A Shameful Confession

by Belle Waring on March 25, 2006

Until recently, I thought that famous quote about the king and the priests and the entrails and the running and the explosions and the monkeys was from Professor Frink Diderot. I learn now that the source of the quote was Jean Meslier, whose bloody aspirations ran as follows: “Je voudrais, et ce sera le dernier et le plus ardent de mes souhaits, je voudrais que le dernier des rois fût étranglé avec les boyaux du dernier prêtre.” Worse, the form of the Diderot quote I had in mind was wrong. Diderot actually had this to say, in Les Éleuthéromanes, “Et ses mains ourdiraient les entrailles du prêtre/Au défaut d’un cordon pour étrangler les rois.” In a move reminiscent of a young Ben Domenech, however, one dastardly Jean-François de La Harpe attributed to Diderot the following version in his Cours de Littérature Ancienne et Moderne: “Et des boyaux du dernier prêtre/Serrons le cou du dernier roi.” Due to a distinct lack of blogswarms in the 1840’s, the error was never uncovered. I hope that after a sufficient period of contrition, perhaps involving live-cam self-flagellation, you all will someday be able to give my judgments about wankery the respect they deserve. In the meantime, Hitchens is still a wanker.



John Quiggin 03.25.06 at 5:45 am

I always thought it was Diderot, too. But I’ll pass on the live-cam self-flagellation.


Kieran Healy 03.25.06 at 7:16 am

C’est la vie, plus c’est la même joie de vivre, I suppose.


Belle Waring 03.25.06 at 7:34 am

aw, c’mon JQ, you’re hurting my tender feelings.


Brendan 03.25.06 at 7:40 am

Since we are nit picking I should point out that Oliver Kamm’s tribute to Hitchens (in this context) states: ‘you should be aware that he has always been an accomplished literary critic with an impressive stock of cultural knowledge. ‘

A moment’s thought will reveal that this statemenet is obviously false. Kamm means ‘is’ by ‘has always been’ but his preference for the complex (but false) over the simple (but true) has misled him as it has so many times in the past. It is not true that Hitchens ‘has always been’ an accomplished literary critic, or any kind of literary critic. He wasn’t such before he was born, for example. Or before he went to school, unless he was a very clever little boy.

The fact that Kamm’s ‘correction’ about something that Belle never claimed (it is actually irrelevant whether or not this is an illusion to Diderot or not. The point is: is Hitchens a psychopath?)…..to repeat the fact that his ‘correction’ itself contains inaccuracies tells you a lot about Kamm’s modus operandi.


Barry 03.25.06 at 8:54 am

“…live-cam self-flagellation…”

Well, that should increase CT’s hit ranking, for certain searches.


Barry 03.25.06 at 8:56 am

Brendan: “The fact that Kamm’s ‘correction’ about something that Belle never claimed (it is actually irrelevant whether or not this is an illusion to Diderot or not. The point is: is Hitchens a psychopath?)…..to repeat the fact that his ‘correction’ itself contains inaccuracies tells you a lot about Kamm’s modus operandi.”

On Deltoid, Pharyngula, or one of the Science Blogs sites (IIRC), somebody pointed out that an article by some global-warming/ID guy contained a certain number of errors. However, on examining a couple of those errors, it turned out that each error actually contained several errors within itself. The blogger coined the term ‘fractal error’ for this.


lemuel pitkin 03.25.06 at 10:35 am

live-cam self-flagellation

There we go — instant googlewhack!


Barbar 03.25.06 at 11:19 am


P O'Neill 03.25.06 at 11:30 am

In fact Hitch should get extra wanker points for being a pseud as well. The French allusions seem to be a way to show that’s not just another wingnut e.g. regarding Garrison Keillor’s slam of Bernard Henri-Levi:

The French eat frogs and horses, fetishize fromage, practice loose gallantry, chew raw garlic, and behaved badly enough under Vichy to make Woody Allen go see Marcel Ophüls’ Le Chagrin et la Pitié until he had it by heart.

At what point in Annie Hall is the film referred to as Le Chagrin et la Pitié?


Gene O'Grady 03.25.06 at 12:53 pm

Should we trust a WikiPedia article that claims that the guy became the priest of Etrepigny at the age of 11? Impossible unless his father was the pope, unlikely in the extreme in 17th century France.


roger 03.25.06 at 1:01 pm

I think the strangling remark can be let pass as literary allusion. However, I have decided never, ever to read another piece that refers to our “comrades”, the Kurds. Especially as our comrades, the Kurds, recently burned down the museum in Halabja commemorating Saddam’s war crime of using chemical weapons to massacre Kurds because they are sick of being ruled by corrupt and dictatorial war lords without eliciting a peep from the man who has incorporated his tearful appreciation of the Kurdish atrocities into his conversion story: how I went from witless anti-war sap to muscular belligerant.

