The wealth and poverty of nations

by Chris Bertram on August 23, 2006

Jeffrey Sachs, William Easterly (and Bono for that matter) can stop their bitching, Christopher Hitchens has “an explanation”: for a good deal of global destitution:

bq. … the mass murder of people on aeroplanes is a leading cause of poverty.

If only Larry Summers were still in post, he could have offered Hitch a job. (shamelessly stolen from “Marc Mulholland”: ).



Brendan 08.23.06 at 6:37 am

‘Imagine how furious we would be if it was the state that had made it hard to leave and return to Britain.’

Er…Christopher…it IS the state that is making it hard for us to leave and return to Britain. Or has Osama Bin Laden been put in charge in of British customs in some wacky equal opportunities mix up?


Michael Sullivan 08.23.06 at 7:51 am

Hah. You beat me to it, Brendan. I shot in here after reading the whole article to post that exact quote and make essentially the same comment.

The backing argument you left unsaid is that our current response is simply not a reasonable response to the threat on a long term basis (which it will be, look how long it took before we could carry on sewing scissors and nail clippers post 9/11).

The cost of our asinine “security crackdown” is completely out of proportion to the tiny benefit, as any legitimate security consultant will happily explain.

If we put in place the security measures that actually make sense, and stopped all the stuff that is essentially a stage shhow, we would have a much smaller effect on ease of air travel.


Mike Otsuka 08.23.06 at 7:52 am

“… the mass murder of people on aeroplanes is a leading cause of poverty.”

Yes, it’s a ridiculous claim. But this not entirely unrelated, albeit much more sober, claim is not:

“Hundreds of thousands of people were impoverished as a result of the bombs that killed almost 200 people in Bali in October 2002, a new report says.

The report, by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development (USAID)…”

Clcik here to read the rest:


Robin 08.23.06 at 9:09 am

Also look at his piece on Grass’s revelation of an SS-past in Slate today.

Is it me, or is Hitchens now reduced to making a bunch of weighty pronouncements without anything resembling an argument to back them up?


James Wimberley 08.23.06 at 9:18 am

Not Hitchens’ stupid point at all, but there’s something in the proposition: a major cause of Muslim and especially Arab poverty and backwardness is an obsession with political and cultural grievances, at the expense of making an honest buck through trade and secular learning (as in the early Caliphate they admire but fail to imitate). Contrast Hindus (there are paranoid, chauvinistic Hindu sectarians, but with less general sympathy), and even more the broadly Confucian cultures of East Asia. Even poor black Africans are more enthusiastic adopters of the Internet when they have the chance. The interesting exception to this dismal pattern is Malaysia, where Muslim grievances have been channelled into capitalist enrichment.


Chris Bertram 08.23.06 at 9:28 am

Yes I just read the piece on Grass. As it happens “I posted on Crabwalk”: on CT last February and Hitchens gives a (deliberately?) distorted account of its contents. Hitchens in Slate:

bq. there is Grass, publishing a large and cumbersome account of the sinking of a German civilian vessel in the Baltic in 1945, and titling it (in the same lineage of his many books about dogs, rats, snails, fish, and other beasts) Crabwalk.

It isn’t large and cumbersome (it is 250 pages or so) and it isn’t an account the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff (though it does contain one). The sinking of the Gustloff does organize the book, but much of it deals with the sinister neo-Nazi obsessions of the son of the central character. I’m sure Hitchens hasn’t read it.

My view on the Grass episode is that he is indeed diminished. You can’t spend your life calling for your fellow countrymen to be open and honest about the past whilst keeping your own Waffen SS membership secret. But the glee with which Hitchens and Oliver Kamm, and Brad DeLong, and, and, and … have piled on tells us a good deal about them.


dsquared 08.23.06 at 9:31 am

perhaps the subeditor mistakenly wrote “on” for “from” in the original copy?


kid bitzer 08.23.06 at 9:35 am

#5–you know what it tells us, James?

It tells us that “Muslims and especially Arabs” are plagued by the very same thing that is the matter with Kansas (see Thomas Frank).

