Christopher Hitchens passed away 10 years ago this month. Many young leftists remember “Hitch”, if at all, as a militant atheist who alternated between debating pastors about the existence of God and defending the war in Iraq.
The first book with his name on the cover was a collection of essays by Marx and Engels on the Paris Commune. It came out in 1971, on the occasion of the centenary of the Municipality, and Hitchens wrote the introduction. Exactly 30 years later, in Letters to a young contrarian, he admitted to himself and his readers that he had finally given up hope in the socialist future he had long advocated. In the decades that followed, he regularly surprised those who called during his C-SPAN appearances to denounce him as a dangerous “liberal”. He would have Explain that the label offended him – and not for whatever reason they might think.
Of course, a large number of leftists who To do Remember this earlier Hitchens thinks the 10 years of his career invalidated the previous 30. thinks that if he had been worth a lot in the first place, he wouldn’t have ended up where he did.
None of this makes sense to me. There are too many aging radicals who love whiskey almost as much as Hitchens for this latter explanation to retain much water. As for Islamophobia, Hitchens’ heightened willingness to see the American Empire as a force for good did not start with an intervention involving bombings of Muslims. As any regular reader of his column in this magazine should know, it began with the wars in the former Yugoslavia, where the United States repeatedly intervened against Serbian Christians … on behalf of the predominantly Muslim populations of Bosnia and the United States. Kosovo.
Cynical opportunism? In 2002, while advocating the invasion of Iraq, he was also arguing with Andrew Sullivan on C-SPAN on whether Palestinian “terrorism” should be condemned. The Palestinians had a legitimate complaint, Hitch insisted, and could not be grouped with Al Qaeda. Who exactly was he complying with with this combination of positions?
I would say that in the atmosphere of the ‘End of History’ of the 1990s, Hitchens simply gave up hope of a socialist alternative to the status quo. He had traveled the world as a radical journalist and befriended dissidents in countries like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. If world socialism was not on the table, it at least gave hope democratic revolutions to overthrow such regimes. His catastrophic mistake was his belief that the 82nd Airborne could propagate such revolutions. All that spread in practice was chaos, bloodshed, and anti-American resentment.
However, in the decades leading up to this turning point, Hitchens produced a body of work that more than deserves to be revived by the contemporary left. Take her book on Bill and Hillary Clinton. No one to lie to: the values of the worst family could be the most eloquent indictment ever written against neoliberal centrism which only recently began to be seriously challenged for hegemony within the Democratic Party.
At a time when the crop war policies of the day made even many progressives far left of the Clintons reluctant to come after them, Hitchens wrote of the Dickensian horrors of “social reform” and the efforts of Bill Clinton. . to show that he was “tough on crime”. In 1992, Governor Clinton took the time to leave the election campaign to return to Arkansas to personally supervise the execution of a black man so severely mentally handicapped that he allegedly asked to keep the dessert from his last meal “for more. late”. Write with cold fury in No one to lie to, Hitchens says that even after Ricky Ray Rector was tied to the stretcher, he assumed his tormentors “were doctors trying to help him.” He helped them find a vein to insert the needle. “For many poor Americans of all stripes,” Hitchens noted, “prison is the only place where doctors, lawyers, teachers and chaplains are, even reluctantly, available to them.”
Christopher Hitchens was one of the best polemicists in the world, even when he was wrong. He was the kind of writer who could make you mumble, “Damn, that’s actually a good point,” even when he was on the other side of a debate. And his prose descended with the warming fire of a very fine whiskey when he was right – as he was in his trio of books on the Clintons’ War on the Poor, Henry Kissinger’s crimes in Latin America and Southeast Asia and Cyprus, and (most surprisingly) Mother Teresa.
Christopher’s brother Peter Hitchens told me that Christopher’s hostility to religion was a constant feature of his worldview from the age of 11. It may be true. But in The missionary position: Mother Teresa in theory and in practice, Hitch was far less concerned with the metaphysical beliefs of the old pious fraud than with her callousness to the patients she cared for – and her intimate dealings with death squad dictatorships like the Duvalier regime in Haiti. When he has turned his attention to more abstract philosophical questions over the past decade, I still cannot fully subscribe to his harshest criticisms. Although the political vehemence of his “new atheism” cannot be entirely dissociated from the politics of the post-9/11 era, I admit I retain some sympathy for his. humanist critic of Judeo-Christian morality.
As wrong as he touched on crucial issues in his later years, we shouldn’t dismiss his life’s work on this basis. There is still a lot that could be of use to the contemporary left in the body of work he has produced over his decades as a radical essayist and journalist. And if we console ourselves with the idea that he only went wrong because he was a fool or an opportunist who was not really right to begin with, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn anything from its mistakes.