134. The cauldron (V)
It is now about ten years since Christopher Hitchens died, so, given that the dust has settled, now is a good time to review his actual influence, since, as with most celebrities, he is pretty much already forgotten—despite, at his prime, seeming a monumental figure. During his last decade, roughly 2001-2011, Hitchens was in his prime influence. The reason for this was 9/11. After that event, Hitchens changed his faith from Trotskyism to American progressivism; admittedly—especially through neoconservatism—two related, though not identical, faiths.
I was a Hitchens fan around 2004, when an undergraduate, not because he was an atheist—I had already decided that his atheism was puerile—but because he had a contentious style (I enjoyed being very contradictory then, purposively arguing against whatever position was put to me) and also because he was hostile to Islam. The purpose of the movement called “New Atheism” was basically two-fold: on the one hand it channelled the martial aggression sparked by 9/11 into an acceptable form of militarism; we were fighting “Islamofascists” who oppressed women and gays, not, specifically, for Christianity and white civilisation. On the other hand, New Atheism turned inwards, seeking to extirpate the domestic enemies of the regime, specifically flyover evangelical Christians; it sought to liken the far enemy, bin Laden, to the near enemy, Pat Robertson.
9/11 was a dangerous moment for the managerial state, because it released natural racial and religious instincts that the managerial state exists to liquidate; namely, the West being founded on the struggle against Islam and for Christianity, a struggle conducted by white Europeans. The attacks released primal European instincts that were usually heavily suppressed by mass propaganda; at the same time, the managerial state needed to canalise those instincts to wage war on the external enemy. New Atheism was the ideological answer to this question; it helped a generation conceptualise the events of 9/11 as a struggle for “reason” at home and abroad against “Islamofascism” abroad and “Christofascism” at home. Since most Europeans dislike Islam and Muslim immigration anyway, it was necessary and useful to channel this hostility into a non-racial and non-Christian ambivalence; hence the promotion of “ex-Muslims”, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose purpose was to make sure that Europeans only disliked “radical Islam”, not the alien presence in their territories per se.
As a former Marxist, I noticed that Hitchens had just switched the language and beliefs of a Marxist talking about Cuba to the USA. His obsequious praise of America—the America of the managerial state, not dirty flyover country—was quite sickening, just like some Marxist tourist in Moscow in the 1930s; he was, of course, in part, singing for his supper. For Hitchens, “the revolution of 1917” he had praised in his youth became “the revolution of 1776”, and “Enlightenment values” replaced “dialectical materialism”—he basically jumped back to an earlier iteration of leftism. Comically, Hitchens rediscovered that his mother was Jewish and, in accordance with the ideology of the managerial state, endlessly talked of his “oppressed” heritage—a sure mark of high status in the contemporary ideology.
New Atheism died out as the War on Terror faded from memory, its purpose was served. Its spectre revived recently when Democrats likened MAGA supporters storming the Capitol to “the Taliban”; the reasoning behind this is to create a narrative whereby Trump’s supporters are portrayed as domestic terrorists, with the legal structure created after 9/11 deployed against them. As with the accusation that Trump is a “fascist”, this is not literally true; but it is functionally true. The majority of MAGA evangelicals are more like Ned Flanders than Osama bin Laden, but the American managerial state—conceptualising itself, like the French revolutionary and Bolshevik states, as the force of reason liquidating unreason—reads both as threats of the same sort. Insofar as the managerial state’s purpose is to destroy the sacred and the rooted—destroy innocence, in fact—they are correct; though, generally, the people of faith prevail, in the end.