Firing Line: Is There a Liberal Crack-Up? (1984)
Source: The Hoover Institution
William F. Buckley Jr: The failure of the Democratic Party in the national election is generally conceded to have told us something about the collapse of liberalism as we have known it during the past half-century.
There are those who:
a) Insist the pieces can be picked up and reassembled,
b) Those who feel we should be grown up about the collapse of liberalism, and move to the realism of conservative policies,
c) Those who believe we should push out to the Left
We have no representative here today of the first point of view—to argue that Humpty-Dumpty could be put together again. Accordingly, we will ventilate the other two alternatives.
Buckley: I should like to begin by asking Mr. Tyrrell whether he interprets the events of last November as signifying, in any way, a conscious national retreat from liberalism.
R. Emmett Tyrrell: Well you know, the Carter administration, in my opinion, showed that liberalism could no longer run a country, and the Mondale campaign of this past fall indicates to me that you can’t even run a campaign on liberalism. It’s almost unthinkable—It’s almost unthinkable, Bill, that—that uh, 20 or 30 years ago, there would be so much ideological pressure on an American political—on a democratic candidate that he’d leap to choose a third term congresswoman with such unsavory contacts as the Mulberry Street connection.
Buckley: Well, you’re talking now about the incompetence of a presidency, and incompetence of a campaign, but I asked a question a little bit different. Namely, do you see a conscious retreat by people who generate popular enthusiasm for what we think of as liberalism? …Or is it simply a reaction to an incompetent campaign?
Tyrrell: No—I do—I put it differently. It seems to me—the reason I mentioned the campaign was—the campaign—there were such ideological pressures on Walter Mondale that he couldn’t run—a signifi—a, uh, an effective campaign. And with respect to a ‘withdrawal’ from liberalism, I would use an entirely different term; I would say it’s a ‘crack-up.’
And, as far as the liberalism of the past goes, it’s my contention in The Liberal Crack-Up that there’s a disjunction between The New Deal and the present—present new age—the present riot of new age liberalism. The riot of enthusiasms that are contradictory, and idiotic, and amusing.
Buckley: This disruption is caused by, what? A false evolution? The New Deal grew into something called McGovernism, which you’re saying is an illicit growth? Or—
Tyrrell: No, it was brought on by success. I mean, nothing destroys a political movement more than success. And in the sixties and the seventies, the liberals achieved most of the things that they set out to achieve—particularly welfare and civil rights—and then were overtaken by a lust for power. They refused to notice that they had indeed achieved these things, and they refused to notice that the problems that were now being faced by the American people were different problems. Namely, the problem of continued prosperity.
Buckley: Well, Mr. Hitchens, what are your remarks on the implications of these last two defeats? Do you think it was simply reactive against incompetence, or do you think it actually was a rejection of implied political philosophy?
Christopher Hitchens: Well, I never thought I’d hear myself, uh, saying this, but I’d like to recall to you a very striking phrase, I thought a rather clever phrase, of Norman Podhoretz—commenting on the 1980 victory of the Reagan/Bush team—um, I think in Commentary—and saying ‘this is the election that Watergate postponed.’ I thought that was a clever remark; I also thought it was more revealing than it was intended to be..
In order to take the line of ‘crack-up’ that Mr. Tyrrell has offered us, in his book and elsewhere, you’ve got to really believe that it was a good thing that George McGovern lost the 1972 election. Now, I think that’s quite a hard position to uphold. I don’t think that a liberal—a socialist like myself, or any other kind of radical, can look back and say it’s a jolly good thing that Nixon/Agnew won at that time. We, had McGovern won, would have been spared—as well as Mrs. Kirkpatrick of the United Nations, and various other bizarre phenomena in the democratic party.
We’d have been spared the appalling corruption, mounting practically to a coup against the Constitution in Washington. I think we would have been spared the particularly abysmal way that the Vietnam and Cambodian wars ended, and we would have been spared the 1974 near-war between Greece and Turkey, and the destruction and dismemberment of Cyprus.
Buckley: Up until now I’ve been spared knowledge that we came close to a Constitutional coup—tell me more about it.