Following religious superstition against economic interest is not unique to the Muslim world–it is what the Republican party has been counting on for the last few decades as its ticket to domestic dominance. And so far it has worked pretty reliably.

I’m all in favor of ecraser l’infame and all if we could, but the main thing to say here is: students of human nature got to stop being surprised by this.


otto 08.23.06 at 9:42 am

A little harsh on poor Larry…


Robin 08.23.06 at 9:50 am

Chris, while I think the assault on Grass is a bit over the top, grouping Delong with Kamm and Hitch is so unfair.


Chris Bertram 08.23.06 at 9:58 am

Generally yes, but not in relation to the Grass affair.


nick s 08.23.06 at 10:17 am

… the mass murder of people on aeroplanes is a leading cause of poverty.

As opposed to ‘phoning it in’, which is a leading cause of intellectual poverty.


rilkefan 08.23.06 at 11:18 am

“Chris, while I think the assault on Grass is a bit over the top, grouping Delong with Kamm and Hitch is so unfair.”

“Petty” came to mind instead of “unfair”, especially given “glee”, but whatever. Certainly the comment in question says more about Chris than DeLong.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 08.23.06 at 11:20 am

Dear James Wimberly,

First of all, comparatively few Muslims admire ‘the caliphate,’ and, in any case, your remark assumes there is one caliphate to which we are referring, which hardly makes sense. Your grandiose generalizations are simply awful. I suspect you would benefit from a careful reading of, at minimum, the following works:

Diamond, Larry, et al., eds. Islam and Democracy in the Middle East (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).

Henry, Clement M. and Robert Springborg. Globalization and the Politics of Development in the Middle East (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Humphreys, Stephen R. Between Memory and Desire: The Middle East in a Troubled Age (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999).

Khalidi, Rashid. Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2005).

Kuran, Timur. Islam & Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).

Richards, Alan and Joh Waterbury. A Political Economy of the Middle East (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2nd ed., 1996).

Warde, Ibrahim. Islamic Finance in the Global Economy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000).

Incidentally, I agree that secular educational institutions and the economic benefits of trade are important in Middle East and elsewhere. Of course the recent failure (at least for now) of the Doha round of trade talks in the WTO is, as Sungjoon Cho remarked at the International Economic Law and Policy blog,

‘a bad omen to the world’s poor. The collapse of the development round tends to turn the rich’s hitherto bombastic pledge for development aids a sheer hypocrisy. How could we improve the global peace and security when our poor neighbors are still in abject poverty? How could the poor get out of such poverty while they cannot sell their sole products, such as sugar, cottons and clothing, to the rich’s markets?

The U.S. has also lost handsomely in this debacle. The balance sheet of a successful Doha round speaks in favor of the U.S. economy in general. It means cheaper foods and cars as well as more jobs and incomes. Yet, special interests of those protectionists have prevailed, once again. This economic factionism is exactly what James Madison warned two hundred years ago.

Moreover, the U.S. has also blown out great opportunities to exercise its global leadership, especially in the wake of the war on terrorism. A successful development round led by the U.S. would have sent a strong signal to the international community that the U.S. truly cares for the world’s poor and is firmly committed to their welfare. This would have earned the U.S. more allies, and friends.’


abb1 08.23.06 at 11:27 am

There’s also Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil, by Mark LeVine.


otto 08.23.06 at 12:13 pm

Is the LeVine book good?


abb1 08.23.06 at 12:35 pm

I haven’t read it, but I heard the guy a couple of days ago and he sounds reasonable. Well, except that he begins every phrase with “when I was visiting [city in the ME] last year…”.


d 08.23.06 at 3:09 pm

This latest puddle of drool from Hitchens is fantastic, though it more or less riffs on Bush’s October 2001 speech at O’Hare, where he told Americans to take vacations, go to Disneyworld, and stick it to the “terrists” by flying the friendly skies and rebooting the American economy…..


roger 08.23.06 at 4:25 pm

Actually, I thought this sentence showed that Hitchens still clings to some shred of rationality:

“What excuse would you accept from someone who tried to bomb the jet that carried your parents or children? Low on the list would be the claim that such an atrocity would help, say, the Palestinians.”

