The Passion of Richard Seymour
Book Reviews of "The Liberal Defence of Murder" and "UnHitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchen" by Richard Seymour

Wald, Alan

Publisher:  Against the Current
Date Written:  01/11/2013
Year Published:  2013  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20279

The books of Richard Seymour skewer the predictable platitudes and puncture the sanctimonious pretensions of the "Pro-War Left," what was a transatlantic confederacy of journalists, public intellectuals, and bloggers that championed the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as a "humanitarian intervention."




"The Liberal Defence of Murder" is a polemic, based primarily on secondary readings, and makes no pretense of providing a balanced, well-rounded view of historical situations. Yet the cogency and sophistication of his achievement as an overall perspective should not be underemphasized. In conception, steely scholarship and piercing insights, it is a Marxist masterpiece of this particular genre.

With elegant asperity and mordant antipathy, Seymour undresses the unsavory record of the liberal apologists for empire in a sane and steady voice that will enrage many and enlighten more. He combines an electrifying and formidable historical study with close readings and incisive analysis, not to mention a brilliant eye for the horrible detail of hypocritical posturing.

In four trenchant and learned chapters, preceded and followed by a Prologue and Conclusion in coruscating prose, Seymour expertly traces the regularity with which liberal moralizing has been joined at the hip with bloody conquest. Beginning with the 17th century subjugation of Ireland, liberal ideas established the currently-deployed terms of discourse, such as "civilization" and "progress," to disguise genocide, slavery and occupation.

Using great erudition, rich prose and a rare ability to integrate sophisticated historical and sociological analysis, Seymour shows how Enlightenment liberals, victims of their own political fantasies at best, replaced an originally skeptical attitude toward empire with "an almost uniform support for the colonial enterprise" especially targeting those "who advocated the extension of self-government domestically" (27).


Hitchens worked assiduously to manufacture a persona as a rebel without a pause, waging war on clichés and spearing apostate leftists such as Paul Johnson and Conner Cruise O'Brien. Yet he ended up (and here Seymour quotes 18th century literary critic William Hazlitt) "a living and ignominious satire on himself." (110)

Some of Seymour's revelations [in "UnHitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens"] come as little surprise, less a shocking transformation than a series of confirmations, but it's still a devastating exposé. The scalpel is wielded lethally against Hitchens' soft spots for empire (India, the Falklands), infatuation with Margaret Thatcher (who is said to have play­fully swatted him on the butt), turnabout on the Balkan wars (when he discovered his affinity for neoconservatives), deteriorating relation to Islam (connected with his role in the Salman Rushdie affair and friendship with Ahmed Chalabi), bashing of religion (as barbarism), and his 2002 abandonment of socialism (but not Marxism!).

In this book, Hitchens cascades rightward like the unstoppable BP oil spill until he finally takes the oath of American citizenship presided over by Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security under Bush. Yoking into an orderly fashion all these heterogeneous positions in 100 pages must have been as hard as keeping together mercury on a dish.

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