That’s why I said they had a Western Empire when “heavy” British involvement began. Germany held France before Britain mobilized a substantial effort.

And that’s why I said that when the British joined (ie – declared war) the Nazis only had the East. No counterfactual. This is the reality of the situation.

“I’m no fan of any empire, but I can’t say the same of Hitchens these days, and if you like being an American because we’re so anti-imperial, I just think you’re deluding yourself.”

Right – I pointed out Hitchens’ inconsistencies myself and I first raised the issue that the U.S. was imperialist well before the Spanish-American War. But I’m also realistic about what practical action on anti-imperialism means, which is why I’m fine fighting with imperialists against the Nazis, I don’t think that’s a justification of Soviet imperialism, and I’m comfortable with our 50 states – although I’d like to see less romping around in the Persian Gulf.

Sam Grove August 20, 2009 at 3:41 pm

It is not entirely appropriate to discuss WWII in this contect without also discussing WWI.

U.S. involvement in WWI, which was almost at an end at that time of U.S. entry, signaled U.S. imperialist intent. Likewise, FDR’s maneuvers to get the U.S. into WWII was of a similar nature.

Germany had made a significant error in attacking Soviet Russia.
U.S. entry drew German forces from the Eastern front which allowed the Soviet empire to survive that war in a stronger position than otherwise.

There has been a lot of serious historical revisionism in recent years regarding these events. It is now known that FDR had, in fact, acted to provoke Japan into attacking, and that Pearl Harbor was purposely left vulnerable to such an attack.

Japanese strategists did not want war with the U.S., knowing that U.S. war making capacity FAR exceeded that of Japan. They eventually concluded that such war was inevitable, and so sought to delay U.S. entry with that attack.

Gil August 20, 2009 at 3:58 pm

“There has been a lot of serious historical revisionism in recent years regarding these events. It is now known that FDR had, in fact, acted to provoke Japan into attacking, and that Pearl Harbor was purposely left vulnerable to such an attack.”

So the U.S.A. attacked Japan then, S. Grove? And the Japanese engaged in rightful retaliation? Did the U.S. have no right to engage in economic sanctions against Japan because Japan’s violent imperialism had nothing to do with the U.S.? Or what?

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Do you have any reputable sources on that?

Of course I’ve heard that theory before and I’m torn between the fact that it sounds perfectly believable but also turns my stomach. It’s almost something I’d prefer to stay ignorant on. Anyway – what are the best sources promoting that view?

mandeville August 20, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Your last paragraph hit the nail on the head. Hitchens is, after all, a shallow thinker for that reason. In addition, he’s not that ‘articulate’ if clarity is part of its definition. His writing is often a confusing mush. He seeks to impress his readers/listeners with obscure vocabulary littered with trivial information leaving them wondering if they missed his point, and if they did, why then, this man must be so gifted and smarter than us.

All his writing suggests he never got over the failure of socialism. Understanding economics and that socialism causes poverty doesn’t matter to him because his socialism is not based on utilitarian foundations, but rather envy and resentment of the Kapitalist class. To him, socialism is not an end. It’s a means to an end. The end being rule by the intellectual class, the elites, such as he views himself.

His late interest in Straussian philosophy exposes this. Strauss’ political philosophy was Platonic–rule by the wise, controlling education as ideology, closed society, communal property for the masses but not the rulers, etc., but all done in the name of stability and order for the happiness of the people whether or not they know it because they are considered to be too stupid to know what’s good for them, etc. ad nauseam…

Finally, what does Hitchens know of the common man? Does he know one? What would he say to one? Common people and the concept of spontaneous order don’t exist in Hitchens’s universe. Contrast him to someone like Thomas Sowell, who with his brilliance eloquently speaks to the common man as well as on his behalf, to know the difference between substance and hubris, and what will be remembered or forgotten.

