Arguably Essays Christopher Hitchens Wiki

Christopher Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was a British-American[1][2][3] author, polemicist, debater and journalist who in his youth took part in demonstrations against the Vietnam War, joined organisations such as the International Socialists while at university[4] and began to identify as a socialist. However, after the 11 September attacks he no longer regarded himself as a socialist and his political thinking became largely dominated by the issue of defending civilization from terrorists and against the totalitarian regimes that protect them. Hitchens nonetheless continued to identify as a Marxist, endorsing the materialist conception of history, but believed that Karl Marx had underestimated the revolutionary nature of capitalism.[5] He sympathized with libertarian ideals of limited state interference, but considered libertarianism not to be a viable system. In the 2000 U.S. presidential election, he supported the independent candidate Ralph Nader. After 9/11, Hitchens advocated the invasion of Iraq. In the 2004 election, he very slightly favored the incumbent Republican President George W. Bush or was neutral[6] and in 2008 he favored the Democratic candidate Barack Obama.[7]

Political orientation[edit]

First principles[edit]

Alexander Linklater has summarized Hitchens' basic intellectual outlook as follows:

One of [Hitchens'] old strongholds [was] the 17th-century contest between king and parliament of the English civil war. For Hitchens, the Cromwellian revolt represents not just the foundational struggle for parliamentary rule, but the great rejection of divine right. ... But he is no optimistic Enlightenment rationalist. He identifies himself with Thomas Paine's disillusion at the French terror, and Rosa Luxemburg's famous warning to Lenin about the inexorability of one-man rule. He retains, however, from his Marxist youth an intellectual absolutism and a disdain for liberal dilemmas and trade-offs – hence a brutal assault on Isaiah Berlin's genteel liberalism in a 1998 essay. He is incurious about what religious belief feels like, or what meaning it has for millions of people – even though, unlike his co-anti-religionist Richard Dawkins, Hitchens concedes that religious feeling is ineradicable.[8]

British republicanism[edit]

Hitchens was a vocal supporter of Republicanism in the United Kingdom, advocating the abolition of the Monarchy, and in 1990 published the book-long polemic The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain's Favourite Fetish.[9] His 1998 documentary Princess Diana: The Mourning After accused the British media of playing an essential role in creating a national, unchallengeable, and at times hysterical cult of personality surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, whereas previously they had been extremely critical of her and the monarchy after she had separated and divorced from Charles, Prince of Wales, and was having an affair with Egyptian billionaire son Dodi Fayed. Hitchens claimed the public were behaving irrationally, and that many appeared to not even know why they were mourning. He also scrutinised the level of censorship against criticism of Diana and the monarchy but was accused, in a review by The Independent, of exaggerating on this point.[10]

Labour Party[edit]

In 1965, Hitchens joined the Labour Party on the very first day he was eligible to vote, but along with the majority of the Labour students' organization was expelled in 1967, because of what Hitchens called "Prime MinisterHarold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam". Since then he stated he had "re-enlisted a few times" back into the Labour Party.[11][12] In a 2001 interview with Reason, he said, in 1979, that even though he was a member of the Labour Party, that he wasn't going to vote for the Labour Party, nor could he bring himself to "vote conservative." He didn't vote at all in that election. He also stated that by not voting for the Labour Party he was effectively voting for Margaret Thatcher to win, which he said he had "secretly hoped would happen."[13] In a 2005 Vanity Fair article, he endorsed Tony Blair in the 2005 general election, mainly due to his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[11] In a 2009 Slate article, he described that in the late 1970s the Labour Party moved to the right and stated that the downfall of the Labour Party was when Gordon Brown became the Prime Minister.[12]

Northern Ireland[edit]

During a debate with George Galloway in 2005, Hitchens revealed that he was "a lifelong supporter of the reunification of Ireland," and was critical of Galloway's opposing views on the war, as well as his "insulting" attitude towards the U.S. Senate.[14][15] Many times, when discussing "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, Hitchens would refer to their location as simply "Ireland", rather than "Northern Ireland", as for example in an article written for Slate in 2007, discussing the power-sharing and devolved government in Northern Ireland and describing it as "an agreement to divide the spoils of Ireland's six northeastern counties".[16] During the IRA bombing campaigns on the British mainland, which began in the nineteen-seventies, Hitchens claimed that he had "kept two sets of books: I didn’t like bombs, I didn’t like the partition of Ireland."[17]

Libertarianism and capitalism[edit]

In a 2001 interview with Reason, Hitchens said he had been interested in libertarian ideas when he was younger, but set aside those interests in the 1960s. He stated that capitalism had become the more revolutionary economic system, and he welcomed globalisation as "innovative and internationalist", but added, "I don't think that the contradictions, as we used to say, of the system, are by any means all resolved." He also stated that he had a renewed interest in the freedom of the individual from the state, but that he still considered libertarianism "ahistorical" both on the world stage and in the work of creating a stable and functional society, adding that libertarians are "more worried about the over-mighty state than the unaccountable corporation" whereas "the present state of affairs ... combines the worst of bureaucracy with the worst of the insurance companies." He also said that libertarians did not have a clear foreign policy stance.[13]

In a 2001 C-SPAN appearance, he told a caller:

If you are a libertarian you may find some nourishment in my book Letters to a Young Contrarian where I say that in the same breath as I-as I mourn the decay of some of my socialist allegiances that deep down I've always been a sympathizer of the libertarian anti-statist point of view. And one of the things that attracted me to socialism in the beginning was the idea of withering away of the state.[18]

Objectivism[edit]

Hitchens said of Objectivism, “I have always found it quaint, and rather touching, that there is a movement in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.”[19]

Marxism and socialism[edit]

In a 2001 interview with Reason, Hitchens said he became a Marxist and a Trotskyist in his teens, beliefs that further developed during his time at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1966, he was demonstrating in Trafalgar Square against the Vietnam War. In 1967, he joined the International Socialists while at Balliol College, Oxford. Under the influence of Peter Sedgwick, who translated the writings of Russian revolutionary and Soviet dissident Victor Serge, Hitchens forged an ideological interest in Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist socialism. Shortly after he joined "a small but growing post-Trotskyist Luxemburgist sect".[20] He became a socialist "largely [as] the outcome of a study of history, taking sides ... in the battles over industrialism and war and empire." He was also drawn into the political left by his anger over the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, racism and "oligarchy", including that of "the unaccountable corporation." He also said in the same interview with Reason that he could no longer say "I am a socialist". Socialists, he claimed, had ceased to offer a positive alternative to the capitalist system.[13][21]

In 2006, in a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania debating the Jewish Tradition with Martin Amis, Hitchens commented on his political philosophy by stating, "I am no longer a socialist, but I still am a Marxist".[22] In a June 2010 interview with The New York Times, he stated that "I still think like a Marxist in many ways. I think the materialist conception of history is valid. I consider myself a very conservative Marxist".[23] In 2009, in an article for The Atlantic entitled "The Revenge of Karl Marx", Hitchens frames the late-2000s recession in terms of Marx's economic analysis and notes how much Marx admired the capitalist system that he called for the end of, but says that Marx ultimately failed to grasp how revolutionary capitalist innovation was.[24] Hitchens was an admirer of Che Guevara, yet in an essay written in 1997, he distanced himself from Che, and referred to the mythos surrounding him as a "cult".[25] In 2004 he re-emphasized his positive view of Che, commenting that "[Che's] death meant a lot to me and countless like me at the time. He was a role model, albeit an impossible one for us bourgeoisromantics insofar as he went and did what revolutionaries were meant to do—fought and died for his beliefs."[26]

