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The necessary noise maker

When nobody contradicts you, you have to do it yourself.


[social debate] When everything is gray and silent in Norwegian debate culture, because our Foreign Minister has said something sensible again, or Norway has been voted the best invention of world history, there is ample comfort to be had from the Americans. In Norway, debates flare up once every six months, when Jostein Gaarder decides to play literature or the Norwegian Council of Ministers speaks Norwegian.

It may seem like an insurmountable task to follow the American debate, but it all starts, ends or hits one website: The British-American journalist Christopher Hitchens is America's foremost intellectual, and by far the biggest asshole. Sorry French. What else should one call a guy who points the finger at the audience in TV debates, who calls fellow debaters "hurper", who scolds Edward Said when he is about to die, and who brags that he writes his best articles when he is dritings – as he is from morning to night?

It is nevertheless impossible to get around his sharp formulations when deciding on the current American debate. It is due more to his unpredictability than his clairvoyance. Until the 1990s, he belonged to the far left, but seriously changed him after September 11, 2001, and now he has several allies among the so-called neoconservatives. He voted Republican in the last presidential election, but has nothing left for President George W. Bush. He was against the first Iraq war, but for the last. His victims throughout the ages have been many – from Henry Kissinger and Mother Theresa via Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky to Günther Grass and the neoconservative hero Daniel Pipes.

Hitchens, as an adult, found out that his mother was originally a Polish Jew, but that has not changed his critical attitude toward Israel. In the conflict, he supports Palestine but is a fanatical anti-Islamist. He is "anti" at most. It fits well with Steve Fuller's definition of an intellectual in the book The Intellectual (2006), which praises the conflict seeker, the one who thinks negatively and in breadth rather than depth. Hitchens is his crown example.

The main character himself, the old Trotskyist, now professes humanistic, rational and secular ideals from the Enlightenment, but everyone does these days, even racists. A more comprehensive description of Hitchens' intellectual profile is "contrarian" – a term he uses in the book Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001). The opposite takes the opposite position of the majority, without succumbing to nihilism, and thus helps to uncover its limited worldview. If you look at Wikipedia's English definition, the online lexicon asks you to find an in-depth explanation under «individualism».

In these two categories, the free thinker in Washington has moved in. The left will not take him with forceps. Not the neoconservatives either, partly because he hates their hero, Ronald Reagan. Hitchens lacks the thoroughness of a Chomsky, the humor of a Moore and the reliability of a Said, but he compensates with temperamental vocabulary, surprising perspectives and sour understatements. We have few troublemakers of this type in Norway. Several aspire to become so, as the writer Aslak Nore. He is Hitchens' Norwegian clone, educated at New School in New York, where Hitchens lectures. Just wait and see. Soon he takes Jonas Gahr Støre.

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