The late Christopher Hitchens was one of the most original thinkers and writers in Anglo-American political discourse. Hitchens unique ideological combination of social liberalism, borderline socialism economically and neoconservatism on foreign affairs was tied together neatly by his disdain for religion – he is what we would call an anti-theist. Hitchens passed in 2011 of cancer.
Moving to the United States from Britain in 1981, Hitchens was one of the most prominent voices on the left between the mid 1980’s and early to mid 1990’s. Hitchens articles in The Nation were often incredibly acidic attacks on the Reagan/Bush foreign policy.
Hitchens profound disappointment in Bill Clinton, whom was assumed to be a progressive but proved to be anything but on a number of issues led to a gradual thawing of his relationships with the left.
Since the mid 1990’s the Clintonian wing of the Democratic Party has played the politics of personal destruction and demonetization every bit as well as the Trump Republicans do today. Perhaps the methods are less overt, but they are effective. For Hitchens, he was roughed up like few others.
The journalist on the left whose critiques most mirrored Hitchens was Sidney Blumenthal of The New Republic and eventually The New Yorker. The two were roughly the same age and similar in writing style. Blumenthal’s world views and written analysis mirrored Hitchens. Well, at least it appeared to until President Clinton came calling.
Blumenthal went to work for President Clinton in 1997. The attacks from Clintonians on reporters in the late 1990’s including former liberal allies such as Hitchens helped create a culture of submission among Democrats and many in the media world toward Clintonian measures. But Hitchens didn’t submit, unlike so many others.
The Clintonian fall out
Those like Hitchens who didn’t play ball or felt Bill Clinton was a genuinely dishonest and flawed character (how could any objective individual feel differently?) were marginalized or even driven to the other side of the political ledger. Hitchens made the claim that privately Blumenthal had given characterizations about Monica Lewinsky that were different than his comments in a sworn deposition on the matter.
The back-and-forth which ensued ended their friendship. It’s very likely Hitchens over-reacted and in his self-riotous attitude, went well overboard in his public comments about Blumenthal instead simply disengaging.
However, history would somewhat vindicate Hitchens when Blumenthal actively helped spread the salacious rumors about President Obama during the 2008 primary, These rumors made its way into the more pro-Clinton elements of the press and continued this pattern into the 2010’s. It’s often forgotten in 2020, how nasty the Clinton forces were toward the Obama candidacy in 2007 and 2008, subtly yet aggressively spreading the same sort of false innuendo that Donald Trump did after Obama’s election.
Blumenthal was among the architects of this strategy along with Howard Wolfson who had served in consulting role for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and was also a FOX News contributor. Wolfson would later serve as a right-hand man to Mike Bloomberg, who not coincidentally, appeared to be the Clintonian establishment choice for President in 2020. It must be remembered, Joe Biden, a traditional liberal was not the Clintonian choice but merely a safe-landing spot when confronted with the prospect of a progressive nominee.
No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton sums up the frustrations Hitchens felt with the contradictions and lies of President Clinton. Published in 1999, it was scathing critique of Clinton’s morality and selling out of the left. However, publishing the book hastened Hitchens departure from being accepted by the left which by this point had been almost wholly compromised by Clintonism.
Freed from either parroting the commentary of the left or fending off the Clinton White House , Hitchens wrote perhaps his most effective prose in The Trial of Henry Kissinger. This book rips apart the immorality of the US foreign policy under Richard Nixon and serves as a reminder as to how deeply dark many American interventions abroad were during the Cold War.
Idealism pulls Hitchesn toward neoconservatism
Realpolitik as a doctrine butted heads with the professed idealism of neoconservatives. During the Presidency of George W. Bush, idealism fueled on one hand the ideology of neoconservativism – but on the other hand some Bush aides embraced an imperialist power grab, consistent with the same sort post-World War II, American foreign policy Hitchens long panned.
The neoconservative alliance with conservative Republican realpolitik types we now know has broken down. The bulk of prominent neoconservatives no longer self-identify as Republicans, and, in fact are becoming increasingly aligned with the Democrats. However, during the George W. Bush administration it is important to remember they were in alliance albeit with different world views.