He continued to regard Leon Trotsky and Vladmir Lenin as great men,[27][28] and the October Revolution as a necessary event in the modernisation of Russia.[13][20] In 2005, Hitchens praised Lenin's creation of "secular Russia" and his attacks on the Russian Orthodox Church, describing the church's power as "absolute warren of backwardness and evil and superstition".[20]

In God is not Great, Hitchens called Marxism his "own secular faith" that "has been shaken and discarded, not without pain." He referred to his period of Marxist faith as "when I was a Marxist."[29]

According to Andrew Sullivan, his last words were "Capitalism, downfall."[30]

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Hitchens became increasingly disenchanted by the presidency of Bill Clinton, accusing him of being a rapist and a liar.[31][32] Hitchens also claimed that the missile attacks by Clinton on Sudan constituted a war crime.[33]

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Hitchens supported Ralph Nader in the 2000 US presidential election.[34] He elaborated on his support for Nader in a discussion with Eric Alterman on Bloggingheads.tv, indicating that he was disenchanted with the candidacy of both George W. Bush and Al Gore.[34]

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Prior to 11 September 2001, and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, Hitchens was critical of President George W. Bush's "non-interventionist" foreign policy. He also criticised Bush's support of intelligent design[35] and capital punishment.[36] Hitchens defended Bush's post-11 September foreign policy, but he also criticised the actions of US troops in Abu Ghraib and Haditha, and the US government's use of waterboarding, which, after voluntarily undergoing it, he argued was definitely torture.[37][38]

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Hitchens supported George W. Bush in the 2004 US presidential election.[17] He made a brief return to The Nation just before the election and wrote that he was "slightly" for Bush; shortly afterwards, Slate polled its staff on their positions on the candidates and mistakenly printed Hitchens's vote as pro-John Kerry. Hitchens shifted his opinion to "neutral", saying: "It's absurd for liberals to talk as if Kristallnacht is impending with Bush, and it's unwise and indecent for Republicans to equate Kerry with capitulation. There's no one to whom he can surrender, is there? I think that the nature of the jihadist enemy will decide things in the end".[39]

[edit]

Hitchens supported Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.[40] In an article for Slate he stated, "I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that 'issue' I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity." He was critical of both main party candidates, Obama and John McCain, but wrote that Obama would be the better choice. Hitchens went on to call McCain "senile", and his choice of running mate Sarah Palin "absurd", calling Palin a "pathological liar" and a "national disgrace". Hitchens also wrote that "Obama is greatly overrated" and that the Obama-Biden ticket "show[s] some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience".[41]

The American Revolution[edit]

After his disenchantment with socialism, Hitchens increasingly emphasized the centrality of the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution to his political philosophy. As early as 2002, Hitchens wrote, "as the third millennium gets under way, and as the Russian and Chinese and Cuban revolutions drop below the horizon, it is possible to argue that the American revolution, with its promise of cosmopolitan democracy, is the only ‘model’ revolution that humanity has left to it".[42] His enthusiasm for the U.S. Bill of Rights contrasts with a dim opinion of constitutional politics on the other side of the Atlantic. Hitchens notes, "the utter failure [of the EU] to compose a viable constitution" and the "brevity of the British constitution, perhaps because the motherland of the English-speaking peoples has absent-mindedly failed to evolve one in written form".[43]

Foreign policy[edit]

Bosnian War[edit]

Hitchens cited the Bosnian War as something that monumentally changed his views on military intervention, noting that he for the first time found himself on the side of neoconservatives. In an interview with Johann Hari he said:

That war in the early 1990s changed a lot for me. I never thought I would see, in Europe, a full-dress reprise of internment camps, the mass murder of civilians, the reinstiutution [sic] of torture and rape as acts of policy. And I didn't expect so many of my comrades to be indifferent – or even take the side of the fascists. It was a time when many people on the left were saying 'Don't intervene, we'll only make things worse' or, 'Don't intervene, it might destabilise the region. And I thought – destabilisation of fascist regimes is a good thing. Why should the left care about the stability of undemocratic regimes? Wasn't it a good thing to destabilise the regime of General Franco? It was a time when the left was mostly taking the conservative, status quo position – leave the Balkans alone, leave Milosevic alone, do nothing. And that kind of conservatism can easily mutate into actual support for the aggressors. Weimar-style conservatism can easily mutate into National Socialism. So you had people like Noam Chomsky's co-author Ed Herman go from saying 'Do nothing in the Balkans', to actually supporting Milosevic, the most reactionary force in the region. That's when I began to first find myself on the same side as the neocons. I was signing petitions in favour of action in Bosnia, and I would look down the list of names and I kept finding, there's Richard Perle. There's Paul Wolfowitz. That seemed interesting to me. These people were saying that we had to act. Before, I had avoided them like the plague, especially because of what they said about General Sharon and about Nicaragua. But nobody could say they were interested in oil in the Balkans, or in strategic needs, and the people who tried to say that – like Chomsky – looked ridiculous. So now I was interested.[44]

Hitchens argued that the choice in Yugoslavia was between a multi-ethnicplural democracy led by Muslim president Alija Izetbegović in Bosnia and a fascistic, nationalistically inspired ethnically-cleansed state driven by Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević. He called Milošević a fascist and a "national-socialist",[45] and condemned his war crimes[46] in the Yugoslav Wars. But he also considered the Croatian nationalist president Franjo Tudjman "equally disgusting" for colluding with Milošević on a partition of Bosnia and empowering Croatian war criminals.[47] In God Is Not Great, he wrote about Christian Orthodox Serbian and Roman Catholic Croatian nationalism- and religion-inspired crimes against the Muslim Bosnians, at the hands of proponents of "Greater Serbia" and Croatian "revived Ustashe formations" during this period which are "often forgotten".[48] He was highly critical of Western inaction in protection of the Muslims, partially blaming this on the Clinton administration and specifically Hillary Clinton.