Now we just substitute for “tried to bomb” did bomb, and we put place names in — oh, Fallujah, for instance — and we sprinkle in some other things — did shoot cars off the road, did search houses and kill unarmed men, did surround your town with barbed wire and berms, did chuckle while your country was looted — and finally we are ready to substitute for the last phrase “would help, say, American style democracy and free enterprise.” There you go, then. That didn’t hurt, did it? Soon we actually construct a primitive Other.

“What excuse would you accept from someone who bombed and razed your town, tortured your parents and children, searched your houses and killed unarmed men? Low on the list would be the claim that such an atrocity would help, say, free enterprise and democracy.”

How sweet! If Hitchens can get his head around the potential bombing of planes by what looks like an unprepared pack of twentysomethings, than maybe a real bombing/razingng of a city/imprisonment of a population and torture/etc., etc. will cause him to question the idea that the objects of these benificent enterprises just heart it – just see the bombing and splattering of their families as a path to liberation, find being tortured worth the price if they can just get that flat tax thing up and running, and being bermed in and guarded and risk having their cars shot at and their relations killed whenever they drive as a fair price to pay for the kindness and care of their occupiers.

I believe Hitchens can actually have this insight. I think he can complete the next step on Maslow’s ladder. I’m confident that soon, he’ll have the full moral dimensions of a twelve year old! Just think of the things that he’ll be able to write then.


Pithlord 08.23.06 at 11:04 pm

What’s with the slam against Summers?


Walt 08.23.06 at 11:38 pm

Pithlord: I think it’s an in-joke. Belle quoted Stephen Dubner making almost the exact opposite joke yesterday.


Omri 08.24.06 at 12:09 am

While we’re at it, there’s the slight matter of every single tourism-dependent Arab country (Morocco, Egypt et al) suffering from a drop in Western tourism post 9/11, and that is not because their governments clamped down on western travelers. Hitchens is right on this point.


ajay 08.24.06 at 5:58 am

“But the glee with which Hitchens and Oliver Kamm, and Brad DeLong, and, and, and … have piled on tells us a good deal about them.”

Well, go on – what does it tell us about them? You can’t just leave that hanging —

oh, it was an innuendo. Sorry. I thought you might actually have a point.


Oliver Kamm 08.24.06 at 10:14 am

The same question that Ajay raises has occurred to me. I was also puzzled by the charge that I had been gleeful about Grass’s revelations, so I wrote to the author of this post to ask him, just as a matter of interest, what he was talking about. I thought I had been at pains in my Times article to express a balanced and non-partisan appreciation of Grass’s literary output, in line with my view that aesthetic criteria are independent of politics. I should have been surprised if Bertram had been able to show how I had breached that principle in this or any other case. I’m not at liberty to quote his reply, but I think it’s permissible to disclose what it did not include, viz. any quotation from, or any reference to, anything I have written about Günter Grass. I think I can understand why Bertram prefers to keep the charge unfalsifiable.

This is a rum blog altogether. Supposedly commenting on an issue of moment for European culture, you elect to … attack Christopher Hitchens. In two sentences with a point that isn’t even your own. I don’t agree with his judgement on Grass’s works, but Christopher is a gifted literary critic with a great appreciation of European culture. He is, as Jonathan Rée writes in the new issue of Prospect, a great writer, and a thinker of depth, range and vigour. I suppose we should at least be thankful, from the standpoint of this blog’s quasi-academic pretensions, that there has been no reprise of the CT post that consists in calling Christopher a wanker and seeking further nominations for that title (it would be false modesty if I didn’t disclose my pleasure on noting my own appearance in that list).