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 3:54 pm

In Plato’s Republic, only the Guardians have common property, and they’re an elite class, not the masses. They have common property (even common spouses) precisely because they’re an elite class, so that a desire to accumulate property does not influence them.

I’m not defending this totalitarian vision, mind you, only littering the thread with trivial information so you’ll wonder if I’m gifted and smarter than you. I couldn’t finish the Republic after this part of it anyway. I hadn’t read it at all until someone mentioned Socrates’ Proudhonian sentiments (“the just man is a thief”) here a few weeks ago.

mandeville August 19, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Hitchens can only argue a point using metaphysical collectivist constructions. He establishes the “idol” as having concrete existence, such as the concept of “society” or “the common good”, and then he declares that the idol has needs and interests of its own that are superior to the needs and interests of the actual members (individuals) of society. The next step is to declare illegal what he calls the selfish desires of individuals because they conflict with the needs of his idol. You may all praise him because his opinions are less threatening than they used to be, or because he may now be a neo-conservative, or a benign Straussian, but he is a walking, thinking, and talking authoritarian incapable of viewing life from an individualist perspective, except for perhaps his own. Go to his site and read his work. Discover what sacrifices he asks of you to make the world better. Whether it be war or the redistribution of wealth, he knows what is good for society and you don’t. He’s a modern Saint-Simon.

Anonymous August 19, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Bingo!

sandre August 19, 2009 at 11:51 pm

Excellent observations.

tw August 19, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Russ,

I read Hitchens’ book on Orwell years ago and have gone on to read many of his other books, and have heard him speak in person once on Kissinger. I think it’s great that you got him for Econ Talk, and I can’t wait to listen to it. Bravo in advance!

Sanjiv August 19, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Hitchens on econtalk? who would have thought..
Excellent choice, Russ. Can’t wait to listen to this one.
I think Hitchens is a brilliant thinker, socialist or otherwise.

I second Daniel Kuehn in recommending the ‘Uncommon Knowledge’ episode with Hitchens. Watched it a few days back. Good fun.

Greg_Ransom August 20, 2009 at 4:24 am

Good interview with Hithens, but it should be noted that Hitchens has some of his facts wrong, re Orwell & Hayek & Churchill.

In fact, Hayek was NOT a consultant to the Conservative Party.

Hayek and Laski did NOT share a rotated chair at the L.S.E.

Churchill was NOT talking about health care when he made his famous
“gestopo” speech — he was talking about the Labor plan to nationalize
most of British industry. Churchill supported a national health care
service, and supported the NHS when he became prime minister for the
second time in 1951.

Hayek sent Churchill a copy of _The Road to Serfdom_ in 1944 in the
mail. That is all. He attended a dinner speech with Churchill
(Chuchill was drunk), and I’m not sure Hayek met Churchill on any
other occasion.

The report of Churchill scholars is that Churchill did read _The Road
to Serfdom_ at some point. When exactly is not well established.

Here’s a typical account from the literature:

“When losses are made, under the present system those losses are borne
by the individuals who sustained them and took the risk and judged
things wrongly, whereas under State management all losses are
quartered upon the taxpayers and the community as a whole. The
elimination of the profit motive and of self-interest as a practical
guide in the myriad transactions of daily life will restrict, paralyse
and destroy British ingenuity, thrift, contrivance and good
housekeeping at ever stage in our life and production, and will reduce
all our industries from a profit-making to a loss-making process.”

– Winston Churchill, Manchester, Dec. 6, 1947. From Churchill by
Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations, p. 392.

The editor, Richard Langworth, adds, “Churchill had been reading, and
was deeply impressed by, the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek’s
seminal book, The Road to Serfdom. This statement could have been
made by Hayek himself.”

Dave S August 20, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Russ,
Bravo. That was one of the best EconTalk’s yet. Fascinating subject, and Hitchens is always worth a listen — even when I disagree with him, he at least challenges you to think.

Thanks again for a great discussion!