In effect, the extremist Catholic and Orthodox forces were colluding in a bloody partition and cleansing of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were, and still are, largely spared the public shame of this, because the world's media preferred the simplification of "Croat" and "Serb," and only mentioned religion when discussing "the Muslims." But the triad of terms "Croat," "Serb," and "Muslim" is unequal and misleading, in that it equates two nationalities and one religion. (The same blunder is made in a different way in coverage of Iraq, with the "Sunni-Shia-Kurd" trilateral.)[49]

Gulf War[edit]

Hitchens deplored and opposed the 1990–91 Gulf War in which the US expelled Iraq from Kuwait after a seven-month invasion and occupation of its neighbor undertaken in an effort to absorb it as its 19th province. He contended that President George H. W. Bush's supposedly principled enthusiasm for the "cause" of "liberating" Kuwait was nothing more than realpolitik. In the continuation of a national policy dating back to Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon in 1972, the latest "cause was yet another move in the policy of keeping a region divided and embittered, and therefore accessible to the franchisers of weaponry and the owners of black gold".[50]

However, after the war, Hitchens scolded those within the US who had opposed the war by observing that "the peace movement in this country in my opinion acted in a very narrow, isolationist, and almost chauvinistic way. It said that a war was more or less alright with it as long as it could be guaranteed in advance that American casualties could be kept low... I thought that was a dishonourably narrow way of approaching the question. ... When large numbers of Iraqis were turned into soap...and many others, as we've since found out, were bulldozed and buried alive and in other ways done away with and people don't even want to think about the body count ...because they’re afraid of what they might find out."[51]

Israeli−Palestinian conflict[edit]

Hitchens described Zionism as being based on Herzl's "initial demagogic lie (actually two lies) that a land without a people needs a people without a land." He went further, saying "Zionism is a form of Bourgeoisie Nationalism" when debating the Jewish Tradition with Martin Amis at a Town hall function in Pennsylvania"[52] Hitchens supported Israel's right to exist, but argued that "one must not insult or degrade or humiliate people"[52] and that he "would be opposed to this maltreatment of the Palestinians if it took place on a remote island with no geopolitical implications".

Hitchens described Zionism as "an ethno-nationalist quasi-religious ideology" but argued that Zionism "... nonetheless has founded a sort of democratic state which isn't any worse in its practice than many others with equally dubious origins." He stated that settlement in order to achieve security for Israel is "doomed to fail in the worst possible way", and the cessation of this "appallingly racist and messianic delusion" would "confront the internal clerical and chauvinist forces which want to instate a theocracy for Jews". Hitchens contended that the "solution of withdrawal would not satisfy the jihadists" and wondered "What did they imagine would be the response of the followers of the Prophet [Muhammad]?" Hitchens bemoaned the transference of Arab secularism into religious terrorism as a means of democratisation: "the most depressing and wretched spectacle of the past decade, for all those who care about democracy and secularism, has been the degeneration of Palestinian Arab nationalism into the theocratic and thanatocratic hell of Hamas and Islamic Jihad".[53] He maintained that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a "trivial squabble" that has become "so dangerous to all of us" because of "the faith-based element."[52]

On 14 November 2004, Hitchens noted:

Edward Said asked many times, in public and private, where the Mandela of Palestine could be. In rather bold contrast to this decent imagination, Arafat managed to be both a killer and a compromiser (Mandela was neither), both a Swiss bank account artist and a populist ranter (Mandela was neither), both an Islamic "martyrdom" blow-hard and a servile opportunist, and a man who managed to establish a dictatorship over his own people before they even had a state (here one simply refuses to mention Mandela in the same breath).[54]

Hitchens had previously collaborated on this issue with Edward Said, publishing the 1988 book Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question.[55]

Hitchens had said of himself, "I am an Anti-Zionist. I'm one of those people of Jewish descent who believes that Zionism would be a mistake even if there were no Palestinians."[56]

A review of his autobiography Hitch-22 in The Jewish Daily Forward refers to Hitchens "at the time [that he had learned that his grandparents were Jews, he had been] a prominent anti-Zionist" and says that he viewed Zionism "as an injustice against the Palestinians".[57] Others have commented on his anti-Zionism as well.[58] At other times for example speaking at 2nd annual Memorial for Daniel Pearl, and in print in an article for The Atlantic he had made comments against the terrorism against Jews in the Middle East. Hitchens stated "But the Jews of the Arab lands were expelled again in revenge for the defeat of Palestinian nationalistic aspirations, in 1947–48, and now the absolute most evil and discredited fabrication of Jew-baiting Christian Europe—The Protocols of the Elders of Zion—is eagerly promulgated in the Hamas charter and on the group's Web site and recycled through a whole nexus of outlets that includes schools as well as state-run television stations".[59]

In Slate magazine, Hitchens pondered the notion that, instead of curing antisemitism through the creation of a Jewish state, "Zionism has only replaced and repositioned"[53] it, saying: "there are three groups of 6 million Jews. The first 6 million live in what the Zionist movement used to call Palestine. The second 6 million live in the United States. The third 6 million are distributed mainly among Russia, France, Britain, and Argentina. Only the first group lives daily in range of missiles that can be (and are) launched by people who hate Jews." Hitchens argued that instead of supporting Zionism, Jews should help "secularise and reform their own societies", believing that unless one is religious, "what the hell are you doing in the greater Jerusalem area in the first place?" Indeed, Hitchens claimed that the only justification for Zionism given by Jews is a religious one.[60]

Kurdistan[edit]

Hitchens was a longtime observer of the cruelty of Saddam Hussein and publicly called for his removal, albeit only beginning in 1998.[17] This led him to support the establishment of a self-governing state for the Kurds[61] with political autonomy, if not full independence.

During the many years I spent on the Left, the cause of self-determination for Kurdistan was high on the list of principles and priorities – there are many more Kurds than there are Palestinians and they have been staunch fighters for democracy in the region.[62]

He also consistently wore a lapel pin with the flag of Kurdistan on it, to show his solidarity with the Kurds.[citation needed]

War on Terror[edit]

11 September attacks[edit]

In the months following the 9/11 attacks, Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature of radical Islam and the proper response to it in a highly charged exchange of letters in The Nation, including discussion of whether any comparison could be legitimately made between the 9/11 attacks and the 1998 Al Shifa bombing by the US.[63][64][65][66][67] Approximately a year after the 9/11 attacks and his exchanges with Chomsky, Hitchens left The Nation, claiming that its editors, readers and contributors considered John Ashcroft a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden,[68] and were making excuses on behalf of Islamist terrorism; in the following months he wrote articles increasingly at odds with his former colleagues. Hitchens was also severely criticized by Norman Finkelstein, an American political scientist and Hitchens's former friend. Citing Hitchens's support for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, as well as Hitchens's critique of Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, Finkelstein called Hitchens a "model apostate," a "dirt bag," and a "showboat run amuck" who is "dying for the camera."[69]

War in Afghanistan[edit]

Hitchens strongly supported US military actions in Afghanistan,[70] particularly in his "Fighting Words" columns in Slate.

Iraq War[edit]

Hitchens' employment of the term "Islamofascist" and his support for the Iraq War caused his critics to label him a "neoconservative". Hitchens, however, refused to embrace this designation,[71][72] insisting, "I'm not any kind of conservative".[73] In 2004, Hitchens stated that neoconservative support for US intervention in Iraq convinced him that he was "on the same side as the neo-conservatives" when it came to contemporary foreign policy issues, and characterized himself as an unqualified "supporter of Paul Wolfowitz."[74] He was also known to refer to his association with "temporary neocon allies".[75] In this period he opined that "the Bush administration [...] has redefined the lazy term 'conservative' to mean someone who is impatient with the status quo."[76]

In the years after the fatwaissued against Salman Rushdie in response to his novel The Satanic Verses, Hitchens became increasingly critical of what he called "excuse making" on the left. At the same time, he was attracted to the foreign policy ideas of some on the Republican-right that promoted pro-liberalism intervention, especially the neoconservative group that included Paul Wolfowitz.[77] Around this time, he befriended the Iraqi dissident and businessman Ahmed Chalabi.[76]

Christopher Hitchens argued the case for the Iraq War in a 2003 collection of essays entitled A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq, and participated in public debates on the topic with George Galloway,[78]Scott Ritter,[79] and his brother Peter Hitchens.[80] In its obituary of Hitchens, The Economist wrote that, "on the most consequential political issue of the last decade of his life, the bullshit got him."[81]

Human Rights Violations at Abu Ghraib and Haditha[edit]

Hitchens criticised human rights abuses by US forces in Iraq but argued that conditions had improved considerably compared either to Saddam Hussein's previous regime or to previous US military actions in Vietnam.

