Simply Incoherent

by Douglas Wilson

Maybe it is just me, but Christopher Hitchens is at his very best when he is making sense. This is something he does, with his usual vim, in a recent article for Slate entitled “Simply Evil.” In it, he makes short work of the kind of anti-Americanism that tried to turn 9/11 into something complex enough for an obfuscating intellectual to puzzle over. He nails those who tried to blame the attacks on “the Bush administration or the Jews.” And for those who held up a simplistic tit-for-tat blowback explanation, Hitchens dutifully pulls their shirts over their heads and rolls down their socks.

And at the same time, Hitchens defends himself ably against charges that he must have turned into a rah-rah Americano by pointing out that he was a named plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU against the National Security Agency concerning warrantless wiretaps. He also arranged to have himself waterboarded in order to argue persuasively to his readers that such practices did indeed constitute torture. He wrote critically and honestly on the subjects of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and he has formally registered his contempt for the security theater fraud perpetrated, at an airport near you, by uniformed members of the TSA.

All this is Hitchens doing what Hitchens does best, and he does it for most of his article. And then, fulfilling the promise of the title (“Simply Evil”), he veers into incoherence at the very end when he only had about two column inches to go. It was like watching a bicycling Tour de Something rider, 50 yards ahead of the nearest competitor, anticipate the finish line by raising both hands above his head, at which point he triumphantly bites it.

“The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fully deserve to be called ‘evil.’”

Evil? Since the 2009 publication of God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens has spent a great deal of energy trying to persuade all of us that the idea of God is a false and pernicious one. But now he ups and calls these bad guys . . . evil. Given the premises, what might the definition of that be? Who determines what is evil and why? By what standard? But there may be a wiggle-room word in there. Hitchens only said they deserve to be called evil. But that generates the same questions. By whom? And whoever that person is, how did he wind up in charge of our moral lexicon? Was there an election? Did I miss a meeting? And what weight does being called evil have? When Hussein and Kim Jong Il and Ahmadinejad pass into the same gray nothingness that will swallow the greatest altruists and the sweetest grandmas who ever lived, will those men then care that some people (back where consciousness is still going on) are calling them evil? Sticks and stones…

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