The second issue of World Affairs, a new quarterly of the American Peace Society, arrived at TAC yesterday. It is an interesting publication, not least because it seems at once post-neoconservative—Andrew J. Bacevich, arguably the world’s finest Iraq War critic, is on the editorial board—and neo-neoconservative at the same time. The journal is perhaps best described as a hawkish attempt to cope with an ideological nervous breakdown. The intellectual tension makes for a lively read, however. And there is considerable brain power.
Near the front is Christopher Hitchens’s (apparently regular) contribution, loftily entitled “Dear Mr President”. The younger Hitch is on typically neurotic form, fulminating against North Korea. “Your administration,” he tells the president, “can still hope to be remembered for insisting that North Korea cannot be just a little bit nuclear, or partially or incompletely disarmed, as well for stating boldly that Korea cannot long continue half slave and half free.” Let’s hope the Prez. does not read this raving epistle; he might just take it seriously. (For a better, more sober line on North Korea, read older brother Peter Hitchens, in TAC.)
Yet 25 pages further into World Affairs, there is a fascinating piece by Jacob Heilbrunn exploring the rise of celeb intellectuals in America. Heilbrunn’s argument is clearly aimed at Christopher Hitchens. The article is a good, broad survey of the chronic vanity and hankering for fame that afflicts professional writing. Paul Berman, Tony Judt, Norman Podhoretz, Andrew Sullivan, and others are all treated by Heilbrunn—who, ironically, is himself a rising media star—but Hitchens is repeatedly singled out with venom:
In chronicling his remorse at having inadvertently helped prompt a young man who had read his post-9/11 dispatches to enlist in the military and serve in Iraq, where he was subsequently killed, Hitchens reached once more for Orwell. “If America can spontaneously produce young men like Mark,” he writes, “it has a real homeland security instead of a bureaucratic one. To borrow some words of George Orwell’s when he first saw revolutionary Barcelona, “I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.” On a few issues later, however, Hitchens indulged in a lengthy self-portrait in which he underwent spa treatments, including various wraps and peels as well as cucumbers placed on his eyelids.
Ouch, nasty. And that’s just one example of many. The trouble is, as Heilbrunn recognizes elsewhere in the piece, “it is precisely this sort of enmity that energizes Hitchens, Paul Berman and others in the first place.”