In 2005, Hitchens criticised the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib but argued that overall "prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad",[36] arguing that "before March 2003, Abu Ghraib was an abattoir, a torture chamber, and a concentration camp."[36]

In a 5 June 2006 article on the alleged killings of Iraqi civilians by U. S. Marines in Haditha, Hitchens argued that whether or not a massacre had taken place, comparisons with the My Lai massacre in Vietnam were "so much propaganda and hot air" that ignored substantial changes in the rules of engagement and US Army procedures and training designed to prevent and discourage such an event. He argued that lesson had been learned such that "as a consequence, a training film about My Lai – "if anything like this happens, you have really, truly screwed up" – has been in use for U. S. soldiers for some time".[82]

Pre-war American and British Intelligence[edit]

In a variety of articles and interviews, Hitchens asserted that British intelligence was correct in claiming that Saddam had attempted to buy uranium from Niger,[83] and that US envoy Joseph Wilson had been dishonest in his public denials of it.[84] He also pointed to discovered munitions in Iraq that violated U. N. Security Council Resolutions 686 and 687, the cease-fire agreements ending the 1991 Iraq-Kuwait conflict.

On 19 March 2007, Hitchens asked himself whether Western intelligence sources should have known that Iraq had "no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction." In his response, Hitchens stated that:

The entire record of UNSCOM until that date had shown a determination on the part of the Iraqi dictatorship to build dummy facilities to deceive inspectors, to refuse to allow scientists to be interviewed without coercion, to conceal chemical and biological deposits, and to search the black market for material that would breach the sanctions. The defection of Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law, the Kamel brothers, had shown that this policy was even more systematic than had even been suspected. Moreover, Iraq did not account for – has in fact never accounted for – a number of the items that it admitted under pressure to possessing after the Kamel defection. We still do not know what happened to this weaponry. This is partly why all Western intelligence agencies, including French and German ones quite uninfluenced by Ahmad Chalabi, believed that Iraq had actual or latent programs for the production of WMD. Would it have been preferable to accept Saddam Hussein's word for it and to allow him the chance to re-equip once more once the sanctions had further decayed?[85]

Saddam Hussein[edit]

In July 2007, the New Statesman printed selected portions of a 1976 piece by Hitchens which they claimed "took a more admiring view of the Iraqi dictator" than his later strong support for ousting Saddam Hussein.[86] In this Hitchens pointed to Iraq's military strength, oil reserves and young leadership to argue that Iraq was "a force to be reckoned with" and described Saddam Hussein as a leader "who has sprung from being an underground revolutionary gunman to perhaps the first visionary Arab statesman since Nasser." He also argued:

Iraq, which has this dynamic combination and much else besides, has not until recently been very much regarded as a power. But with the new discussions in OPEC, the ending of the Kurdistan war and the new round of fighting in Lebanon, its political voice is being heard more and more. The Baghdad regime is the first oil-producing government to opt for 100-per-cent nationalisation, a process completed with the acquisition of foreign assets in Basrah last December. It was the first to call for the use of oil as a political weapon against Israel and her backers. It gives strong economic and political support to the 'Rejection Front' Palestinians who oppose Arafat's conciliation and are currently trying to outface the Syrians in Beirut.

He argued that the means through which the Baathist regime rose to power were similar to that of Iran: having crushed any political dissent and notions of an independent Kurdish state. He stated that the Ba'ath party "point to efforts made by the party press to stimulate criticism of revolutionary shortcomings" but that these "fall rather short of permitting any organised opposition". He claimed that Iraq defended this by claiming "that the country is surrounded by enemies and attacked by imperialist intrigue" but that this had led to the repression of Kurdish nationalists.

Waterboarding[edit]

Hitchens was asked by Vanity Fair to experience waterboarding for himself at a U.S. Army training facility. In May 2008, Hitchens voluntarily underwent the procedure. Hitchens stopped the procedure after 11 seconds and subsequently endorsed the view that it was "torture." He concluded, "If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."[87][88]

Domestic policy[edit]

Civil liberties[edit]

Abortion[edit]

Hitchens stated, "[an] unborn child seems to me to be a real concept. It's not a growth or an appendix. You can't say the rights question doesn't come up. I don't think a woman should be forced to choose, or even can be." and "As a materialist, I think it has been demonstrated that an embryo is a separate body and entity" [89] showing a desire to recognise the unborn as a life but he also affirmed a need for the right to abortion "The second-best fallback solution, which may sometimes be desirable for other reasons, is termination of pregnancy...All thinking people recognise a painful conflict of rights and interest in this question" [90]

Hitchens opposed the overturning of Roe v. Wade and instead hoped for science to develop new solutions to unwanted pregnancies "that will make abortion more like a contraceptive procedure than a surgical one." He strongly criticized the encouragement of sexual abstinence within the pro-life movement of the Christian right,[91] and the equating of contraceptives to abortion, as expressed by Mother Teresa and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.[92]

Capital punishment[edit]

Hitchens was a lifelong opponent of capital punishment.[93] In a 2001 interview with Reason, Hitchens recalled that this was the very first issue on which he ever decided to take a stand in his youth. The reason for his opposition to capital punishment was that it gave too much power to the government.[13] He later publicly opposed use of the death penalty for Saddam Hussein,[94] an issue he discussed at length in his November 2006 essay "Don't Hang Saddam" for Slate.[95]

Drug policy[edit]

Hitchens has called for the abolition of the "War on Drugs," which he described as an "authoritarian war" during a debate with William F. Buckley.[96] Hitchens favored the legalization of cannabis for both recreational and medicinal purposes, and said, "Marijuana is a medicine. I have heard and read convincing arguments and had convincing testimony from real people who say that marijuana is a very useful medicine for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and for glaucoma. To keep that out of the reach of the sick, it seems to me, is sadistic."[26][97]

Genital integrity[edit]

Hitchens was a notable genital integrity activist, strongly criticizing the tradition of both male circumcision and female genital mutilation. In accordance with his antitheism, Hitchens described the tolerance of metzitzah b'peh (a Jewish tradition of sucking blood from the penis after the removal of the male foreskin) as "another disgusting religious practice".[98]

Gun rights[edit]