Hitchens: Well, in my view what was at stake at Watergate was not merely, as it were, the right of those at the top or in power to line their pockets or appoint their friends, but it was, under especially Attorney General Mitchell, the use—and this I call ‘high corruption’—of police and other federal agencies, as if they were private property. The use of the IRS, the FBI, and the CIA against political opponents—against pluralism, as it were, I mean a very serious, as it were, configuration of corruption.
Buckley: You may be a little bit behind in your readings of what happens in America.. It was Robert Kennedy, for instance, who got the sex tapes on Martin Luther King; it was FDR who engaged in tapes just as fast as the evolution of technology permitted him to do so. So you—and uh, lot’s of friends of Roosevelt got rich—
Hitchens: I—I think you’ll find—My withers, Mr. Buckley, are unwrung. I mean, I never tire of pointing that out in every review of a Kennedy depredation that I do. In fact, I’m on record—I think this week in the literary review—about that in a review of the Collier-Horowitz book on the Kennedys. Of course everyone has done it.
I’m saying that in Watergate quantity was turning into quality—that there was an attempt to institutionalize the use of agencies of the state as a private political police force. If you don’t think that’s more serious, then that’s your problem and not mine.
Buckley: I would take it more seriously if it were so, but I think that the FBI was used much more widely by the predecessors of Mr. Nixon, for such purposes as you describe, as by Nixon. I’m really mildly surprised that you think that Mr. Nixon’s political appetite to control others ever reached to the limits that LB Johnson’s—uh, LBJ’s did—a position, by the way, which is reiterated by many friends of LBJ’s political program.
Hitchens: Mr. Buckley, if I was to say to you that the government of Poland is a grand tyranny against its people, and you were to say ‘yes, but so is Czechoslovakia and so is Hungary,’ what is the point you’re making?
You mention many enemies—you mention other enemies of mine in an attempt to deflect from, what must be, surely, an obvious point, which is that the Nixon victory in 1972—the beginning of what we’re asked to hail and be pleased about as a ‘Liberal crack-up’—was a disaster for the United States. For its democracy and for its institutions.
Tyrrell: This why is the—
Hitchens: Or would you, I mean, perhaps you—you haven’t said, Mr. Tyrell, would you rather—
Buckley: It was certainly a disaster for Cambodia, and certainly a disaster for South Vietnam. Unhappily, it was a democratically-controlled house, a democratically-controlled senate that sealed the coffin there in that situation. I’m not saying that Caligula is the same as LBJ, and that I have to mention him if I mention Nixon. I was simply isolating your remark that we had evolutionized (sp) in America into a situation in which we were uniquely menaced, which is anti-historical.
Tyrrell: But imagine, by the way, thinking that the presidency of George McGovern would’ve somehow been a great moment for American public policy and statecraft. I mean, this is the thing about it—this is—I mean you—I mean— (unintelligible)
Hitchens: Yes, I’m—I’m not a praiser of politicians, but I don’t find—I think it was yesterday in your column in The Post you referred to the McGovern campaign as ‘gaudy’ campaign, which had struck me as a most extraordinary use of words for someone so, as it were, painfully honest and un-glamorous. Um, I just maintain—
Tyrrell: You didn’t think the mob surrounding him was gaudy?
Hitchens: No, I certainly did not. I mean, who on Earth do you have in mind? Thomas Eagleton?
Tyrrell: The whole—the whol—well Tom—it was rather bizarre—that was a bizarre moment.
Hitchens: Spectacular. You might say he was a spectacular person, I think ‘gaudy’ would be pushing it a little. I simply—
Buckley: He was surrounded in my view, but—
Hitchens: I just think people should be, um—
Tyrrell: You—you thought those people were kind of Brooks Brothers—types?
Hitchens: I think that people should accept the logical and probable consequences of what they say. What you say is it was a good thing—or what you must believe is that it’s a good thing that Nixon/Agnew won that election.
Tyrrell: Oh god, yes.
Hitchens: I say that’s the root problem with the book you’ve written.
Buckley: As a matter of fact, I tend to agree more with you (gesturing toward Hitchens), but for reasons that will leave you unsmiling. Namely that, uh—
Hitchens: Ah, I expected no less.
