Christopher Hitchens's Contradictory Legacy

Crusades, holy men, and devils

It seems entirely possible that Christopher Hitchens will be primarily remembered in America for his public atheism. I suspect Hitchens himself was surprised at how wildly popular God Is Not Great became, giving much-needed voice and ammunition to thousands of godless heathens in the land of the drive-through church.

Yet it's an inadequate way to remember the man, and not because Hitchens did little more in that book than to lay some tracing paper on the Enlightenment's best thinkers and draw giddily (though with acidic and often very funny ink), or because—this is not an exaggeration—the American public regards atheists on about the same level as rapists.

The problem is that splitting the atheism away from the body of Hitchens's work debases it into a kind of rascally parlor trick—"Uncle Christopher, say the mean thing about Mother Teresa again!"—and distracts from the thorny paradox at the heart of Hitchens's thinking. Which is: While certainly an enemy of superstition and an eager chronicler of the sins and idiocies of the world's religions, Hitchens was actually a lifelong believer, if strictly in man-made gods. It is impossible to contemplate his prodigious and passionate writing without recognizing that it was always animated by crusades, holy men, and devils.

Indeed, the Hitchens universe was long populated by notions of absolute good and evil, stretching back to his days as a student Trotskyite. This tendency was tempered by a love of literature and the cocoon of irony that writers wrap around themselves. But Hitchens himself spoke of the struggle between the literal and ironic minds, and it is an aptly Hitchensian contradiction that the episode, I think, that created his own brand of fundamentalist was in defense of the ironic mind—in 1989, when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie for the supposed blasphemy of The Satanic Verses.

The importance of the Rushdie saga on Hitchens's thinking cannot be overstated. "I felt at once that here was something that completely committed me," he wrote in his splendid memoir, Hitch-22. "It was, if I can phrase it like this, a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved." This is of course a functional definition of evil and good. And there were obviously implications for the future, once Hitchens learned that among the Western left, it is entirely possible for well-meaning people, in the name of multicultural "understanding" or "tolerance" of non-Western societies, to overlook and even excuse atrocities and barbarism that would never be acceptable if perpetrated, say, by the Republican Party and its allies.

Few today would find fault with Hitchens's stance or actions on behalf of Rushdie. But he began to apply the moral purity he derived from it to situations where the good-versus-evil ledger was not so neatly visible. From the mid- to late-'90s on, when the books on Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton, and Henry Kissinger were published, the absolutism had pretty much taken over his work.

The fervent animosity of Crusader Hitchens could produce searing and hilarious prose. Of Bill Clinton he wrote: "His prolixity remains stubborn and incurable, yet it remains a fact that in all his decades of logorrhea Clinton has failed to make a single remark (absent some lame catch phrases like 'New Covenant' and of course the imperishable 'It all depends on what the meaning of "is" is') that could possibly adhere to the cortex of a thinking human being."

But the crusading mind-set also created a moral measuring tape that could trip or even strangle Hitchens's later views. The most obvious example is that the war in Iraq produced crimes and tragedies at least as venal as those that make up Hitchens's persuasive indictment of Henry Kissinger. And yet on such subjects—Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Haditha, etc.—Hitchens was either silent or tortuously defensive. Double standards are hardly unique to him, but perhaps they sting more because the strength of his rhetoric provided such succor to those who wanted to believe he was right.

Including himself. Writing about Iraq in Vanity Fair in 2003, Hitchens predicted that "it will emerge that Saddam always intended to reconstitute his WMD program." That this prediction did not come true does not mean that Hitchens was wrong, exactly. But then in the memoir published last year, he wrote: "If I was ever naïve about anything having to do with Iraqi WMD, it was in believing that the production of evidence like that, or indeed any other kind of evidence, would make even the most limited impression on the heavily armored certainties of the faithful." By "the faithful," he meant supporters of radical Islam. But when Hitchens was in holy-warrior mode, belief in the absence of evidence was a trait he shared with his sworn foes.

 
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26 comments
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Christine_Whittemore_28

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John Drinkwater
John Drinkwater

Very well-written, fair assessment. One of the best I've read, though I tend to be more anti than pro Hitchens. Love that quote about Clinton. I started liking Hitchens when I saw his Clinton stuff then started hating him after Iraq...and the God stuff was just boring. Why take those people seriously as he did?

ibivi
ibivi

His support of the war in Iraq was his Achilles heel. Despite his position he seemed uncomfortable with his new "friends"on the right. That such a clever man would support the basis (lies) for the need to destroy Iraq was his greatest mistake. Oh, and saying that women weren't funny. But still, I will miss him. More often than not he was right on and a great read.

