By Kyle | August 19, 2011
I was wondering what Christopher Hitchens would say about the gleeful spate of mob destruction in his native land. I suspected he wouldn’t be able to take a full-on conservative position because, as I’ve explained before, his style is generally to automatically defend the perceived underdog.
Being an old Marxist, naturally he would see the underdog here in economic terms — the yob classes who are well alienated from their work and yet not particularly beholden to the state that lovingly writes them welfare checks. The real underdog is of course the innocent bourgeois shopkeeper trying to defend his turf against hooting arsonist mobs with no weapons to speak of and ineffectual or absent policing.
Hitchens can’t in good conscience make an affirmative case for arsonists, thugs and looters, though. So he punts. He produces, somewhat fatuously, an anecdotal list of previous instances of mob crime in England.
This is a bit of a cosmic shrug. And it is an uneasy gesture from such a thoroughly “engaged” public intellectual. The key line of his piece is, after he calls the “there is nothing new under the sun theory” too “callous” and a failure of explanation, his U-turn question, “So how much fresh bad news is there really under the sun?” Rhetorical jiujitsu!
The direct implication of this argument is that no policy change is needed, except maybe a little something should be done about gangs. There were Catholic-Protestant disturbances in the 1700s, same-o, same-o, right? (This is what Christopher means when he tells us to look up our Dickens: “Barnaby Rudge” is about vicious mob attacks against Catholics in the Gordon Riots of the 1780s.)
Yet organized gangs, with secret handshakes and cool insignia, are a bit passe, aren’t they? Anyone can organize what amounts to a gang instantly, via Twitter, advising any opportunists of the moment about where to go for their fix of “pure terror & havoc & free stuff.”
So how can Christopher also admit that his brother Peter’s stern arguments are “cogent”? (Or at least cogent for “the British right,” an odd qualifier. Does Peter’s case make sense or not?) Peter Hitchens has been saying for years that crime and disorder are out of control and getting worse due to utter fecklessness on the part of the authorities and a general moral rot. Christopher, who begins his piece (in incongruous cheerful-weatherman-mode) with some less than reassuring anecdotal good news about the mob scene, is telling us essentially to suck it up.
That will not do, not to anyone who loves England.