Buckley: I would much rather have had McGovern be there when we let down our allies in Southeast Asia, than to have had Nixon do it. Nixon’s preoccupation with Watergate did two things.
Number one: It preoccupied him.
Number two: It weakened executive power, so that congress was able to do that which it most probably could not have done under other circumstances. As I say, I would rather McGovern have presided over those four years than Nixon.
Hitchens: No, actually you um—unfortunately you um—you fail at your effect. Your answer does make me smile, because you haven’t got the point that Watergate was the nemesis of a system of lying and deceit that originated in the need to lie about the war in Indochina—Vietnam and Cambodia. That was what necessitated the making of the lying and deceit, and the destabilization of opponents at home—
Buckley: I thought it was original sin— (smirking)
Hitchens: —into an institutional rather than a random political matter.
Buckley: In the first place, the principle lie—if you’re going to taxonomize these things— dates back to Governor Tom Kean, which had nothing to do with a Republican administration, which was accepted by the senate with only two dissenting votes, and which was proclaimed by Lyndon Johnson, so that if—
Hitchens: Why do you feel this, somehow, negates what I say? The fact that it was a democrat and—
Buckley: Well, I don’t doubt, Mr. Hitchens, that you don’t like the American system. You’re perfectly free to despise it. I don’t like you to say, simply conveniently, that that which you don’t like is exclusively associated with republican presidents, that’s all.
Hitchens: I made no such, um, allegation. We’re discussing—
Buckley: Sure you did, you’re talking about the unique dangers of the Watergate Era, with Nixon—
Hitchens: —We’re discussing liberalism. I made the citation of George McGovern. It seems to me that by saying, of George McGovern—’he isn’t Lyndon Johnson’—one’s sticking to the truth—and to say Lindon Johnson’s a Liberal is stretching it even further—
Tyrrell: Oh my god, you see—
Hitchens: —than Mr. Tyrrell does in his book.
Tyrrell: Here we are.
Buckley: He’s much worse than Lyndon Johnson. Anybody who had voted for Henry Wallace and refuses to apologize for it 25 years later is saying, in effect, that he was perfectly comfortable with Stalinist policies and with conciliation toward Stalinism in Europe. And George McGovern, who is a friend of mine, simply declines to apologize for the equivalent of voting for Hitler in 1932.
Hitchens: Well, there may be loyalty tests you can set that he can’t pass, but I still think that to mention him and Lyndon Johnson in the same breath—say they’re both Democrats, which means that they’re almost liberals, and therefore that proves it—is worse than the ahistorical, uh, that you accuse me of. I thought we were sticking to liberalism at the moment, Mr—
Buckley: Well they both, they both call themselves liberals—they both call themselves liberals—
Tyrrell: How can we stick to liberalism if—how can we even discuss liberalism with you if you won’t accept that, that George McGovern was a liberal—or, I mean that, uh, LBJ was a liberal?
Hitchens: Oh, I’m sorry, I’m claiming that uh—
Tyrell: —You know, we have a real problem here. We should get a bircher here too, because you two, with your extreme—
Hitchens: You know, I think— (irritated)
Tyrrell: —with your extreme views of politics in this country would get along perfectly.
Hitchens: No, but I think it’s helpful that you claim Johnson’s a Liberal because I think it shows what the essential category mistake of your book is: that a liberal is someone who you call a liberal. And, the elasticity of your definition allows you to have a fair old—
Tyrrell: What do you—
Hitchens: —a fair old romp. But I mean, if you can find—if you—if you—
Buckley: In one of his books, John Dewey—some patient scholar undiscovered (sarcastic)—used the word, uh, ‘liberal’ to mean 23 different things, and it’s true about the elasticity of the word. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that Woodrow Wilson said, ‘The history of liberalism is a history of man’s efforts to restrain the growth of government.’
Hitchens: To be sure.
Buckley: So, we acknowledge this—but as ‘liberal’ is used, let’s say an ‘ADA liberal’ is something both of them would have designated themselves as being—how’s that?
Hitchens: …Well Johnson and the ADA were not pals.