Lenjanr
Lenjanr

What nonsense this all is -Hitchens took everyone for a good ride - he was a " star performer"and so good at it that every one comes away with an in depth point of view , not daringto admit that they have been taken in by a master .He gave all what they wanted .

jimbojr
jimbojr

A very eloquent asshole...

Aa
Aa

Christopher Hitchens was not shy about attacking religion, Christianity and Islam in particular. That's fine, as these religions have much to criticise and condemn.

Yet his caustic pen was strangely silent about the many foul deeds --if not outright atrocities-- of the very religion that he was born into -- Judaism. That's not to say that Hitchens was necessarily some kind of bigot; more likely the opinions he proffered, especially later in life, were ones designed to enhance his career. Despite his provocative nature, Hitchens knew where to draw the line to avoid these third-rails.

Because unlike Norman Finkelstein and General Eric Shinseki, Hitchens seemed well aware that being truthful about certain subjects could easily destroy one's career. And perhaps like Bill Kristol and other neoconservative war-mongers, he learned that being derided as a liar and hypocrite on the wrong side of history is no impediment to one's career.

Drew Hunkins
Drew Hunkins

Hitchens was a turncoat of the worst type. Soon after the 9-11 attacks he became a cheerleader for Bush, Cheney and the neo-cons' imperialistic wars on the Arab world. This was a man who had previously built a journalistic and intellectual career steadfastly supporting Palestinian rights (he co-authored a book with the late Edward Said), civil liberties, and lambasting any semblance of anti-democratic tendencies of any sort in any state. Yet he threw that all away by kowtowing to Fox News, rabid Zionists, and the Cheney war machine. Hitchens' apostasy was truly breathtaking in its scope, he'd savagely denounce his former intellectual colleagues with a ferocity that was astonishing; Chomsky, Cockburn, et. al., they all felt the lash of Hitchens' bromides. Of course Chomsky, Cockburn and others still fighting the good fight were a constant reminder rattling around in the back of Christopher's head that they still held fast to their moral and intellectual principles while he abandoned all claims to integrity by jumping into bed with Bush and the neo-con warmongers. One wonders how that must have felt, how did it feel being obviously much worse than a Jacobin, an out-and-out, total sell out? One of the finest socio-political essays of the last 30 years was written circa 2004 by Professor Norman Finkelstein. This magnificent piece addresses the disgraceful manner in which Hitchens completely sold his moral universe to the Bush junta and goes on to expose Hitchens supposed maverick unpredictability as emblematic of a complete lack of principles. If you look up 'Finkelstein Hitchens apostasy' I'm sure you'll find it quite easily, it's a phenomenal and extraordinary piece. Easily the proverbial 'must-read' of the last decade.

alexander search
alexander search

"It will emerge that Saddam allways intended to reconstitute his WMD programme". Hitchens was right about this according to Charles Duelfers book "hide and seek".

Neil Baker
Neil Baker

No, I don't think he'll be remembered most for his public atheism. I think he'll be best remembered for his posthoumous publications that have yet to be released where he'll describe his most excellent game of ketman.It is one of my highest hopes that he explain his seemingly irrational support for the absurd 19 arabs with boxcutters story in such an excellent way that he encourages a majority of Americans playing their own version of the game to drop their masks while still living and demand the long-overdue independent, fully funded and fully empowered 911 investigation.911 was a Zionist job. A growing preponderance of evidence supports the statement.I'm confident Hitchens knew that.His choice was play Ketman, be published, enjoy wealth and fame, etc. or go unpublished, poor, forgotten, largely ignored, deported and possibly murdered (like JFKjr.) in service to truth.I think he played Ketman and I anxiously await the revelation that he did so riding the wave of his deceptively-gotten post-mortem fame.

Myriam Breitman
Myriam Breitman

It's kind of ironic that if he was right and there is no afterlife, he'll never have the pleasure of saying "I told you so."

Myriam Breitman
Myriam Breitman

Your statement is simply incorrect on several levels. First of all, Hitchens was not born into Judaism. Had you read his autobiography Hitch-22, you would have known that his mother was indeed Jewish, but she concealed this fact from her husband and Hitch's father and in fact Cristoher and his brother were batized. Additional point is that Hitchens was anything but silent when it comes to critisising Judaism or Jews: the Old Testament, the ultra-orthodox jews, the Israeli settlers, the policies of the Israeli government and so on.

jcd
jcd

Actually, Hitchens dedicated an entire chapter of his book to a far more nuanced discussion of Judaism than you let on. He even is -- gasp -- critical of Israel in many ways.

redstone
redstone

"Yet his caustic pen was strangely silent about the many foul deeds --if not outright atrocities-- of the very religion that he was born into -- Judaism."