The level of discussion on this site might be better served by approaching the subject of, e.g. (but unfortunately far from limited to), postwar German literature in its own terms rather in accord with its contributors’ political prejudices. I don’t know how far Bertram has read in this field (he has given scant evidence of such familiarity, especially in this post), but I recall he has on one occasion referred to a book by the late Max Sebald. Let me then refer him to another, Campo Santo, in which Sebald remarks (pp. 120-1):

In choosing Dürer’s demonstration of suffering [in his Melancholia] as the emblem of his own philosophy of mourning, Grass transcends the question of whether melancholy is a constitutional or a reactive condition, a question which ultimately cannot be clinically determined. It may be true that the chronicle of Grass’s journey through Germany would have been a far less intelligent book without that contrapuntal excursus into mourning, but it is equally true that there is something laboriously constructed about the excursus, making it rather like the performance of a historical duty.

Sebald’s characteristically astute insight seems to me an exceptionally fruitful path to understanding Grass’s political themes. I know that at least one sometime CT contributor, Steven Poole, has read Sebald’s book, because he reviewed it for The Guardian when it was published in English last year. Perhaps in the circumstances this site might wish to give some serious thought to Grass’s place in German political history and letters. Alternatively you could just fester where you are.


Oliver Kamm 08.24.06 at 10:47 am

Apologies for my careless reading: the post is not about Grass, but Bertram has introduced the subject in this thread. My point remains.


Oliver Kamm 08.24.06 at 10:52 am

Or to be precise, Bertram introduced the subject of Grass via the party line on Hitch. I wouldn’t wish to accuse Bertram of an independent interest in German literature.


Henry 08.24.06 at 12:15 pm

Oliver – this is quite a ridiculous set of claims. First – contrary to what you say Chris did _not_ introduce the subject of Grass into this thread, in the post or otherwise. See comment 4 by Robin. Second, Chris has an abiding and continued interest in German literature, and has posted on Sebald and Grass in the past, on their own terms. You seem to be staking out a claim to superior authority here, but I’m not sure on what basis you might justify this – an extraordinary degree of pomposity and a silly and exaggerated predilection for Latinate phrasing do not a credible qualification make (Thomas Browne could get away with the latter, but he had interesting, subtle and complex arguments, and was furthermore writing a few hundred years ago). Nor is a claim without supporting arguments that Christopher Hitchens is a “great writer” convincing except to the already convinced – indeed I personally find it to be hilarious (he has, or used to have, an extraordinary prose style, but that on its own does not a great writer make). Third, you claim not to be “gleeful” and to be making a “balanced and non-partisan appreciation of Grass’s literary output, in line with my view that aesthetic criteria are independent of politics.” Interested readers may wish to consult your “piece”: for themselves – they may, like me, feel that the title “Why Grass deserves to have his writing hurled back in his face” (a paraphrase of something that you say in the article) smacks of considerable glee. As for your purported “view” that “aesthetic criteria” are “independent of politics,” I’ll point out that this isn’t the first time that the two seem to have collided in your work. Chris Wilkinson gave you what seemed to me a thoroughly well-deserved smacking down in the _Financial Times_ a couple of months ago, for a very similar and equally silly article on Brecht. Quoting Wilkinson

It is true that, in private, Brecht’s views on Stalin were considerably more ambiguous. But this hasn’t prevented a string of critics from lining up clutching hammers and sickles to beat him with. The latest of these is the journalist Oliver Kamm. Writing in The Times earlier this year, he described Brecht as “a big propagandist for . . . an orthodox communism that followed every twist of Stalin’s whims.” The American writer Richard Grenier, who interviewed Brecht in the early 1950s, used similar terms in 1989, calling him “the East German regime’s most servile defender . . . [who] followed every zig and zag of the party line, always without the slightest qualification, even with zeal”.

It is impossible to dismiss Brecht’s political opinions when looking at his work in the way we might dismiss, say, Pirandello’s fascism. Pirandello’s views had little bearing on his plays, whereas with Brecht, as the scholar John Willett has pointed out, “no creative artist’s politics were ever less independent of his work”.

But equally, we should not confine ourselves to the “you’re either with us or you’re with the Stalinists” mentality of some critics. If Brecht’s Marxism forced him, in life, into a polarised world view that necessitated his support of a red-tinted tyranny, in his art it provided an ideal base for him to explore the moral ambiguities that arise in the conflict between an individual and his social conditions. His most important plays are driven by the question of how we can be moral in the face of adversity. As the narrator in The Caucasian Chalk Circle dryly notes when the heroine Grusha puts her life at risk to save an abandoned noble infant: “Terrible is the temptation to do good!”

