Readers respond to the Christopher Hitchens interview, "How the Left Became Irrelevant."

By Salon Staff
November 1, 2002 12:19AM (UTC)
main article image

[Read the interview.]

I know of no one on the "left" who is sympathetic to Saddam Hussein's regime. To equate opposition to a unilateral preemptive invasion of Iraq with support for Hussein is ridiculous and insulting.

Of 9/11, I recall no one on the left who suggested we "sit this one out," as Hitchens claims. Chomsky cited Michael Howard's recommendation that we address the problem as one for international law enforcement; that aside, I think most of us understood that the military would have to play a role. Regarding Saddam, there is a wide range of responses. One is to do nothing. Another is to launch a preemptive go-it-alone war. Both are foolish and frightening. But what of the options in between? (See the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace proposal for coercive inspections.)


Is it possible that the left comes off as self-hating, or tends to blame the U.S. first, because it is responding to a media/administration which denies that the U.S. is to blame for anything? Is it possible that the left wants with all its heart to look for solutions (to Hussein, to Israel) and sees a staggering hypocrisy in omitting the U.S. as a piece of the problem?

-- A. Anesko

I am refreshed to read the interview with Christopher Hitchens. I'm a former Gulf War protester and left-wing activist who has been frustrated with the candle-holding, "We Shall Overcome"-singing, all-we-need-is-love, no-war standard non-response to everything. It's time the left learned to get creative and actually form a response that not only reaches and connects to people, but also forms a coherent, viable response to the very real threats in the world.


I don't necessarily agree with all that Hitchens has to say (for instance, I'm afraid that invading Iraq could have counterproductive effects in the region, even though I agree something needs to be done), but I am so relieved that he is discussing and writing about the Middle East in the way that he is. And thank you, Salon, for doing the interview.

-- Laura Schultz

Hitchens is an asshole with his tongue up the right-wing money hole. If you ever hire this bastard to write for Salon, I will cancel my subscription. What a whore and what a meaningless essay about a whore! This guy should have been fired from the Nation 10 years ago when he became a right-wing hole. There is nothing amiss about the left; the problem is with the media allowing right-wing holes to pose on the left.


-- Jeanette Novakovich

It's not the left that's irrelevant, it's Hitchens, who can't seem to decide what principles are worth the effort. Those who are quick to rush to war with Iraq, or Iran, or North Korea, or whoever is today's evil empire, are just toys for the right to jerk around. What the left stands for, when it does stand, is freedom -- not war, not vengeance, not bullying, not American dominance. Saddam Hussein may some day be a threat to the lives of some Americans, but John Ashcroft, George W., Dick Cheney and the rest are a terrorist army attacking my rights to know, to speak, to work, to live, on a daily basis. It is not an exaggeration to say I consider them more of a threat to freedom than Saddam Hussein, and more important to fight against.


-- Tom Anderson

I cannot help but think that Christopher Hitchens is being a bit absolutist concerning the readers of the Nation magazine. I read the letters he refers to, where the readers wrote about Sept. 11. I found them to be very refreshing and encouraging.

I think Mr. Hitchens forgets that most dissenting voices in the U.S. after 9/11 were effectively silenced. It became taboo (even dangerous?) to ask simple questions about the tragedy, or our government's response to it. When I read the letters in the Nation, I felt a sense of relief that there were indeed dissenting voices. That there were many people out there who were asking some hard questions, but were not getting any real answers. Like me ...


I concur with him that I was not always satisfied with the responses. But to use them as a reason to leave the magazine? Necessary? I do not think so.

-- Perry Seymour

I read your article on Christopher Hitchens and his leaving the Nation.

1. Christopher Hitchens thinks he is far more important than he is.


2. His arguments for the war are founded on his self-aggrandizing bullshit.

3. I vote that he goes back to the U.K., where they actually have an "opposition" and a "government," as his arguments do not seem to apply to America's political system.

4. If he and his ilk had not been so focused on trashing Clinton, maybe the left would be in better shape than it is.

-- Bill Davis


Thank you for giving prominent placement to Edward Lempinen's interview with Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens articulates brilliantly a similar trajectory I've experienced in recent years -- I hope there are more such pieces exploring the left's transformation in the U.S.