Tyrrell: Oh, for god’s sake. Johnson—
Buckley: No, no, no—the ADA opposed Johnson back when he was thought of as being a southern degenerate. They were wildly enthusiastic about him ever since. The president of the ADA, John Kenneth Galbraith, as recently as two weeks ago, said that LBJ was a great saint of liberalism, unfortunately tainted by the commitment to the Vietnamese War.
Hitchens: Well, that’s like saying, as Hemingway said about your aunt, ‘if she had cajones,’ would be your uncle. I mean, you can’t, as it were, uh, abstract Vietnam from it in that way.
Buckley: Now, wait a minute, okay—in that case John F. Kennedy is not a liberal, since it was he who very much encouraged those alliances, which we pursued. It was John F. Kennedy who made the initial commitment to Vietnam, pursuant to liberal policies which were born called the arsenal of democracy, and which suddenly is called the military-industrial complex.
Hitchens: Quite. Now that’s why—that’s helpful I think because that gets us nearer to the book, which I was anxious to plug, as Mr. Tyrell is. […] His book is an attack on the Left, with which I am prepared to associate myself, and I think we may have—though this may be intensely boring for everyone to watch—I think we’ve cleared the ground, in a sense. I mean, he’s not really attacking Lindon Johnson in this book, is he? He’s attacking the Left—
Buckley: Yes he is attacking Lyndon Johnson—
Hitchens: —He’s attacking the left that survived, and came out of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, and the movement against the Vietnam War.
Buckley: Well you say it—You say it, Mr. Tyrell—who you’re attacking..
Tyrrell: Well, I don’t — See, I’m a much more peaceful man than you are, Christopher, and I’m not attacking anyone. I’m merely describing what happened in the 1970s. And what happened in the 1970s uh, is uh—was the breakdown of American liberalism into a riot of enthusiasms. And if you would like to read—perhaps we have some organ music.. Bill, did you bring your harpsichord? Christopher’s about to read.
Hitchens: Um, I dont—
Buckley: Harpsichord makes for very poor organ music.
Hitchens: I don’t think that peaceful, um—peaceful isn’t a word I’m in search of… But if you say you don’t attack anyone, how come that you say:
The vast majority of feminists were disagreeable misanthropes. Horrible to behold—uncouth and unlovely. They were inferior women—contemptuous of the superior women who threw their charm and intellect and so often have been able to establish such enviable lives for themselves. — The Liberal Crack-Up (1984)
Hitchens: I could go on—I mean, I will if you like.
Tyrrell: Go on, it’s beautiful.
Hitchens: Why don’t you plug your own book?—I would say that was a critical uh, use of—language.
Tyrrell (Talking over Hitchens): I would say that was uh—in my opinion, that’s a clinical description.
Hitchens: Not elegant, not elegant, but certainly not peaceful.
Tyrrell: I’m just trying to point out I know the difference between agreeable women and disagreeable women.
Hitchens: Well, yes, you have a number of roguish asides about yourself on this point, but you have a certain warrant of gallantry when you discuss, uh, the Women’s Movement in general. One that I’m surprised in—someone who’s so fond of conservative affectations about the good old stylish days.
Tyrrell: Here we are again!
Buckley: Mr. Tyrrell, why—why do you actually say you don’t attack people?—Because you do..
Tyrrell: Well, I, I, uh, would like to make just one point here. This man has lived on terminological inexactitude. He’s lived on the misnomers that came out of the 1970s because these misnomers make it easier for him to make the ideological points he wants to make.
For instance, he just referred to ‘the Women’s Movement,’ and I suspect he doesn’t blanche when he see’s the New York Times refer to The National Organization for Women representing The Women’s movement, but what essentially, what of course, what he—to be precise, The Women’s Movement’ is a misnomer. It refers to some women’s movement. Those women being The feminists.
I mean, there is no such thing in this country as ‘the Women’s Movement.’ It doesn’t in any way represent the women I associate with. The feminists don’t in any way represent the uh, happy-go-lucky women I associate with.
Hitchens: I’m certain that’s so.
Tyrrell: —and uh, it doesn’t represent the views of all those who voted for Ronald Reagan.
Hitchens: I’m sure that’s true too.
Tyrrell: So in other words we’ve got you again, didn’t we?