Kamm condemns Brecht for producing “an exhortatory theatre that mirrored [his] corrosive political obsessions”. But even Kamm concedes that some of his plays are actually quite good. He cites The Good Person of Szechwan and Mother Courage as plays that “transcend [Brecht’s] political vision to speak to the human condition”. But this is to miss the point. Brecht’s broader political outlook meant precisely that the “human condition” was inseparable from the material conditions in which the individual lived. When Shen Teh, the key figure in The Good Person of Szechwan, asks “how can I be good when everything is so expensive?”, she sets out the core dilemma at the heart of his world view. In his plays at least, Brecht is not the dogmatic propagandist that he is so often thought to be. To understand his work we must get away from what the director Jonathan Kent has described as this “finger-wagging”.

Funnily enough, people misunderstand you on this point, again and again. I wonder why.

Also – to be clear – I have no intention of entering into an extended email discussion with you on this. If you wish to reply, you are welcome do so in a publicly accessible fashion in the comments section here.


novakant 08.24.06 at 4:25 pm

Brecht’s Marxism forced him, in life, into a polarised world view that necessitated his support of a red-tinted tyranny

jeekers – you are aware that this is nonsense, no?

as for Grass and Hitchens the funny thing is how very much alike, i.e. unbearable they are


Oliver Kamm 08.25.06 at 5:21 am

You’re out of your depth here, Henry, and not for the first time from my experience. Novakant is quite correct about Wilkinson’s muddled piece, which I commented on here. Wilkinson can’t assimilate the point that I both revile Brecht’s politics and praise his work (“even Kamm concedes…”, indeed), but at least he’s noticed it. You haven’t even got that far: the incomprehension is specific to you, and to Bertram, possibly because your political prejudices insulate you from other aspects of human experience. That is my point about the Hitch-bashing. It’s not my purpose to defend a writer who can perfectly well make his own case supposing he were interested in what bloggers make of him; I merely observed that in serious media, by serious writers, he is taken seriously. What we get on this site is, by contrast, charges of onanism because you don’t like his politics. As Christopher once put it in a debate with a mediocrity called Scott Lucas, you have no idea how ridiculous, how pathetic, you sound.

People can read my piece on Grass and judge for themselves whether I evince glee at his downfall, and whether Bertram has accurately characterised my argument thus. The answer, for readers of a minimal degree of competence, will not be obscure, and nor will my regard for Grass as a substantial writer and worthy Nobel laureate. I even have some kind things to say about his political writing. If you can’t see the difference between my argument and Christopher’s, then my point about this site’s partisan ineptitude is made.

It might help, in my case and with other writers you wish to criticise, if you were to refrain from attributing to us claims of superior authority (which I did not make – how would you ever cope if the word ‘seems’ were banished from your vocabulary?) in order then to dispute them, and instead deal with our arguments. You make one fair observation in noting Bertram’s genuine interest, which I ought not to have questioned, in German literature. Bertram did something similar, however, in claiming – impossibly – “certainty” that Christopher hadn’t read a particular book he was commenting on. I consider it reasonable in the circumstances to query Bertram’s own facility with the works of the German authors he has written about (and whom, in the case of Sebald at least, both Christopher and I admire). He doesn’t convince me.


Chris Bertram 08.25.06 at 9:46 am

God how tedious … I really should stay away from the internet for longer. Let me just respond to one specific point made by OK. He writes:

bq. You make one fair observation in noting Bertram’s genuine interest, which I ought not to have questioned, in German literature. Bertram did _something similar_ [emphasis added], however, in claiming – impossibly – “certainty” that Christopher hadn’t read a particular book he was commenting on. I consider it reasonable in the circumstances to query Bertram’s own facility with the works of the German authors he has written about (and whom, in the case of Sebald at least, both Christopher and I admire).