I've been a liberal and Democrat since old enough to vote for Jimmy Carter. Yet, after living in Europe 10 years I've grown disillusioned with the left I grew up with and was inspired by. It has evolved into an ineffective force in U.S. politics largely because it has grown hypocritical. I am sorrowed but not surprised that the U.S. far right has mounted such a successful siege on America's mind: The left is muddled by espousing conflicting values and not thinking through the consequences -- and responsibilities -- of liberal principles.

My disillusionment with the left's multiculturalism, for example, came with the fatwah on Salman Rushdie. Until then, I felt each culture had a right to govern itself as it saw fit, that I had no right to impose my values on another people. But the fatwah forced me to ask myself whether I support one group's right to be totalitarian, intolerant and murderous, and impose this power over its people (i.e., that human rights apply only to my own sphere) or whether I believe human rights and free speech to be universal. I sided with my leftist, universalist principles, which left me feeling alienated from many leftists.

And Bosnia, Kosovo: I never hesitated to support intervention; it was the only option if you value human lives. That some who recognized Nazi fascism as heinous but were willing to accept Milosevic's is beyond me.


Don't get me wrong: I'm not a neo-conservative, or even remotely Republican. I am deeply unhappy with Bush & Co., but am also unhappy with the alternative, which doesn't seem to know where it's going or to have an answer for the complicated challenges in today's world. The U.S. left today only knows where it has been, and where it won't go, which leaves it ill equipped to be a potent force in the present.

-- Tanya Lolonis

Christopher Hitchens -- clearly a bright man, but also a blowhard who commits the exact same sins as those he sees as enemies. (Favorite example: criticizing those who use Orwellian language, while saying he prefers "an intervention with Saddam Hussein" to "an invasion of Iraq.") He's made a fine career of building straw men and then railing against them. His comments on the American left don't come anywhere close to describing me or anyone I know in any part of the country. Sure, there are empty-headed leftists trotting tired, old slogans but they no more represent the real left of America than the Klan does the American right.

He accuses those on the American left of burying their heads in the sand and opposing war in Iraq and Afghanistan while not caring about the Kurds who've been gassed or the people who were harmed by the Taliban, conveniently overlooking the many feminist groups who protested the Taliban or the many Americans who work and write on these issues every day. He reduces everyone on the left to a shallow stereotype while acting as a man of depth who's been "emancipated" by his newfound isolation from ideology or political parties.


Yet, the press stays fascinated with him. Ooh, Christopher Hitchens has left the left. Good riddance -- the left he describes doesn't exist and has never been a part of my life.

-- Dave Purcell

I started reading this article believing that Christopher Hitchens was a big bombastic blowhard more interested in hearing the sound of his own voice than in any cause or idea. That he takes positions calculated to give him maximum exposure, since controversy will help sell his work and support his Eurotrash lifestyle. I was surprised, even a little disappointed, that Salon, my favorite news source, would give him the opportunity to cash in even more. Imagine my shock upon discovering that I actually agreed with many of the opinions he expressed in this article. I share his disgust with those of my fellow Americans who say, basically, that we as a country provoked and even deserved the attacks of 9/11 -- making innocent civilians pay for the decisions of the oligarchy is never, ever justified, no matter who does it or what wrong they are seeking to correct.

I even agree with him that the American left is in a shambles, and I would take that a step further and say that my own Democratic Party lacks a cohesive platform and has been reduced to reacting to whatever the Republicans put forth, rather than taking an actual position on anything.

I wish I'd been sitting at the table with Hitchens, though. I'd have asked him what the American left can do to revitalize itself, how those of us who oppose the theocratic state that the Buchanans and Falwells and other members of the religious right would love to see imposed here can constructively unite to stand against the slow drift of our government toward theocracy. To my profound surprise, I find that I would like to hear Hitchens' opinion on that. Even if he is a bombastic blowhard.

-- Karen Morrione

Just who the hell is Christopher Hitchens, and why the hell is this idiot spotlighted on Page 1 of my fave online mag? I agree that controversy is wonderful, discussion is divine, but if I need misinformation, mal-informed opinion, and tired literary bloat, I'll go to Ann Coulter's Web page, thank you. Shoot, even David Horowitz makes more salvageable points.

To the defense of liberals apathetic to the loss of life on 9/11 -- for years we've been chronicling the massive bloodshed in Third World countries as a direct result of the U.S. promoting its business interests. 9/11 shocked most of us very deeply, but having gotten used to the idea of innocents dying for someone else's political ends, I, at least, saw it as a time to really educate my fellow Americans -- wake up, look, this same thing happens every week in foreign lands because we of freedom and great privilege do absolutely nothing to curb our own appetites, much less keep our own ruling class from raping the Third World. To me, any other argument is tantamount to declaring that Americans are more worthy of living than other people.