Sam Grove August 20, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Hmmm. I was always of the notion that “abroad” meant “across the ocean”., but yes, after European colonism established the colonies, and the U.S. was formed, you can say that “manifest destiny” was imperialistic. But, after the west coast was reached, there wasn’t a much in the way of imperialistic ventures til the S-A war.

Of course, Sandre did make use of “arguably”.

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Hard to say. Don’t know how you’re defining “right” (and “rightful”) here.

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 10:34 pm

The point is that the United States wasn’t an innocent nation attacked by evil, Imperialist Japan. However, no nations are innocent and America was defending its interests by sanctioning the Japanese empire. The Japanese empire retaliated by bombing Pearl Harbor. They hoped to knock America out of any Pacific War. They were very wrong.

Sam Grove August 20, 2009 at 10:52 pm

When empires collide…

I did not make any inference about rightful, etc.

All governments, like people, present their own version of events, for their own purposes. Referring, of course, to the political influences that manage affairs.

If you enjoy the propaganda you were taught, then I urge you to skip over all this.

sandre August 20, 2009 at 5:16 pm

“anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, anti-racist leftist”

That is an oxymoron.

Sam Grove August 20, 2009 at 10:59 pm

World War II by Richard J. Maybury is a quick pick. He lists 24 book references, including:

AND I WAS THERE by Commander Edwin T Layton

BETRAYAL AT PEARL HARBOR by James Rusbridger & Eric Nave

DAY OF DECEIT by Robert B. Stinnett

Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 11:26 pm

But of course you are not an American, but a neutral observer right? You could care less if America declines…

Sam Grove August 21, 2009 at 12:49 am

America will continue to decline unless people learn the problems well enough to make appropriate choices.

I am a natural born citizen of the continental U.S.

I owe my allegiance to the moral principles which I believe will ensure, not just the survival, but the continued evolution of humanity.

Anonymous August 21, 2009 at 1:07 am

And that’s why I said that when the British joined (ie – declared war) the Nazis only had the East. No counterfactual. This is the reality of the situation.

The preemptive fronts that Germany established to the west after Britain and France declared war is not your counterfactual. You suggested that Nazis would “dominate Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and North Africa” without the second world war. That’s the counterfactual. They never came close, and we don’t know what would have happened if western states and the U.S. had stayed out of the subsequent clash of socialist/fascist empires to the east.

The U.S. could have continued the war against Soviet forces in Eastern Europe too, but we didn’t. We could have fought the Maoists in the Pacific theater, but we didn’t. Did we fail in our duty to fight imperialism and tyranny there? The Soviet Union ultimately collapsed of its own weight, and Chinese Communism morphed into something more benign.

We only know what did happen after the western states and the U.S. entered the war, and it’s not a pretty picture, destruction of Western Europe, a burgeoning military-industrial complex in the U.S. and arguably a more terrible tragedy for captive people to the east.

Gil August 21, 2009 at 3:15 am

Which part of the U.S.’s economic sanctions were necessarily wrong per se, ArrowSmith? The issue of whether who was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’/'first’ or ‘second’ go hand-in-hand with initiating aggression vs retaliatory aggression. Did the U.S. start a war with Japan? Or did Japan start a war with the U.S. over certain trade sanction which the U.S. had every right to do.

Anonymous August 21, 2009 at 11:05 am

“Did we fail in our duty to fight imperialism and tyranny there?”

Like I said above, I don’t think you need to wage war on every dictator and imperialist in the world to have believable anti-dictator and anti-imperialist credentials. If you do that you (1.) risk losing, (2.) risk becoming a dictator or imperialist yourself, and (3.) in the case of WWII risk inadequately consolidating our very real gains in Europe. I’m not a neocon and I’ve never been very susceptible to being cowed into a neocon understanding of right and wrong (this sense of requisite action on the part of the U.S. is one of the things that really bothers me about Hitchens).

