Friday, November 24, 2006

Punished for Taking Paine's Name in Vain

Not that Christopher Hitchens' diminuitive reputation requires further deflation, but the neo-con fellow-traveller's infinitesimal private parts have run into a buzz-saw over at the London Review of Books.

John Barrell, an expert on the blot on English liberties known as the political trials of the 1790s, takes on Hitchens' little stocking-stuffer Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’: A Biography from a position of actually knowing something about both Paine and the work of his other biographers.

This knowledge is fatal to what remains of Hitchens' gravitas, if any. Only in America could a journalistic jongleur be taken seriously who has worn so many motley suits that his masters can no longer distinguish which one he sports today. That superficial veneer of education with which British polemecists disguise their intellectual irresponsibility is just the thing for deceiving American neo-conservatives into treating its holders respectably.
"But compared with any other book on Paine I can think of, this one is casual, even perfunctory. Long before I reached the end of what is a very long short book, I was at a loss to know why it had been written. Discussing the reasons why Burke, who had supported the revolution in America, should have been so hostile to the revolution in France, even in its earliest and most innocent phase, Hitchens remarks that ‘it is a deformity in some “radicals”’ – he has Marx particularly in mind – ‘to imagine that, once they have found the lowest or meanest motive for an action or for a person, they have correctly identified the authentic or “real” one.’ Quite right too; and if any radical, misled by George Galloway’s description of Hitchens as ‘a drink-soaked former Trotskyite popinjay’, should suggest that this book was written out of vanity, he would surely be mistaken. A vain man would have taken care to write a better book than this: more original, more accurate, less damaging to his own estimation of himself, less somniferously inert."
This is indeed a wonderful case of the Barrell shooting the fish.

"The Positions He Takes," John Barrell, LRB, Vol. 28 No. 23, 30 Nov. 2006


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