Hitchens guided by his general disdain for religion and a sense of idealism joined forces with the neoconservatives championing military actions all over the Middle East and Central Asia during the Bush Presidency. Hitchens left The Nation and began attacking “Islamofasicm”. I tended to agree with the analysis that Islam in many parts had become radicalized and the religion as applied by some political figures represented a form of fascism. I strongly advocate the left treating Islam the same way it treats Christianity, something many absolutely fail to do, for reason I believe that are linked to race and identity.
I’d often travel to India and inevitably every time I went, or had a family member there Muslim extremists would blow something up, killing hundreds.
I was in India for the 2003 bombing of Mumbai’s financial district, my cousin was in India during the 2005 Delhi bombings and my father was supposed to be in Mumbai on 26/11, India’s own version of 9/11. However, despite these personal experiences, I could not see much of Hitchens logic – first off Saddam Hussien represented a Baathist secularism – a hedge against Islamofascism. Secondly, invading any country in that region would increase extremism. Thirdly, if Iran was really as evil as Hitchens and many in the Bush White House claimed, shouldn’t keeping Shi’a leaders out of power in the neighboring country be logical?
Hitchens claimed to not be a “conservative of any kind.” At the time, I wrote him off as yet another conservative hack who had disappointed me. But as I reflected in later years, I realized Hitchens advocacy for Bush’s wars probably represented a new awakening on the far left, the return of anti-authoritarianism as a leftist ideology. It is probably in that sense a good thing Hitchens passed before the scourge of Trumpism overwhelmed America.
Attacks on Religion
During the Bush years, Hitchens wrote one of the most compelling biographies ever written about Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Eminent Lives) tries to reconcile Jefferson’s general leftist tendencies with his hypocritical advocacy of slavery after having earlier in his life been conflicted about it. Hitchens’ portrayal is a combination of supportive of Jefferson idealism and disdain for religion while being deeply critical of his views on slavery and his general performance in his second Presidential term. Hitchens comes to the conclusion also that Jefferson’s self-pity was too much to bear at times, something borne out by any reasonable analysis of his writings.
Before Bush left office, Hitchens penned his most controversial and polarizing work. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything was a manifesto of everything Hitchens believed about religion. Reading it has become a rite of passage for some on the American left in the 2010’s and into 2020. It should be said however, the hostility of the left to religion helps to explain why the Democratic Party loses so many elections in this day and age. Religion has been arguably the single greatest trigger on positive social change in American history, believe it or not.
That religion in the 21st Century has been largely corrupted is irrefutable and Hitchens lays out his case, which I subscribe to, brilliantly. However, the left often projects the failing hypocrisy of religious leaders and scripts as an indictment of all persons of faith. That is simply put, absolutely myopic.
In 2008, Hitchens strongly endorsed Barack Obama for President on Chris Mathews Hardball show in October. This was interpreted on some fronts as Hitchens returning home to the left, but from others as neoconservative approval of Obama. The debate as to whether Obama was a leftist or a neoconservative continues today after he’s been out of office for three years. Hitchens perspective in backing Obama no doubt is debated on the same lines.
Undoubtedly, if the Democrats had nominated Hillary Clinton, Hitchens would have backed GOP nominee John McCain. So Hitchens support of Obama may very well have been down to his gratitude toward the slayer of a Clinton, rather than any ideology.
Sadly, it would be Hitchens last Presidential election.
Tributes when Hitchens passed in December 2011 flowed in. A sampling is below and concludes our narrative.
“Christopher Hitchens was a complete one-off, an amazing mixture of writer, journalist, polemicist, a 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.” – Tony Blair
“We lost a hero of mine, a friend, and one of the great talk show guests of all time.” – Bill Maher
“Goodbye, my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops. Christopher Hitchens, April 13, 1949-December 15, 2011.” – Salman Rushdie
“Christopher Hitchens was a wit, a charmer and a troublemaker, and to those who knew him well, he was a gift from, dare I say, God.” – Graydon Carter