Home > General Politics > Peter Hitchens and the fear of ambiguity in Libya

Peter Hitchens and the fear of ambiguity in Libya

Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, Sulloway (2003):

Persons having low levels of motivation to process information would be more likely to support conservative ideologies because these rely on tradition, are aimed at (societal stability), and imply the avoidance caused by change.

Thórisdóttir, Jost (2011)

High need for cognitive closure represents a desire for “an answer to a question on a given topic, any answer … compared to confusion and ambiguity” and it often leads to black and white thinking

Peter Hitchens (yesterday):

Just because existing regimes are bad, it does not follow that their replacements will be any better. The world has known this since the French Revolution of 1789, when bliss and joy turned to mass murder and dictatorship in a matter of months.

Point of note: the kind of conservative thinking which Hitchens exemplifies only aims at societal stability, does not guarantee for it. Indeed what kind of world would we live in if we allowed and accepted tyranny on the basis that what waits in the wings could be worse.

But what really gets my goat is not that Hitchens is being true to Burke in invoking 1789 and the French Revolution (which the latter disliked not because he feared change and ambiguity necessarily, but because he saw that Robespierre was forming a half-baked, overly and needlessly violent revolution), but because he neglects to mention how different the contexts are: The rebels in France existed to cause terror (quotes from Robespierre include: “To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is barbarity”; “slowness of judgments is equal to impunity”; “uncertainty of punishment encourages all the guilty”) whereas the National Transition Council formed to avert terror being done to them, and as a consequence are recognised as the country’s authority by 50 other nations – enjoying the kind of diplomatic relations rebels of many countries can only dream of.

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  1. Socialrepublican
    August 30, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Some pretty shoddy history there. When Burke wrote reflections, Robespierre was a very marginal figure. Burke’s point was that there did not exist a institutional political culture needed to sustain representative government and the patroitic alliance sought to replace this with utopian rhetoric. He was wrong of course. Sociatal wide political debate, representative institutions and a plurality of political cultures existed before the revolution and survived well into 1791. The ideological abstraction and fury within much of the Patriotic alliance was more than matched by that used by American Patriots in the War of Independence.

    The transformation of the “good” Liberal revolution of 1789-91 into the “bad” Jacobin revolution of 1792-94 has many causes, not least the attempts by those of the centre and left of centre to grasp the political initiative (Church nationalisation, the War) and the total and absolute refusal by much of the existing power structures to accept the events of 14 July. The Patriots and then the schools of Jacobinism faced a huge financial crisis, massive institutional disorganisation, constant political violence from below and (not forgotten by most revisionists) the right and the existential threat of war. Via their conceptual lens’ they stumbled in a shadow of misinformation and continious crisis.

    If Hitchens had been consistant of course, He might have noted that more people died in the suburbs of Warsaw in two days that at the “Republican Razor” in three years, or that per capita, more people were forcibly expelled for the United States that the French emmigration or that again, per capita, the crushing of the United Irishmen resulted in more deaths that the Vendee.

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