We don’t “only know what did happen after the western states and the US entered” – we also know what happened BEFORE they entered. The idea that an actual Nazi empire, however unstable at that point, should play second fiddle in our concerns to a possible future Stalinist empire is crazy. And I should point out that as bad as the early days of the USSR were, in it’s first 25 years up to the war it didn’t exhibit anywhere near the expansionism that Nazi Germany did in it’s first decade. We picked the right fight, and we were right not to pick a fight we potentially couldn’t win after that fight.

Anonymous August 21, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Like I said above, I don’t think you need to wage war on every dictator and imperialist in the world to have believable anti-dictator and anti-imperialist credentials.

To have believable anti-imperialist credentials, one might avoid defending a vast empire oneself.

If you do that you (1.) risk losing, …

Losing what? An empire? If the U.S. didn’t still have apparently permanent garrisons in Germany, Japan, South Korea and so many other outposts half a century later, our anti-imperial credentials might be a little more credible.

… (2.) risk becoming a dictator or imperialist yourself, …

Where is the line between becoming an imperialist yourself and simply fighting another state’s imperialism (against nations other than your own)? Why didn’t the U.S. cross this line in the second world war? That’s the question. You seem to have arbitrarily drawn a line elsewhere.

… and (3.) in the case of WWII risk inadequately consolidating our very real gains in Europe.

How is “consolidating our very real gains” less imperial than Germany regaining imperial ground lost earlier? I don’t see the distinction here. Do we cease to be imperialists when the empire seems to be holding together?

… this sense of requisite action on the part of the U.S. is one of the things that really bothers me about Hitchens).

Well, that’s my point.

We don’t “only know what did happen after the western states and the US entered” – we also know what happened BEFORE they entered.

My “only know” referred to counterfactual futures like “reconstituting the Holy Roman Empire” and “dominating Eastern Europe, Western Europe and North Africa”, not to historical facts, but we also know what happened before Austria-Hungary dissolved into Czechoslovakia, and we know millenia of imperial expansion, contraction, disintegration and reintegration before that. We know that Czechoslovakia reintegrated within the Soviet bloc, then disintegrated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Who knows what history has left?

We also know that Washington warned us against entangling European alliances, and history has never ceased proving him right.

The idea that an actual Nazi empire, however unstable at that point, should play second fiddle in our concerns to a possible future Stalinist empire is crazy.

Whatever role a nascent, embattled, Nazi empire, a few years old and under constant attack, plays in the historical orchestra, I have no illusions of conducting it. The band plays on, and I have no more faith in the grand illusions of self-appointed, would be conductors now.

Anonymous August 21, 2009 at 5:20 pm

“How is “consolidating our very real gains” less imperial than Germany regaining imperial ground lost earlier? I don’t see the distinction here. Do we cease to be imperialists when the empire seems to be holding together?”

Look – you’ll find no quarrel with me over abandoning all the bases we have abroad or stricter adherence to Washington’s warning. What exactly are you trying to say here? Did we install Merkel and Sarkozy as provincial puppets? Yes – you might say we ran a military empire in Germany for a couple years immediately after the war. I suppose I’m compromising with imperialism because I’m fine with the fact that we did that. But Western Europe isn’t our imperial domain now. And like I said – scrap all our bases in these countries and elsewhere. I think we could have avoided 9/11 if we did that. I’m in agreement. But that still doesn’t mean that WWII wasn’t a war against imperialism, albeit waged under the auspices of a pragmatic alliance with other empires.

Anonymous August 21, 2009 at 5:30 pm

What exactly are you trying to say here?

I started only to say that Hitchens is not a very credible “anti-imperialist”, these days. If Iraq, with its Vatican sized embassy, isn’t an imperial outpost, I don’t know what is. Certainly, the neocons wanted it to be. Afghanistan now seems more of a staging area for policing Pakistan than anything else. I see no end of it.

With enough imperial trials to choose from, we’ll always find one that seems praiseworthy, compared with all the rest, but a game of Russian Roulette isn’t so bad either, five times out of six.

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