Friday, September 03, 2004
Revenge of the Middlebrow posted by Richard SeymourSomeone has to tell Johann Hari the truth. Cuddly though he is, he's developing a rather severe literary tic and needs to rectify it.
Item: His wild concatenation of distortions and fibs while reviewing George Galloway's book. Wild accusations included the suggestion that Galloway was close to endorsing suicide bombings, supported Saddam's claim to Kuwait and longed for democracies to be replaced by neo-Stalinist dictatorships. Every single one of those charges, which allegedly originate from a close reading of Galloway's book, turn out to be untrue.
Item: His recent bungled interview with Antonio Negri , in which he managed to be both ignorant and precocious. He seems to have lifted much of his material directly from another source without crediting the original (a technique known as plagiarism), and ends by describing Negri as an "old terrorist who needs us to forget". The accusations of terrorism have never been proven, of course, and seem to be confections of the Italian state.
Item: His series of devastatingly idiotic attacks on Noam Chomsky in which he managed to impute statements to the Gnome which were either untrue or distortions. He also recycles the charge that Chomsky has engaged in a "long-standing dismissal of the Cambodian genocide as 'American propaganda'", which suggests that Hari has not read Chomsky's recent work and in all probability has not even read the original text usually cited to back up such claims (After the Cataclysm: The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volume II). In fact, if I were to speculate - and okay, I will - I would suggest that Hari is going on the fabulations in Francis Wheen's recent book, How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World.
Item: In this recent article , Johann takes exception to the high esteem accorded Eric Hobsbawm. He says Hobsbawm "remains an unapologetic defender of Stalinism", (even though he had previously averred that "Hobsbawm is not a Stalinist" ), and further argues that:
He is the David Irvine of the left. Why do so many decent people associate themselves with him? I can only conclude that we have not seriously thought about the victims of the tyranny he defends.
Hobsbawm certainly got it profoundly wrong about the Soviet Union - but he did at least acknowledge after 1989 and all that, that "it was clearly not a workers' state". In the book Hari reviews (Interesting Times), Hobsbawm acknowledges that "we kept our eyes and ears shut about things like the trials," and suggests that he "couldn't conceivably defend the Stalinist terror." The main point, however, is that Hari describes Hobsbawm as "the David Irvine of the left". The reason Hobsbawm is so well-liked and reputed is that he is Britain's best living historian. He is both reliable and readable. Irvine, by contrast, has been shown in a court of law to have been responsible for gross historical cover-ups in the service of the Nazi state.
Now, the one thing that unites these various prat-falls is that it begins with a precocious attempt to bring down a respected or significant figure on the Left and ends with an outlandish accusation (or several), the effect of which is to liven up what would otherwise be unexceptional prose. It is hard to resist the conclusion that Hari resorts to such tactics because the whole point of his effort is to undermine the reputation of figures whose work he has barely read or understood.