In fact, one of the collateral casualties of this war might well be Northern Iraq’s fragile concord. The place went into civil war in the 90s, and that could well happen again.


Brendan 03.25.06 at 3:13 pm

‘However, I have decided never, ever to read another piece that refers to our “comrades”, the Kurds.’

Chris Morris once had a good sketch in which AIDS suffers were divided into those who had ‘good AIDS’ and ‘bad AIDS’ (people with ‘good aids’ had caught it in ‘non-morally challenging ways’ (e.g. haemophiliacs) whereas people with ‘bad aids’ caught it from gay sex). Likewise we always have to remember that there are ‘good Kurds’ and ‘bad Kurds’ for the Keyboard Kommandos. Good Kurds are in Iraq, bad Kurds are in Turkey (and non-existent Kurds are in Iran and Syria…most of the self-professed ‘Kurd Lovers’ are actually unaware that there are Kurdish communities in these countries).

In any case, a good way to shut them up is to ask: ‘are you, or are you not, in favour of a Kurdish homeland?’ (i.e. a Kurdish state on the model of Israel). And remind them that the answer is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ not some irrelevant waffle about minority rights etc.


Jeremy 03.25.06 at 5:59 pm

Nice try.


Ian 03.25.06 at 6:02 pm

Belle – note that your citing the original French makes you both a wanker AND a pseud (Comment 9).

Larger point: Some readers presumably have limitless tolerance for these “Hitchens is a wanker!” schoolyard pile-ons. And probably some don’t. Me, I read CT because it’s one of the few political blogs in which the posts and comments (sometimes… occasionally) rise above prepared positions and shed a little light. If I want a mob scene I can go to [insert blog-name of choice]. Hitchens is often wrong-headed and incoherent, but the ongoing fascination he still holds for you guys suggests that his arguments, rather than his soundbites, might actually be worth extracting and engaging with. Silly, silly me.


jacob 03.26.06 at 12:28 am

If Bell is a wanker and a pseud for posting, what am I for failing entirely to understand what this post and the subsequent thread is about? Other than clueless, that is.


Belle Waring 03.26.06 at 12:35 am

dear sweet holy gods of the internet! where is the html sarcasm tag when you need it? it’s supposed to be funny that I tediously and pompously quoted the french for no reason, because the original complaint was so….aw, fergettit. it’s like casting squirrels before pine around here. jacob, if you scroll down you’ll see me making fun of Christopher Hitchens for sounding like a barely repressed psychopath, and then other people getting angry because I didn’t tell them in the post what he was quoting from in his bloody-minded eloquence.


Brendan 03.26.06 at 8:13 am

I think the point goes a bit beyond Hitchens being a ‘wanker’ or not. The fact that one of the few literate proponents of the invasion increasingly sounds like a serial killer says a lot about the ‘moral case for regime change.’


Doctor Slack 03.26.06 at 12:31 pm

Ian: Some readers presumably have limitless tolerance for . . .

Oh, come off it. The CT that I’ve been reading regularly has never been dedicated to utter humorlessness, and has been “extracting and engaging with” what passes for Hitchens’ arguments for quite a while. If you don’t think they’ve earned the right to a few jokes at the guy’s expense, you haven’t been paying attention.


Ian 03.26.06 at 3:03 pm

Dr S – play me back the part of the tape where I said nobody should ever make fun of Hitchens. What I *did* say was that playing to the gallery, and the gallery’s response, pretty soon gets tiresome. For some people. For others, “limitless tolerance” etc etc.


Franco 03.26.06 at 3:17 pm

Nice try.

What you said, Jeremy.

I’ve reread the original post and can find no indication that the poster was remotely aware of the allusion to Diderot/Meslier.


Doctor Slack 03.26.06 at 3:19 pm

Ian: And the appearance of a couple of posts joking about Hitchens prompts you to talk about “limitless tolerance” why, exactly?


Ian 03.26.06 at 5:43 pm

Dr S – It was one post. With 182 comments. Followed soon after by another post. With 55 comments. And now this thread, which is not primarily about Hitchens but that hasn’t deterred the usual obsessing.

It’s not just the rote Hitchens-bashing. I’d react the same way in the case of a hate figure I feel less ambivalent about. A thorough and measured demolition of Michelle Malkin’s hypocrisies, yes; 100 comments offering minor variations on “Malkin is a lying bitch”, no. You may feel differently. And I’d enjoy a joke about Malkin. If it was a *good* joke.

I was aware of the earlier CT discussion you cite, Dr S. I thought of mentioning it in my initial comment, but “See how good you can do when you really try” would have sounded a tad patronising…


brooksfoe 03.27.06 at 5:44 am

I’ve been looking and looking through my complete works of Diderot for anything about explosions or monkeys, and I’m still not coming up with anything.

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