Hitchens: And I’m sure a women would have to—I’m sure a woman would have to be.. I—somehow I don’t feel any sort of pain in my ribs, I—perhaps I should have noticed.. I know a raking over when I see one, and I know when I’ve been pronged.
Tyrrell: No, but, you—
Hitchens: No, I’m sure—I’m quite happy to grant you that a women would have to be happy-go-lucky to associate with you. But, uh, if I said the Women’s Movement—I don’t mean to say that I don’t recognize women as a sex, as well as a movement too. Terminological inexactitude is um, um—not what you meant to say, is it?
Tyrrell: It’s exactly what you—it’s exactly what you—
Hitchens: It’s a euphemism for what you intended to say—you wanted to call me a liar.
Tyrrell: No, no, no. I wouldn’t call you a liar! Because I believe you are—
Hitchens: —Well you know the providence of the term?
Tyrrell: You are total—
Hitchens: (more forcefully) You know the providence of the term?
Tyrrell: You are totally deluded.
Hitchens: You understand the providence of the term?
Tyrrell: No, no, I’m not going to call you a liar. I believe that you really and truly do believe these things. I’ve seen your performance in The Nation—
Hitchens: I’ll state my position if it’s of any help to anyone. Um, I wasn’t living in America at the time, but I—I believe that the American left—American radicals, American liberals, many of them—in starting the Civil Rights Movement for black Americans, in combating an unjust war in Indochina, and in beginning the emancipation of women—the way we think about sex. Uh, changed the way everyone thinks, and the way everyone lives—far beyond the borders of the United States. It was a tremendous time, and the whole world is in debt to the American left, I’d rather call it, for those three enterprises.
Now, it’s true that they’re all now in rather low water, those movements. But I see no reason to sneer at them now, or to forget the grand contribution they made—unsurpassed by any—
Buckley: Worse than—
Hitchens: —any conservative rival.
Buckley: I think ‘sneering’ is not the right, uh, word—uh—
Hitchens: Dumping upon is the right word.
Buckley: —I would use, I would use uh, ‘high indignation’—and in one of the three you mentioned, a moral sense of true shame—to have guaranteed, as we did, that we would stand by the South Vietnamese to desert them is something which is plain shameful. Not—not just something you sneer about.
Now, let’s take Civil Rights—because in Mr. Tyrell’s book he talks about how what we—what we used to call liberals—uh, indeed insisted on something called equality. Uh, equality of opportunity, and how in Brown vs. Board of Education the Supreme Court of the United States said that it was un-American, and indeed unconstitutional, to take into account a person’s race, or color, or creed in deciding whether somebody goes to this school or the other.
Now, that has evolutionized (sp)—[into] something called Affirmative Action and into something now called ‘quotas.’ That um—is viewed by Mr. Tyrell—and a lot of liberals who endorsed uh, the Civil Rights movement at that time—specific offenses by Hubert Humphrey in a famous, uh, speech—as something that would never happen. And that is uh, a distortion, and in fact a return to a kind of racism—however involuted. Do—do you welcome what we call a distortion? —the quota system?
Hitchens: It’s probably the worst single problem we have on the left at the moment, because um, not only is it, as you say, known as, or reminds people of ‘quotas’—though I don’t believe ‘quotas’ is what it comes down to—it does involve a competition, for scarce resources, between two constituencies who’ve normally been on, as it were, our side. That’s to say, Jewish Americans and black Americans—and this has meant that life on our—on our wing of politics has been very tender.
I don’t believe that simply by legally abolishing discrimination you have abolished what led to it. The original singling out of black Americans—the original meaning of discrimination—where they were always mentioned, quota’ed, counted, and restricted—But by saying, that now stops, you avoid any responsibility for the past, and you avoid the very tangled question of how we’re going to make up for uh, the inherited disabilities.
Buckley: You’re making a cultural point. If you say, ‘art henceforth, it will be perfectly legal,’ as indeed it should be, ‘for blacks to enter a restaurant’ [that] does not guarantee that every table will have one black and one white patron.
Buckley: And, uh, the point is that any laws that sought to bring that about would be laws, which—if one were properly rounded philosophically—one would resist rather fiercely—certainly more fiercely than you have.