So Oliver thinks himself licensed to question my familiarity with the modern German literature (about which, I’m happy to conceded that he knows more than I do), simply on the basis that I question someone else’s familiarity with one particular book. That’s really playground stuff. If he scrolls back to comment #6, Oliver will find that I gave reasons for doubting whether Hitchens had read _Crabwalk_ , those reasons being that he gave an inaccurate account both of the size of the book and of its contents. Needless to say, those are reasons that ought to stand independently of our differing views of Hitchens’s politics and his character.


Henry 08.25.06 at 10:01 am

You’re out of your depth here, Henry, and not for the first time from my experience.

Well let’s go through these experiences in turn, First, we had your repeated claims that I was dishonest for not mentioning Gaddis’ name when I said that I didn’t know of any international relations scholars supporting Bush administration policy. This nicely ignored the fact that Gaddis is not an international relations scholar; he’s a historian (whom international relations scholars take very seriously – but who is not ipso facto an international relations scholar). It’s quite true that someone was out of their depth here, but it wasn’t me. Second, a quite bizarre accusation (which you never actually explained) that I indulged in “absurd extremes of historical revisionism” for making a quite unexceptionable point about Galbraith (your disputing of which revealed your ignorance of the particulars of this historical episode). Now this, where it would appear that you are out of your depth even when splashing in what others would perceive as the shallows of a comments thread. You make claims which are obviously bogus to anyone who’s bothered to read through the original post and comments (not to mention Chris’s previous posts on this blog).

In rem: Hitchens – you hadn’t said that he was a “serious writer;” what you had in fact said was that he was a “great writer.” Which is a rather grander and more preposterous claim. As I’ve previously noted on this blog, I believe that Hitchens should be taken seriously in the same way as Cyril Connolly. A superb prose stylist (albeit only sporadically in recent years), a fine polemicist, but not in any proper sense of the word a political thinker.

In rem: Grass bashing. As your intellectual hero once wrote (I don’t have the book in front of me, so forgive my doubtless inexact phrasing), one of the most difficult acts to pull off is the ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ review, because of the often well justified perception that the book review is being written less in sorrow than in schadenfreude. Your account of Grass’s career reeks of schadenfreude and political point scoring – and as noted, this isn’t the first time that you’ve been called on it. If your intentions are as pure as you say they are, it’s rather curious that others keep on making the same mistake when they read you.

Perhaps the only thing that has surprised me in all of this is that you’re a fan of Max Beerbohm. I should have thought that the subject matter of ‘Enoch Soames’ would have been a little too close to home to be entirely comfortable reading.


Oliver Kamm 08.25.06 at 11:17 am

Chris – Your comment (and in particularly your certainty on the matter) wasn’t the reason so much as the occasion for my judgement, which seemed a moderate and reasoned one by comparison with this site’s standards, particularly as they relate to comment on Christopher Hitchens. But it probably still wasn’t fair to you, so I apologise for that. I share your interest in modern German literature, and our respective judgements on the literary merits of Grass and (particularly) Max Sebald, who surely would have been a Nobel laureate had he lived, are probably close. I hope you will write more on the subject.

Henry – Feeble, I’m afraid, but I’m glad if it’s helped work out your frustrations.

There appears little scope to extend this discussion, but I encourage this site’s contributors to endeavour in future to discriminate thoughtfully among, and within, arguments they disagree with, rather than denounce in a manner reminiscent – save only for the interest in onanism – of my one-time (and only one time) interviewer Jamie Glazov of FrontPage magazine. It is because I do in fact rate Grass’s work highly that I queried CB’s attribution of a ‘glee’ that I do not feel. Having had no intelligent answer to this question, I assume there is none. Henry’s answer, BTW, is not an intelligent one, owing to his apparently not realising that a columnist doesn’t write his own headlines. The headline ‘Why Grass deserves to have his writing hurled back in his face’ is not, as he surmises, a paraphrase of my article, because what I wrote about was ‘the reason Grass’s discourse on the Nazi past… should be thrown back in his face’. The difference matters, and is independent of whether Henry is capable of grasping it.