Hitchens philosophically supported gun rights and was generally opposed to gun control. On the subject of the second amendment, Hitchens argued that as both an outright ban on guns and relying on a citizen militia for the national defence were equally as idealistic and utopian, and that as gun control created a duopoly of force between the state and criminals, it would be more desirable to encourage training among average citizens so they might develop a better relationship with firearms.[99] Although Hitchens repeatedly stated a broad support for the right to keep and bear arms, he was not an enthusiastic advocate and he rarely publicly discussed his views.[100]

LGBT rights[edit]

Hitchens was a supporter of LGBT rights. He opposed sodomy laws and supported same-sex marriage. He argued that the legalization of same-sex marriage was the "socialization of homosexuality" and "demonstrates the spread of conservatism" among the gay community.[101][102]

NSA warrantless surveillance[edit]

In January 2006, Hitchens joined with four other individuals and four organisations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, challenging Bush's warrantless domestic spying program; the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU.[103][104][105]

Voting rights[edit]

In March 2005, Hitchens supported further investigation into voting irregularities in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election.[106]

Religion[edit]

At the New York Public Library in May 2007, Hitchens debated Al Sharpton on the issue of theism and anti-theism, giving rise to a memorable exchange about Mormonism in particular.[107]

In God is Not Great, Hitchens contended that,

above all, we are in need of a renewed Enlightenment, which will base itself on the proposition that the proper study of mankind is man and woman [referencing Alexander Pope]. This Enlightenment will not need to depend, like its predecessors, on the heroic breakthroughs of a few gifted and exceptionally courageous people. It is within the compass of the average person. The study of literature and poetry, both for its own sake and for the eternal ethical questions with which it deals, can now easily depose the scrutiny of sacred texts that have been found to be corrupt and confected. The pursuit of unfettered scientific inquiry, and the availability of new findings to masses of people by electronic means, will revolutionize our concepts of research and development. Very importantly, the divorce between the sexual life and fear, and the sexual life and disease, and the sexual life and tyranny, can now at last be attempted, on the sole condition that we banish all religions from the discourse. And all this and more is, for the first time in our history, within the reach if not the grasp of everyone.[108]

Hitchens was accused of "anti-Catholic bigotry" by others, including Brent Bozell and UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge.[109] When Joe Scarborough on 12 March 2004 asked Hitchens whether he was "consumed with hatred for conservative Catholics", Hitchens responded that he was not and that he just thinks that "all religious belief is sinister and infantile".[110]

In 2005, Hitchens praised Lenin's creation of "secular Russia" and his destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church, describing it as "an absolute warren of backwardness and evil and superstition."[20] In an interview with Radar in 2007, Hitchens said that if the Christian right's agenda were implemented in the United States "It wouldn't last very long and would, I hope, lead to civil war, which they will lose, but for which it would be a great pleasure to take part."[111]

On 4 April 2009, Hitchens debated Christian philosopher William Lane Craig at Biola University on the topic "Does God Exist?" before both a live and closed circuit audience of over 15,000.[112]

Islamism[edit]

Hitchens was deeply shocked by the 14 February 1989 fatwa against his longtime friend Salman Rushdie.[113] He became increasingly critical of what he called "theocratic fascism" or "fascism with an Islamic face": radical Islamists who supported the fatwa against Rushdie and sought the recreation of the medieval caliphate.[citation needed]

Hitchens is often credited with coining the term "Islamofascism", but Hitchens himself denied it, attributing its coinage to Malise Ruthven.[114][115] Hitchens did use the term Islamic fascism for an article he wrote for The Nation, shortly after the September 11 attacks, but this phrase also had an earlier history. For example, it was used in The Washington Post on 13 January 1979; it also appears to have been used by secularists in Turkey and Afghanistan to describe their opponents.[citation needed]

In February 2006, Hitchens helped organize a pro-Denmark rally outside the Danish Embassy in Washington, DC, in response to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.[116]

Mormonism[edit]

Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens in 2008

BornChristopher Eric Hitchens
(1949-04-13)13 April 1949
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England
Died15 December 2011(2011-12-15) (aged 62)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Cause of deathPneumonia brought on by esophageal cancer
Nationality
  • British (1949–2011)
  • American (2007–2011)
EducationThe Leys School
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford
Spouse(s)
  • Eleni Meleagrou
    (m. 1981; div. 1989)
  • Carol Blue
    (m. 1991)[1]
Awards
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolNew Atheism[2]

Main interests

Politics, philosophy of religion,[2] history, literary criticism

Notable ideas

Hitchens's razor

Influences

  • George Orwell,[3]Leszek Kolakowski, Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, George Eliot, Che Guevara, Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, John Stuart Mill, Joseph Heller, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Edward Said, Salman Rushdie, Vladimir Nabokov, Richard Llewellyn, Aldous Huxley, PG Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Richard Hofstadter, Paul Mark Scott, James Joyce, Albert Camus, Oscar Wilde, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Martin Amis, Kingsley Amis, James Fenton, Jessica Mitford, Ian McEwan, Colm Tóibín, Bertrand Russell, Wilfred Owen, Israel Shahak,[4]Isaiah Berlin, W. H. Auden, Susan Sontag[5]

Signature

Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was an Anglo-American[9] author, columnist, essayist, orator, religious and literary critic, social critic, and journalist. Hitchens was the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of over 30 books, including five collections of essays on culture, politics and literature. A staple of public discourse, his confrontational style of debate made him both a lauded intellectual and a controversial public figure. He contributed to New Statesman, The Nation, The Weekly Standard, The Atlantic, London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Slate, Free Inquiry and Vanity Fair.

Having long described himself as a social democrat, a Marxist, and an anti-totalitarian, he began to break with the established political left after what he called the "tepid reaction" of the Western left to the Satanic Verses controversy, followed by the left's embrace of Bill Clinton and the antiwar movement's opposition to NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. His support of the Iraq War separated him further. His writings include critiques of public figures such as Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa and Diana, Princess of Wales. He was the elder brother of the conservative journalist and author Peter Hitchens. He also advocated for the separation of church and state.

As an antitheist he regarded the concept of a god or supreme being as a totalitarian belief that impedes individual freedom. He argued that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of informing ethics and defining codes of conduct for human civilization. The dictum "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence" has become known as Hitchens's razor.[10][11]

Life and career[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, the elder of two boys; his younger brother Peter Hitchens is a Christian and socially conservative journalist.[12][13] His parents, Eric Ernest Hitchens (1909–1987) and Yvonne Jean Hitchens (née Hickman; 1921–1973), met in Scotland when both were serving in the Royal Navy during World War II. Christopher often referred to Eric as simply the 'commander'. Eric was deployed on HMS Jamaica which took part in the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape on 26 December 1943. Christopher would pay tribute to his father's contribution to the war: "Sending a Nazi convoy raider to the bottom is a better day's work than any I have ever done." He also stated that "the remark that most summed him [his father] up was the flat statement that the war of 1939 to 1945 had been 'the only time when I really felt I knew what I was doing'."[14][15] His mother was a "Wren" (a member of the Women's Royal Naval Service).[16]

His father's naval career required the family to move a number of times from base to base throughout Britain and its dependencies, including in Malta, where Christopher's brother Peter was born in Sliema in 1951.[17]