Hitchens: Hm. (laughs)
Buckley: Now, what about the business of um, the Women’s movement—I despise, and am horrified by, by the sharp rise in family desertion. And, it seems to me that there is abundant evidence to argue that there has been a correlation between the so-called Women’s movement—
Buckley: —And the neglect of children and broken homes.
Tyrrell: The whole movement, as a matter of fact, has been a terrible failure—a few minutes ago you talked about this as though this has been a great success—what’s happened to America. The truth of the matter is that a great many kids or—what is it, they’re called ‘latch-key’ children—they live without parents, there’s evidence that there’s a high incidence of juvenile delinquency associated with these kids that are raised in homes without a father on the scene.
And there’s also evidence that right within the Women’s Movement that—some of these women who, 20 years ago, were telling the young ladies of America to go out and get careers—you know, careers, not jobs, but careers—are now finding out that it didn’t come out so well and that the women ought to go back and establish friendly relations again with the opposite sex, and have children, and live the Ozzie and Harriet life once again.
I would feel a little bitter if I were a forty-five year old woman—who had given my life over to following the dictates of, of uh, Betty Friedan—and finding out that Betty had decided that on second thought, perhaps the women of America ought to go back—these 45 year-old women—ought to go back and become mothers again.
Hitchens: There’s a very good book, um, with a title in some ways similar to yours—much better book—by George Dangerfield—
Tyrrell: Well, what is it?
Hitchens: It’s called The Strange Death of Liberal England—it’s a wonderful book, you may have read it—it’s uh, A.J.P Taylor’s favorite—that may not commend it to you—
Tyrrell: Well he’s a kook—
Hitchens: That may not commend it to you—
Tyrrell: You know, you just live in a world full of kooks!
Hitchens: I mention it—you’re very sweet to say so—I mention it for this reason: It’s a wonderful evocation of pre-first-world-war Britain, when the old system—which was basically a liberal one—came under tremendous shocks from the movement for women’s suffrage, the movement to disengage from Ireland, and the rise of organized labor. And in the chapter on the rise of women’s suffrage, he describes beautifully all the morbid symptoms that appear when a long-repressed—especially of a sexually repressed group—begin to take their own measure.
The suffragette movement, simply for women’s franchise—for the right of women to vote—was attacked by all kinds of people for it’s weirdness, for the way that women started to dress as men, to neglect their families, to behave promiscuously—and many indeed of these symptoms, up to and including suicide, on some occasions, were indeed present. But when the air cleared, one could see that that was the result of the original repression.
And when you say that women are now, as it were, looking for ‘better relations’ with the people with whom they broke off when they had to—
Tyrrell: The opposite sex—
Hitchens: —you’re making my point. That’s a phase through which that movement had to pass. If you read, for instance, Barbara Ehrenreich’s—
Tyrrell: You believe American women were repressed throughout this century, eh?
Hitchens: If you read Barbara Ehrenreich’s wonderful book, uh, The Hearts of Men—socialist, feminist book—
Hitchens: You’ll see—which calls for—’now that we have more terms of equality,’ she said, ‘with which to negotiate, let’s make a deal with the men.’ ‘Half our children are going to be boys—’
Tyrrell: You don’t understand—
Hitchens: ‘we can’t get along without them'[…] men and women get married—as she wittily points out—’in exactly the same numbers’
Tyrrell: Yeah (incredulous)
Hitchens: —so, um, let’s do it, but lets do it now—because now we’re going to be taken more seriously; perfectly straightforward.
Tyrrell: But you don’t understand, that throughout this century here in America—with the exception of black people, particularly in the south—that this has been a free society, do you?
I mean you don’t—you think the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, for instance—to mention one of the repressive movements that rose up and disappeared in this country—you don’t believe that was dominated and run by women, do you? You think it was probably run by men, probably Buckley—the Buckley family. Hmm?
Hitchens: Um, I know there’s a joke there that I’ve missed. Uh, I’m slow-witted—
Tyrrell: The joke—the jo—well, had you read the book, you’d know that—
Hitchens: —Read it with care. Prepared to quote from it again—
Tyrrell: You’d know that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union had enormous amount of power in a country that you feel repressed women in the, uh, first part of this century.
