Nice post by Matt Yglesias:
Late 1990s America was aesthetically unsatisfying to a lot of intellectual types, including intellectual types who write about politics. They yearned for a more heroic age, found the disaster of 9/11 exhilarating, and hoped that the rise of al-Qaeda would provide the fodder for its creation. A sober view of the war on terrorism leads, however, to the conclusion that while counterterrorism is an important item on the policy agenda, it’s not much of a grand drama. Indeed, it’s kind of boring. I think it’s interesting, which is why it’s one of the things I write about, but I also liked writing about Social Security, possibly the boringest thing ever. Instead of accepting that, though, we got the Iraq War which was well-suited to a big picture narrative about a world-historical clash.
I think this is right on target. Hitchens is the proto-typical example. You can feel the contempt dripping from his prose when he writes about the Clinton administration, but, really, it has nothing to do with Clinton and everything to do with Hitchens. He, and others, felt that the peace and prosperity of the 1990s left them without a dragon to slay. 9/11 and the rhetoric of the neo-cons offered purpose, never mind how perverse. The neo-cons manage to fit any conflict, no matter how inconsequential, into a grand historical narrative. Intellectuals like Hitch were given roles to play. Bizarrely enough, I almost think that there’s a certain integrity to Hitch’s dedication to this role. He understands himself to be Orwell, purging the left of its most dangerous illusions, even if it means destroying the left entirely. To break from this role would be almost as bad as a Horatio inventing new lines in order to save Hamlet.