Fuck off, Hitler. Hitchens, raised in a traditional, Church of England, British upbringing, didn't even learn his maternal grandmother was jewish until well into his adulthood. But your one drop rule belies your racist ideology.

redstone
redstone

"Hitchens was a turncoat of the worst type"

Hitchens' stayed the course. A true socialist opposed to fascism where-ever it existed. Unlike Chomsky, Feinstein and the like that are okay with fascism so long as it's cloaked in Islamic greens of the Baathists rather than Nazi greys and blacks.

nexus974
nexus974

Oh come on! Do you honestly think Hitch gave two shits about Bush, Cheney, or any of that crowd? He had a change of heart. You may not like it or agree with it but it happens.

Gr8benwa
Gr8benwa

911 was a Zionist job. A growing preponderance of evidence supports the statement. lol. lets hear this evidence.

Drew Hunkins
Drew Hunkins

“Hitchens a true socialist,” right; demonstrated in spades by his eager embrace of the millionaire war profiteers of Bechtel, KBR, Haliburton and other Bush administration connected conglomerates by running intellectual cover for them to raid, pillage and loot Iraqi society.

You should realize that your petty swipes against Dr. Chomsky and Dr. Finkelstein make you appear puerile and your writing appear hackneyed.

Drew Hunkins
Drew Hunkins

It’s not that Hitchens necessarily had any personal affinity for the Bush gangsters; it’s that power resided with the Cheney Bush warmongers just after 9-11 and naturally that’s where sellouts gravitate to: the side with the power, fame, and money. The cult of Christopher Hitchens really didn’t take off until he jumped out of the anti-war left and comfortably ensconced himself in the milieu of the rightwing war lovers, Zionists, war profiteers and propagandists.

Neil Baker
Neil Baker

The moment WTC forensic crime scene was illegally removed and criminally destroyed, an independent, fully funded and fully empowered 911 investigation was required.

Larry Silverstein, doubly indemnified WTC leaseholder and Queen's strip club owner, was recorded stating that WTC Building Seven was "pulled" meaning brought down by controlled demolition.He is a Zionist.

Allyn Kilsheimer, alleged first responder to the Pentagon, lied publicly that he found the black boxes, missing plane parts and held the charred uniforms of dead Flight 77 crewmembers. His company KCE Structural Engineers was awarded the no-bid contract to repair the Pentagon.He is a Zionist.

Barbara Bodine, U.S. Ambassador to Yemen during USS Cole attack, obstructed the FBI investigation by denying entry visas when the FBI started investigating Israeli responsibility.She is a Zionist.

Philip Zelikow, Executive Director of the 911 Commission had extreme conflicts of interest and failed to subpoena clarifying testimony from Silverstein, Kilsheimer or Bodine. He is a Zionist.

The editor of the Popular Mechanics article debunking 911 Conspiracy Theories was Ben Chertoff. It has been claimed as a coincidence that he is cousin of Michael Chertoff, former Homeland Security Director.Ben and his cousin Michael are both Zionists. (by the way, when Hitchens swore the oath to become a dual American citizen, Michael Chertoff administered the oath)

The five dancing Arabs caught cheering and filming the 911 attacks were revealed to be Zionist Israelis.

How can any American be so dim as to accept the government's consiracy theory of 19 Arabs with boxcutters? And then the bull about Osama Bin Laden's death and burial at sea?

Is there anyone that can walk though closed doors as easily as they can walk through open ones? If not, then why does anyone think the top floors of a skyscraper can fall through undamaged lower floors as easily and nearly as quickly as they would fall through air? Not once. Not twice. But three times in one day when no steel framed skyscraper in the 100 year history of such buildings had ever collapsed due to fire even though several before and since have burned far longer and far hotter.

The U.S. government is Zionist controlled.The American mainstream media is Zionist controlled.Zionist Realism rules the world.Americans are slaves; murderous Zionist Israelis are the masters.

Demand emancipation. Demand an independent 911 investigation.

