The Deification of Political Opinion

Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic is discussing the legacy of Christopher Hitchens and the reactions to his death by various commentators, including discussion of whether “not speaking ill of the dead” should apply to public figures. I was struck by this quote of a quote:

As Cook put it: “it must not be forgotten in mourning him that he got the single most consequential decision in his life horrifically, petulantly wrong”

Is this someone being rather hard on Hitchen’s strident atheism, which went to extremes such as loudly mocking Mother Teresa and her work in the most excessive and vulgar terms? Is some health nut going after his heavy smoking and binge drinking? Is some woman upset by the way his literary bad boy persona spilled over into his relationships? No, the topic is Hitchen’s opinion on the Iraq War:

indeed: “People make mistakes. What’s horrible about Hitchens’ ardor for the invasion of Iraq is that he clung to it long after it became clear that a grotesque error had been made…”

I could see someone arguing that the Iraq War was the “single most consequential decision” in President Bush’s life, or Dick Cheney’s life, or even that of some major military figure. But Hitchen’s was a literary and opinion journalist. That his thoughts on the Iraq War could somehow end up being the most “consequential” in his life suggests a view in which simply having a political opinion on some issue of the day is more important in one’s life than anything one actually does.

This seems like an increasingly common way of thinking. As people decide that they are “basically good people” and banish morality from the bedroom, the living room, and the board room, they come to see morality as being the alignment with larger groups on the big issues of the day. Only the scrupulous worry about the morality of the mundane. Instead, morality is determined by how one addresses the big capitalized phrases of the moment: the War on Terror, Poverty, Inequality, Gay Rights, the Environment, etc.

This, it seems to me, couldn’t be more backwards. Sure, what one thinks on various matters of the day is indicative of one’s moral and personal choices, but the most consequential decisions of our lives are those we make about how we treat those around us on a day in and day out basis — and whether we accept as the ruler and guide of those decisions our Maker.

6 Responses to The Deification of Political Opinion

  • c matt says:

    Can’t say I disagree with you. I would have thought the quote referenced his atheism. Seems that is of far more consequence to Hitchens (or just about anyone) on a personal level than most political opinions (abortion may be up there).

  • FR FRANCIS says:

    We are part of the human family. Attitudes and conduct toward others is rarely different from how we see others. Anyone who has no sense of the sacredness of the Human will have little or no “cruise control” on his thoughts, actions and speaking or writing about Mother Teresa or war. We have admitted and professed and militant atheists. More troublesome is we have politicians, journalists commentators and bishops who act as if they have absolutely no sense of the sacredness of human life, privacy, reputation. They may say the right things about human life’s sacredness but in practice show themselves as atheists.

  • RR says:

    I immediately knew the quote was about Iraq. It’s the single biggest issue on which he was decidedly not left-wing. We reserve our greatest condemnations for those who claim to be one of us. Pro-choice Catholics, RINOS, and self-described leftists who supported the Iraq war.

  • T. Shaw says:

    Let’s compare Hitchens’ position to Obama who was against it before he was for the Iraq War.

    Dave Carter: “Thanking the troops for a job well done at Ft. Bragg today, President Obama alternately praised a strategy he had previously assailed, thanked troops he had previously accused of killing civilians and air raiding villages, and took credit for an endeavor he had once called dumb. As far as these things go, it was vintage Obama.”

    The more (thankfully indirect) contact I have with them the less I wonder at how intellectual leftists were taken in by Obama: a nobody who is so dull and so illogical.

    I must conclude that intellectuals are no smarter than the rest of us. They only think they are.

  • Hollywood pioneered this type of “morality”. “Yeah, I may have five failed marriages, be a terror to work with, use copious drugs in my spare time, engage in some sex with minors and generally treat other people like garbage, but since I hold the right political opinions and hate all the right people, I am a good person!”

    Liberal comic Mort Sahl has been noting this for decades:

    “Asked about his infamous friendships with Ronald Reagan, Alexander Haig and George H.W. Bush and whether such alliances compromised his reputation as a radical truth teller, he said, “I’ve written for a lot of politicians — the Republicans are the only ones who pay me!” He laughed hard. “It all comes down to whether or not you’re honest with yourself. A lot of people have no intellectual capacity and operate on this instinctual masculine fatalism. Right-wing guys are honest about who they are and liberals are honest about what they wish we all could be — that’s not being honest with yourself. If I talk to people today about John Wayne, for instance, and I mention The Sea Chase and James Warner Bellah or somebody they don’t like politically, they won’t acknowledge their art.

    Nowadays, you open up what’s supposed to be a left-wing newspaper and you get a cartoon of Dick Cheney with his fly open. Bush is supposed to be the bad guy and you’re supposed to be morally superior, and this is what you do? Come on! When all you do is label the opposition as the enemy, you run the risk of becoming sophomoric in your understanding of the world.”

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