Oliver Kamm 08.25.06 at 11:30 am

Henry, by way of postscript – I’m touched to note that you must have sensed what I did, for you have artfully edited your comment to excise the most extravagant loss of control. There’s no need; you’re welcome to put it back in.


Oliver Kamm 08.25.06 at 11:42 am

Chris, by way of postscript – “But it probably still wasn’t fair to you….

In fact, it definitely wasn’t fair to you, so I apologise again. Anyone who appreciates and evangelises for modern German literature, in German or in English, is doing something important, and I applaud your efforts.


Henry 08.25.06 at 12:12 pm

Oliver, I am entirely aware that columnists don’t usually write their own headlines; this is precisely why I took the trouble to note that it was a paraphrase of something you said in your piece. Moreover, it’s a headline that you reproduced, without comment, in your blog post; had you felt that it seriously misrepresented what you were saying, as you seem to be saying now, the innocent reader might reasonably have expected you to note this misrepresentation.

All the same, fair enough that you have had the decency to apologize to Chris.


Henry 08.25.06 at 12:19 pm

And I changed my comment approx. 5 minutes after writing it, because I decided that it wasn’t entirely fair (I had said that Oliver was a fifth rate feuilletonist, with occasional aspirations to the fourth rate, and a complete waste of time; while I find him shallow, frequently dishonest, and possessed of a prose style that would have provoked splenetic convulsions in George Orwell, I don’t think he’s entirely irredeemable).


Oliver Kamm 08.26.06 at 1:32 pm

Henry, I apologised to Chris because I implied that his interest in German literature was a means to an end rather than the genuine article. That was wrong. While I find singular the abusive belligerence of this site towards Christopher Hitchens, my suggestion was not only unfair but also inapt because I share that interest with CB, and I hope that others will come by it too.

I consider, however, that my erring in this respect is very far from the most graceless aspect of this web site or this exchange. In an earlier discussion I took some trouble – with greater politeness than I have shown here to Chris – to refer you, on a subject you had yourself chosen, to the relevant recent scholarship in that field (the role of strategic bombing in the end of the Pacific War). You may be interested to know that three of those leading historians have, to my knowledge, passed that exchange among themselves. Without wishing to disclose anything private, I think it is permissible to disclose that they have taken such an interest for reasons other than admiration for your ease in the literature of a subject at least tangentially related to your discipline. I was, and remain, astonished at how little you had read in it, and, more worrying, how little you appeared to be interested in it. Mine is not – believe me – an eccentric judgement either. In responding in similarly personal terms as here rather than engage in any substantive discussion, you did nothing to dispel that impression, and you serve little constructive purpose thereby for general readers or for yourself.

Why, with that precedent, you chose to vent your opinions on arguments about postwar German drama and prose is not clear to me. If you have an interest in the subject, then that’s admirable, but I’m reasonably certain from internal evidence that you are not a German speaker, and while my arguments need to be judged on their merits rather than on any authority, I do know this field well. Those I have learned from directly know this field without peer. I hope this won’t sound ungracious, but if you read back your contributions to discussion, I suspect you will at least mentally assent that they don’t actually do you any good beyond a momentary easing of exasperation. Seriously.


Oliver Kamm 08.26.06 at 6:23 pm

Incidentally, this is an extraordinarily trivial and pedantic point that I assumed it wasn’t necessary to make, but you do have the literalist’s habit of forcing such things. Realistically, however, the consequent quality of this discussion is low enough already without my having to worry about dragging it down further.

The headline to my column last week was not a misrepresentation, but that clearly doesn’t make it a paraphrase. Headlines for op-ed pieces are frequently neither summaries nor paraphrases but, in the neutral sense, caricatures. They exaggerate in order to draw the reader’s attention; that is the (entirely legitimate) point of them. This is obvious, Henry; no reader of a serious newspaper is unaware of it, and no ‘misrepresentation’ is involved. To say it’s unscholarly and unprofessional for a critic to build his argument on a headline without troubling to cite what the writer has said is to understate the offence. I find it moderately demeaning to have got into a discussion where this needs to be pointed out, and will draw the appropriate inference about the utility of similar exercises.

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