Neil Baker
Neil Baker

Actually, I was extensively evaluated by three different psychiatrists a bit more than a year ago. After getting very close to inciting a strike among UCSB faculty, staff and student coward whore slaves, I was arrested on false trumped up charges of "threatening to bomb or injure property." After being jailed for ten days as a political prisoner, I was involuntarily committed for twelve days (Soviet style) as a political dissident. The psychiatrist's unanimous conclusion was that I had no mental illness, no personality disorders and required no medication. In attempt to break me financially, court proceedings were stretched out for nearly a year before the bogus charge was pusillanimously dismissed without prejudice a week before the trial because they knew the unaccountable criminal and Zionist-controlled UCSB would be exposed in court as unaccountable criminal thugs. The Prosecution's evidence folder contained documents displaying a desperation on the part of UCSB to have me arrested for anything. They chose obscure items in Washington State's definition of "threat" that say it's a felony to threaten to accuse someone of a crime or to threaten to incite a strike. I neither theatened to accuse nor incite. I DID accuse UCSB of crime and I DID incite a strike, both legal. (There was nothing in the evidence folder about a bomb.)I did what Hitchen's wouldn't do. I stood and continually stand for truth. I demand an independent 911 investigation. And I'm paying the price. I've been rendered poor, unemployable, smeared, libeled, and unpublished. Responsible for a family, I admit, I might have done what Hitchens did.I hope he redeems himself with posthumous and incendiary clarifications.

Neil Baker
Neil Baker

It's quite the predicament. You insist on PHYSICAL evidence but, as I pointed out to you, the forensic crime scene evidence from the WTC building collapses was illegally removed and criminally destroyed which clearly raises an issue of presumption of guilt. Destruction of crime scene evidence is always seen as a defacto admission of guilt and should have immediately mandated an independent investigation.

But you don't have the PHYSICAL evidence either and it makes me wonder what flaw it is in your thinking that allows you to so irresponsibly dismiss the necessity of an independent 911 investigation.

I admit that it was essential evidence; forensic materials scientists could have provided indisputable measurements of the force and temperature profiles experienced by every structural member of the buildings and provided an extremely accurate timeline and progressive mechanism for building collapses. But the evidence was destroyed.

Now, it should and would be a different criminal investigation. Who ordered the removal and destruction of evidence? Unlike the failure of the 911 Commission, an independent investigation would interrogate Silverstein, Kilsheimer, Bodine, Zelikow, Chertoff, Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Guiliani, etc. UNDER OATH. There would be a record of their testimony. I'm confident trials for treason and very many formal Fort Leavenworth military firing squad and hanging executions would result. It would be diffcult but I think Americans, educated to the severity of their crimes, could and would confront the reality of Bush, Cheney and many more swinging from a gallows. I think Americans would demand the benign deconstruction of Israel with the ultimatum of annihilation by American military.

I think an independent 911 investigation chaired by men of proven integrity and gravitas would successfully reveal the misery-making but emancipaiting truth. I recommend retired US Army General, Antonio Taguba, as chair and retired US Navy Admiral, William Fallon, as Vice Chair or vice versa.

Also, Steven Jones, former professor at the University of Utah fired for his stand against the absurd conclusions of the 911 Commission, helped publish a largely ignored scientific paper that documented the presence of reacted and unreacted nanothermite in the dust of the WTC rubble which provides a possible mechanism on how WTC skyscrapers were collapsed at near freefall speeds.

Also, there is much evidence, coincidences and anomalies that was not considered by the 911 Commission that doesn't necessarily implicate Zionists. (I was earlier asked for and mainly answered a request for evidence of Zionist complicity.) I've always wondered how Hani Hanour, who couldn't rent a Cessna 172 two weeks earlier due to obvious incompetence, was able to superbly navigate and pilot a 757 across two states at low level and suddenly pop up to 8000 feet, perform a flawless high-speed 270 degree corkscrew descending turn to make a low level approach, clipping light poles along the way, to crash into the Pentagon in a way that caused the apparent complete incineration of all engines, plane parts, luggage, seats, bodies and produced an absurdly small hole in the side of the building.

What you want is PROOF, not evidence. And you want the PROOF prior to the independent, empowered and abundantly funded investigation that is the only way to acquire the PROOF. 911 was a Zionist job.Mainstream media and American politics is Zionist controlled.Americans are slaves.Zionists are masters.I think Hitchens played Ketman because he felt he didn't have any other acceptable choice.

Epac
Epac

When was the last time you spoke to a therapist? I think it's high time for a visit...either that or a re-evaluation of your meds.

Ricardo
Ricardo

It seems your only "evidence" is that some supposed Zionists were involved in a convoluted fashion during the aftermath of the attacks.You don't seem to have any PHYSICAL evidence of any kind to speak of. No blasting caps, no wiring, no evidence of explosive material, no nothing. All you have are baseless claims and a strong anti-semitism on your part.Come back when you have real evidence. For an extraordinary claim like this your evidence must be equally extraordinary.

 
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