Hitchens attended Mount House School (now known as Mount Kelly) in Tavistock in Devon from the age of eight, followed by the independent Leys School in Cambridge.[18] Hitchens then attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he was tutored by Steven Lukes and Anthony Kenny and read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, graduating in 1970 with a third-class degree.[19] Hitchens was "bowled over" in his adolescence by Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley, Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon,Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, R. H. Tawney's critique on Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and the works of George Orwell.[16] In 1968, he took part in the TV quiz show University Challenge.[20]

In the 1960s, Hitchens joined the political left, drawn by disagreement over the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, racism, and oligarchy, including that of "the unaccountable corporation." He expressed affinity with the politically charged countercultural and protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He avoided the recreational drug use of the time, saying "in my cohort we were slightly anti-hedonistic...it made it very much easier for police provocation to occur, because the planting of drugs was something that happened to almost everyone one knew."[21] Hitchens was inspired to become a journalist after reading a piece by James Cameron.[18]

Hitchens joined the Labour Party in 1965, but along with the majority of the Labour students' organisation was expelled in 1967, because of what Hitchens called "Prime Minister Harold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam".[22] Under the influence of Peter Sedgwick, who translated the writings of Russian revolutionary and Soviet dissident Victor Serge, Hitchens forged an ideological interest in Trotskyism and anti-Stalinist socialism.[16] Shortly after he joined "a small but growing post-Trotskyist Luxemburgist sect".[23]

Journalistic career in the UK (1971–1981)[edit]

Hitchens began working as a correspondent for the magazine International Socialism,[24] published by the International Socialists, the forerunners of today's British Socialist Workers Party. This group was broadly Trotskyist, but differed from more orthodox Trotskyist groups in its refusal to defend communist states as "workers' states". Their slogan was "Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism".

In 1971 Hitchens went to work at the Times Higher Education Supplement where he served as a social science correspondent. Hitchens admitted that he hated the position, and was fired after six months in the job. Next he was a researcher for ITV's Weekend World.[25] In 1973 he went to work for the New Statesman, where his colleagues included the authors Martin Amis, whom he had briefly met at Oxford, Julian Barnes and James Fenton, with whom he had shared a house in Oxford.[25] Around that time, the Friday lunches began, which were attended by writers including Clive James, Ian McEwan, Kingsley Amis, Terence Kilmartin, Robert Conquest, Al Alvarez, Peter Porter, Russell Davies and Mark Boxer. At the New Statesman Hitchens acquired a reputation as a left-winger, reporting internationally from areas of conflict such as Northern Ireland, Libya, and Iraq.[25]

In November 1973, Hitchens's mother committed suicide in Athens in a pact with her lover, a defrocked clergyman named Timothy Bryan.[16] The pair overdosed on sleeping pills in adjoining hotel rooms, and Bryan slashed his wrists in the bathtub. Hitchens flew alone to Athens to recover his mother's body, initially under the impression that his mother had been murdered. Both her children were then independent adults. While in Greece, Hitchens reported on the constitutional crisis of the military junta. It became his first leading article for the New Statesman.[18] In December 1977, Hitchens interviewed Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, a conversation he later described as "horrifying".[26] In 1977, unhappy at the New Statesman, Hitchens defected to the Daily Express where he became a foreign correspondent. He returned to the New Statesman in 1979 where he became foreign editor.[25]

American writings (1981–2011)[edit]

Hitchens went to the United States in 1981, as part of an editor exchange programme between the New Statesman and The Nation.[27] After joining The Nation, he penned vociferous critiques of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and American foreign policy in South and Central America.[28][29][30][31][32][33] He became a contributing editor of Vanity Fair in 1992,[34] writing ten columns a year. He left The Nation in 2002 after profoundly disagreeing with other contributors over the Iraq War.[clarification needed] There is speculation that Hitchens was the inspiration for Tom Wolfe's character Peter Fallow in the 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities,[30] but others — including Hitchens —believe it to be Spy Magazine's "Ironman Nightlife Decathlete" Anthony Haden-Guest.[35] In 1987, his father died from cancer of the oesophagus, the same disease that would later claim his own life.[36] In April 2007, Hitchens became a US citizen. He became a media fellow at the Hoover Institution in September 2008.[37] At Slate, he usually wrote under the news-and-politics column named Fighting Words.[38]

Hitchens spent part of his early career in journalism as a foreign correspondent in Cyprus.[39] Through his work there he met his first wife Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, with whom he had two children, Alexander and Sophia. His son, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, born in 1984, has worked as a policy researcher in London. Hitchens continued writing essay-style correspondence pieces from a variety of locales, including Chad, Uganda[40] and the Darfur region of Sudan.[41] In 1991, he received a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.[42]

Hitchens met Carol Blue in Los Angeles in 1989 and they married in 1991. Hitchens called it love at first sight.[43] In 1999, as harsh critics of Clinton, Hitchens and Carol Blue submitted an affidavit to the trial managers of the Republican Party in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Therein they swore that their then-friend, Sidney Blumenthal, had described Monica Lewinsky as a stalker. This allegation contradicted Blumenthal's own sworn deposition in the trial,[44] and it resulted in a hostile exchange of opinion in the public sphere between Hitchens and Blumenthal. Following the publication of Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars, Hitchens wrote several pieces in which he accused Blumenthal of manipulating the facts.[44][45] The incident ended their friendship and sparked a personal crisis for Hitchens who was stridently criticised by friends for what they saw as a cynical and ultimately politically futile act.[28]

Before Hitchens's political shift, the American author and polemicist Gore Vidal was apt to speak of Hitchens as his "dauphin" or "heir".[46][47] In 2010, Hitchens attacked Vidal in a Vanity Fair piece headlined "Vidal Loco", calling him a "crackpot" for his adoption of 9/11 conspiracy theories.[48][49] On the back of Hitchens's memoir Hitch-22, among the praise from notable figures, Vidal's endorsement of Hitchens as his successor is crossed out in red and annotated "NO, C.H." His strong advocacy of the war in Iraq had gained Hitchens a wider readership, and in September 2005 he was named as fifth on the list of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines.[50] An online poll ranked the 100 intellectuals, but the magazines noted that the rankings of Hitchens (5), Noam Chomsky (1), and Abdolkarim Soroush (15) were partly due to supporters publicising the vote. He later responded to his ranking with a few articles about his status as such.[51][52]

Hitchens did not leave his position writing for The Nation until after the September 11 attacks, stating that he felt the magazine had arrived at a position "that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden."[53] The September 11 attacks "exhilarated" him, bringing into focus "a battle between everything I love and everything I hate" and strengthening his embrace of an interventionist foreign policy that challenged "fascism with an Islamic face."[33] His numerous editorials in support of the Iraq War caused some to label him a neoconservative, although Hitchens insisted he was not "a conservative of any kind," and his friend Ian McEwan described him as representing the anti-totalitarian left.[54] Hitchens recalls in his memoir having been "invited by Bernard-Henri Levy to write an essay on political reconsiderations for his magazine La Regle du Jeu. I gave it the partly ironic title: 'Can One Be a Neoconservative?' Impatient with this, some copy editor put it on the cover as 'How I Became a Neoconservative.' Perhaps this was an instance of the Cartesian principle as opposed to the English empiricist one: It was decided that I evidently was what I apparently only thought." Indeed, in a 2010 BBC interview, he stated that he "still [thought] like a Marxist" and considered himself "a leftist."[55]