-- Joseph Kelly

I followed closely the writing in the Nation following Sept. 11. I was dumbstruck by several things: 1) The willingness of most columnists (probably based on the parochial experiences of their own lifetimes) to assume the responses of the U.S. government to Sept. 11 had close parallels with the U.S. experience in Vietnam. In my mind, Pearl Harbor was a far closer analogy. As a result, we read a lot of ignorant bile about the dangers of a military quagmire in Afghanistan.

2) We also had to endure Katha Pollitt's column, where she wrote, in unintentionally hilarious detail, how she was having to persuade her daughter not to hang a U.S. flag from her bedroom window, because patriotism had been misused in the Vietnam years (even though Vietnam was 30 years ago, even though her own city had been attacked, even though bin Laden had long made clear that Americans were being targeted just because they were Americans, and even though a patriotic response in the U.S. was all but inevitable). Talk about clueless!

3) Even though many of the writers are from NYC, they didn't seem all that concerned that some of their neighbors had been killed in such a cruel way. Jonathan Schell yammered on about the great void left by the collapsed towers, as if the void in the sky was there by some kind of natural calamity, not by purposeful intent. These folks will go to great lengths to complain about the Bush administration, but don't ask them to go to a funeral.

4) The only exception at the Nation was Christopher Hitchens, who gave a brilliant and scathing analysis. But he was very, very alone there. I had started my subscription to the Nation several years ago because I thought, with anti-globalization efforts, the left was finally beginning to stir. How wrong, wrong, wrong I was! This form of the left is dead, finished, and deservedly so, by their own hand. It's up to us to reinvent the left, so it actually does speak for the oppressed of the world, which includes (paradoxically) people like the bond traders caught in the upper floors of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Better days ahead, Christopher Hitchens! Vanity Fair is a more subversive magazine than the Nation anyway!

-- Marc Valdez

I count myself among those liberals who have become increasingly disenfranchised from the left in America. While I might not agree entirely with Christopher Hitchens with regards to specific Middle East policy or strategy (i.e., I certainly do not ally myself with Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and other Iraq hawks), I do admire his reasoned and principled approach to the debate -- particularly, the observations he makes regarding the hypocrisy and double standards of the left. Sadly for me, the left has become a comical characterization of itself, one that advances a kind of absurd neurotic logic that channels all fault in the world back to America. A left more concerned with dramatic (romantic?) political posturing than advancing practical, humanistic politics. In many ways, the left has become a mirror of the right -- clinging to an often irrational, indefensible and inflexible political dogma that resembles religious faith more than politics. Like Hitchens, I find myself wandering a no-man's land of rational liberalism that seems to fall outside the conventional boundaries of leftist politics in America. It's a lonely place.

-- Bob Grimes

I very much like much of what Hitchens has to say, but recently I am beginning to question my fondness. I agree with many of his statements about the left, but what I am truly appalled at is his idea that the left no longer exists and/or has become irrelevant. Very much in the same way that black, women and gay people do not always voice the same opinion, neither do those who position themselves as leftists.

I have been frustrated in the past few months at the media's insistence in portraying the "left" as a singular, unified committee. This is not to say that I have not been frustrated by some on the left who, for all the thousands murdered on Sept. 11, dogmatically fail to understand the security implications that we now face. However, to imply that liberals are such an insulated and unyielding group that free thought and opinion have ceased to exist is alarming.

Hitchens claims that it was the Nation's readers that left him cold and, ultimately, made him forsake his column. I find that ridiculous. Admittedly, there are people on the left who were against using force in Afghanistan and have criticized the American government to the point where I find myself on a side that I am not used to being on (i.e., not a leftist), but the opposite is also true. Many leftists have been open to debate on this issue. For Hitchens to suggest that this debate is nonexistent is not only wrong but also a slap in the face to leftists like me who take many of his same positions.

Please, I implore you, Hitchens, do not take my idealism away. For many my age (25), the left is the only group that tells me I can make a difference in a positive way. Do not let your age, bitterness, and pessimism about the left poison the good parts of the leftist ideology. I can fight hunger, I can help preserve the environment, I can help eradicate racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. The left has a long tradition of helping the powerless at the expense of the powerful. If this is the group that has become so irrelevant, we're sunk.

-- Tequia Burt

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------