Hitchens: Or, as you so brightly say:
Feminist demands are a horse-laugh. The average American woman has actually controlled two bodies, and sometimes more—usually by employing only one or two parts of her own. – The Liberal Crack-Up (1984)
Tyrrell: Pretty good, huh Christopher?
Hitchens: Yeah… I’m—I would’ve—I’m so glad I didn’t write it myself. The fact is, um—for your position to be—even humorous, you’d have to say that all the women who felt themselves excluded from large parts of American life—underpaid, or undervalued, or under-regarded, or in other ways taken for granted—were making it all up, that it was just a spree of neurosis. That all these ladies have been going on about—
Tyrrell: Pretty much, there are—
Hitchens: —That must be what you believe, and in fact I think it’s pretty evident that you do.
Tyrrell: Yeah, it’s pretty evident—
Buckley: Now wait, wait a minute, let me, uh—let me talk about something else that you said.
You suggested that inevitably post-emancipation there is a period of exorbitant behavior, and one oughtn’t be, uh, surprised by this, and there’s a certain sense in which what you say is not impossible to validate historically…
When the Latin Americans fought to free themselves from foreign tyrants, they submitted to their own tyrants. Exactly the same thing has happened in Africa—who’ve taken a long deep breath, 150 years have gone by and, uh, a few nations in Latin America flirting with democracy—it hasn’t quite happened substantially in Africa, but maybe it will in due course.
It’s certainly true that um, the whole notion that there would have to be oppression from the center after a socialist revolution, uh tended for a long time to immunize Stalin and before that Lenin, from the kind of criticisms that they had so abundantly.
I maintain however, that, uh, even if you’re making a sociologically interesting point—what you are by no means doing is justifying any cessation of criticism during this interval—that is to say:
If you do have a Colonel Idi Amin, uh—in exchange for the predecessor of colonial power—the fact that you say ‘this kind of thing is [bound] to happen,’ before it evolves into democracy, does not say therefore you shouldn’t be indignant about it or oppose it. And Mr. Tyrrell’s thesis really is that, uh, let us indeed hope that some of the extremist feminists go back and behave and worry about things like families—uh, but, why can’t we hasten that repatriation by, uh, sensible criticism?
Hitchens: Well, I don’t think it was sensible criticism that I was just citing. You’re—you’re—I have no quarrel with your methodology at all. But, in fact, Mr. Tyrrell is saying—and just did say, that he thinks the whole thing was just a spree, it was all made up, it was promiscuity and exorbitance for it’s own sake.
Tyrrell: —What whole thing?
Hitchens: That they had nothing to complain about—Now you’re point is much more challenging, for me because—I mean you raise the whole question of emancipation and at what cost it comes, uh, in at. And um, you mention Imin—
Buckley: Is there a necessary adolescent phase?
Hitchens: Yeah—um, the position we on the left keep finding ourselves in is the victims of a sort of three card trick. We take the example, of say, Iran—which Mr. Tyrrell dwells upon quite a lot. We’ve said, for a long time, it was a mistake to overthrow the government of Iran in 1954—a crime in fact. And a mistake to impose The Shah. We said if you keep the Shaw in power it won’t work. He’s a real failure, a real tyrant, and there will be hell to pay.
When the hell to pay actually comes, and we’re proved right, the chaos turns, on everybody—and who’s identified as the wrong person to have been? We are, for having told you! And we’re supposed to take the blame for the collapse of what we always opposed. Now, you know, this is the three card trick that is played throughout this book, and it’s played […] very widely at the moment by the Reagan campaign.
Tyrrell: But Bill, you see there—he believes in a world without problems—
Hitchens: Well, really?
Tyrrell: He believes—he’s an ideologue, and he has a set of—you’re an ideologue, you have this set of ideas here before you—this set of ideological desiderata before you, and you believe that […] if we live up to these desiderata, uh, everything will be alright—there won’t be problems. There won’t be difficulties in government in Iran, there won’t be difficulties in South America, there won’t be difficulties between a man and a woman.
Tyrrell: You are—I see now how the ideological mind has a utopian cast to it.
Hitchens: I’ll let the—I’ll let the viewers be the judge of whether I sound as if I believe any of that… I haven’t got time.