In 2007, Hitchens's work for Vanity Fair won the National Magazine Award in the category "Columns and Commentary".[56] He was a finalist in the same category in 2008 for some of his columns in Slate but lost out to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone.[57] He won the National Magazine Award for Columns about Cancer in 2011.[58][59] Hitchens also served on the Advisory Board of Secular Coalition for America and offered advice to the Coalition on the acceptance and inclusion of nontheism in American life.[60] In December 2011, prior to his death, Asteroid57901 Hitchens was named after him.[61]

Literature reviews[edit]

Hitchens wrote a monthly essay in The Atlantic[62] and occasionally contributed to other literary journals. One of his books, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, collected these works. In Why Orwell Matters, he defends Orwell's writings against modern critics as relevant today and progressive for his time. In the 2008 book Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Left, many literary critiques are included of essays and other books of writers, such as David Horowitz and Edward Said.

During a three-hour In Depth interview on Book TV, he named authors who influenced his views, including Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis, P. G. Wodehouse and Conor Cruise O'Brien.[5]

Political views[edit]

Main article: Political views of Christopher Hitchens

My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass.

—Christopher Hitchens[63]

In 2009 Hitchens was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the "25 most influential liberals in the U.S. media".[64] The same article noted, however, that he would "likely be aghast to find himself on this list", as it reduces his self-styled radicalism to mere liberalism. Hitchens's political perspectives also appear in his wide-ranging writings, which include many dialogues.[65] He said of libertarianism, "I have always found it quaint, and rather touching, that there is a movement in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough."[66]

While Hitchens supported Israel's right to exist, he was critical of the Israeli government's handling of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Having long described himself as a socialist and a Marxist, Hitchens began his break from the established political left after what he called the "tepid reaction" of the Western left to the controversy over The Satanic Verses, followed by the left's embrace of Bill Clinton, and the antiwar movement's opposition to NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. He later became a liberal hawk and supported the War on Terror, but he had some reservation, such as his characterization of waterboarding as torture after voluntarily undergoing the procedure.[67][68] In January 2006, he joined with four other individuals and four organizations, including the ACLU and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, challenging Bush's NSA warrantless surveillance; the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU.[69][70]

Critiques of specific individuals[edit]

Hitchens wrote book-length biographical essays about Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson: Author of America), Thomas Paine (Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man": A Biography) and George Orwell (Why Orwell Matters).

He became known for his critiques of public contemporary figures including Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger— the subjects of three separate full length texts, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, and The Trial of Henry Kissinger.

In 2007, while promoting his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens described the Christian evangelist Billy Graham as "a self-conscious fraud" and "a disgustingly evil man". Hitchens claimed that the evangelist, who had recently been hospitalized for intestinal bleeding, made a living by "going around spouting lies to young people. What a horrible career. I gather it's soon to be over. I certainly hope so."

In response to the comments, writers Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, published an article in Time Magazine in which, among other things, they refuted Hitchens's suggestion that Graham went into ministry to make money. They argued that during his career Graham 'turn[ed] down million-dollar television and Hollywood offers'. They also pointed out that having established the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950, Graham drew a straight salary, comparable to that of a senior minister, irrespective of the money raised by his meetings.[71]

Other of Hitchens's critiques took the form of opinion pieces or lengthy lectures, including his critiques of Jerry Falwell,[72][73]George Galloway,[74]Slobodan Milošević,[75]Mel Gibson,[76] the 14th Dalai Lama,[77]Michael Moore,[78]Daniel Pipes,[79]Ronald Reagan,[80]Jesse Helms,[81] and Cindy Sheehan.[23][82]

Criticism of religion[edit]

See also: God Is Not Great

Hitchens was an antitheist, and said that a person "could be an atheist and wish that belief in God were correct," but that "an antitheist, a term I'm trying to get into circulation, is someone who is relieved that there's no evidence for such an assertion."[83] He often spoke against the Abrahamic religions. In a 2010 interview at New York Public Library, Hitchens stated that he was against infant circumcision. When asked by readers of The Independent (London) what he considered to be the "axis of evil", Hitchens replied "Christianity, Judaism, Islam—the three leading monotheisms."[84]

In his bestseller God Is Not Great, Hitchens expanded his criticism to include all religions, including those rarely criticised by Western secularists, such as Buddhism and neo-paganism. Hitchens said that organised religion is "the main source of hatred in the world", calling it "[v]iolent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: [it] ought to have a great deal on its conscience".[85] Hitchens therefore says in God Is Not Great that humanity is in need of a renewed Enlightenment.[86] The book received mixed responses, from praise in The New York Times for his "logical flourishes and conundrums"[87] to accusations of "intellectual and moral shabbiness" in the Financial Times.[88]God Is Not Great was nominated for a National Book Award on 10 October 2007.[89]

God Is Not Great affirmed Hitchens's position in the "New Atheism" movement. Hitchens was made an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist International and the National Secular Society shortly after its release and he was later named to the Honorary Board of distinguished achievers of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.[90][91] He also joined the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America, a group of atheists and humanists.[60] Hitchens said he would accept an invitation from any religious leader who wished to debate with him. On 30 September 2007, Richard Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett met at Hitchens's residence for a private, unmoderated discussion that lasted two hours. The event was videotaped and titled "The Four Horsemen".[92] In it, Hitchens stated at one point that he considered the Maccabean Revolt the most unfortunate event in human history due to the reversion from Hellenistic thought and philosophy to messianism and fundamentalism that its success constituted.[93][94]

That year, Hitchens began a series of written debates on the question "Is Christianity Good for the World?" with Christian theologian and pastor Douglas Wilson, published in Christianity Today magazine.[95] This exchange eventually became a book by the same title in 2008. During their promotional tour of the book, they were accompanied by the producer Darren Doane's film crew. Doane produced the film Collision: Is Christianity GOOD for the World?, which was released on 27 October 2009. On 4 April 2009 Hitchens debated William Lane Craig on the existence of God at Biola University.[96] On October 19, 2009, Intelligence Squared explored the question "Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world".[97]John Onaiyekan and Ann Widdecombe argued that it was while Hitchens joined Stephen Fry in arguing that it was not. The latter side won the debate according to an audience poll.[98] On 26 November 2010, Hitchens appeared in Toronto, Ontario at the Munk Debates, where he debated religion with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a convert to Roman Catholicism. Blair argued religion is a force for good, while Hitchens was against it.[99]

Throughout these debates, Hitchens became known for his use of persuasive rhetoric and enthusiasm toward public speaking. "Wit and eloquence", "verbal barbs and linguistic dexterity" and "self-reference, literary engagement and hyperbole" have all been described as common elements of his speeches.[100][101][102] Among his supporters, "Hitch-slap" has come about as an informal term for a carefully crafted remark designed to humiliate his opponents.[102][103] Hitchens's line "one asks wistfully if there is no provision in the procedures of military justice for them to be taken out and shot," condemning the perpetrators of the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse, was cited by The Humanist as an example.[104] A tribute in Politico stated that this was a trait Hitchens shared with fellow atheist and intellectual Gore Vidal.[105]

Hitchens was raised nominally Christian, and went to Christian boarding schools, but from an early age declined to participate in communal prayers. Later in life, Hitchens discovered that he was of Jewish descent on his mother's side. Hitchens's Jewish-born ancestors were immigrants from Eastern Europe (including Poland).[18][106][107]

Personal life[edit]

Hitchens was married twice, first to Eleni Meleagrou,[108] a Greek Cypriot in 1981; the couple had a son, Alexander, and a daughter, Sophia. In 1991, Hitchens married his second and last wife, Carol Blue, an American screenwriter,[28] in a ceremony held at the apartment of Victor Navasky, editor of The Nation. They had a daughter together, Antonia.[28]

Illness and death[edit]

In June 2010, Hitchens was on tour in New York promoting his memoirs Hitch-22 when he was taken into emergency care suffering from a severe pericardial effusion and then announced he was postponing his tour to undergo treatment for esophageal cancer.[109] He announced that he was undergoing treatment in a Vanity Fair piece titled "Topic of Cancer".[36] Hitchens said that he recognised the long-term prognosis was far from positive, and that he would be a "very lucky person to live another five years".[110] A heavy smoker and drinker since his teenage years, Hitchens acknowledged that these habits likely contributed to his illness.[111] During his illness, Hitchens was under the care of Francis Collins and was the subject of Collins' new cancer treatment, which maps out the human genome and selectively targets damaged DNA.[112][113]

Hitchens died on 15 December 2011 at the age of 62 in the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.[114] In accordance with his wishes, his body was donated to medical research.[115] Hitchens wrote a book-length work about his last illness, based on his Vanity Fair columns. Mortality was published in September 2012.[116]

Reactions to death[edit]

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said, "Christopher Hitchens was a complete one-off, an amazing mixture of writer, journalist, polemicist, and unique character. He was fearless in the pursuit of truth and any cause in which he believed. And there was no belief he held that he did not advocate with passion, commitment, and brilliance. He was an extraordinary, compelling, and colourful human being whom it was a privilege to know."[117]

Richard Dawkins, a friend of Hitchens, said, "I think he was one of the greatest orators of all time. He was a polymath, a wit, immensely knowledgeable, and a valiant fighter against all tyrants, including imaginary supernatural ones."[117]

American theoretical physicist and cosmologistLawrence Krauss said, "Christopher was a beacon of knowledge and light in a world that constantly threatens to extinguish both. He had the courage to accept the world for just what it is and not what he wanted it to be. That's the highest praise, I believe, one can give to any intellect. He understood that the universe doesn't care about our existence or welfare and he epitomized the realization that our lives have meaning only to the extent that we give them meaning."[118][119]Bill Maher paid tribute to Hitchens on his show Real Time with Bill Maher, saying, "We lost a hero of mine, a friend, and one of the great talk show guests of all time."[120]Salman Rushdie and English comedian Stephen Fry paid tribute at the Christopher Hitchens Vanity Fair Memorial 2012.[121][122][123][124] Three weeks before Hitchens's death, George Eaton of the New Statesman wrote, "He is determined to ensure that he is not remembered simply as a 'lefty who turned right' or as a contrarian and provocateur. Throughout his career, he has retained a commitment to the Enlightenment values of reason, secularism and pluralism. His targets—Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, God—are chosen not at random, but rather because they have offended one or more of these principles. The tragedy of Hitchens' illness is that it came at a time when he enjoyed a larger audience than ever. The great polemicist is certain to be remembered, but, as he is increasingly aware, perhaps not as he would like."[125]The Chronicle of Higher Education asked if Hitchens was the last public intellectual.[126]

In 2015, an annual prize of $50,000 was established in his honour for "an author or journalist whose work reflects a commitment to free expression and inquiry, a range and depth of intellect, and a willingness to pursue the truth without regard to personal or professional consequence."[127]

Film and television appearances[edit]

Books[edit]

Main article: Christopher Hitchens bibliography

  • 1984 Cyprus. Quartet. Revised editions as Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger, 1989 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) and 1997 (Verso) ISBN 1859841899
  • 1987 Imperial Spoils: The Curious Case of the Elgin Marbles, Hill and Wang ISBN 0809041898
  • 1988 Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question (contributor; co-editor with Edward Said) Verso, ISBN 0-86091-887-4 Reissued, 2001
  • 1988 Prepared for the Worst: Selected Essays and Minority Reports Hill and Wang, ISBN 0809078678
  • 1990 The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain's Favorite Fetish, Chatto & Windus Ltd ISBN 9781448155354
  • 1990 Blood, Class and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies, Farrar Straus & Giroux (T)(June 1990) ISBN 9780374114435
  • 1993 "For the Sake of Argument" Verso ISBN 0860914356
  • 1995 The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, Verso
  • 1997 The Parthenon Marbles: The Case for Reunification, Verso ISBN 1786631822
  • 1999 No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family, original hardcover title: "No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton," Verso
  • 2000 Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, Verso
  • 2001 The Trial of Henry Kissinger. Verso. ISBN 1859843980
  • 2001 Letters to a Young Contrarian, Basic Books
  • 2002 Why Orwell Matters also Orwell's Victory, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-03050-5
  • 2003 A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq. Plume/Penguin Group, ISBN 0-452-28498-8
  • 2004 Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays, Thunder's Mouth, Nation Books, ISBN 1-56025-580-3
  • 2005 Thomas Jefferson: Author of America, Eminent Lives/Atlas Books/HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 0-06-059896-4
  • 2007 "Thomas Paine's Rights of Man: A Biography ", Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 0-87113-955-3
  • 2007 God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Twelve/Hachette Book Group USA/Warner Books, ISBN 0-446-57980-7 / Published in the UK as God is not Great: The Case Against Religion, Atlantic Books, ISBN 978-1-84354-586-6
  • 2007 The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer, [Editor] Perseus Publishing. ISBN 978-0-306-81608-6
  • 2008 Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq and the Left (with Simon Cottee and Thomas Cushman), New York University Press, ISBN 0814716873
  • 2008 Is Christianity Good for the World? – A Debate (co-author, with Douglas Wilson), Canon Press, ISBN 1-59128-053-2
  • 2010 Hitch-22: A Memoir, Twelve, ISBN 978-0-446-54033-9OCLC 464590644
  • 2011 Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens, Twelve. UK edition as Arguably: Selected Prose, Atlantic, ISBN 1-4555-0277-4 / ISBN 978-1-4555-0277-6
  • 2012 Mortality, Twelve, ISBN 1-4555-0275-8 / ISBN 978-1-4555-0275-2. UK edition as Mortality, Atlantic Books, ISBN 1-84887-921-0 / ISBN 978-1-84887-921-8
  • 2015 And Yet...: Essays, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-1476772066

References[edit]

Hitchens in November 2010
Former British prime minister Tony Blair and Hitchens at the Munk debate on religion, Toronto, November 2010
Christopher Hitchens reading his book Hitch-22 (2010).

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