- Category : Author
- Type : GP
- Profile : 3/5 - Martyr / Heretic
- Definition : Split - Small (27,28,34,46,54)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Maya 1
Christopher Eric Hitchens (born 13 April 1949) is an English-American author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career span more than four decades.
He has been a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became the William S. Hertz media fellow at the Hoover Institution in September 2008. He is a staple of talk shows and lecture circuits and in 2005 he was voted the world's fifth top public intellectual in a Prospect/Foreign Policy poll.
Known for his admiration of George Orwell, Karl Marx, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson, and for his excoriating critiques of, among others, Mother Teresa, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Henry Kissinger, his confrontational style of debate has made him both a lauded and controversial figure.
As a political observer, polemicist and self-defined radical, he rose to prominence as a fixture of the left-wing publications in his native Britain and in the United States. His departure from the established political left began in 1989 after what he called the "tepid reaction" of the European left following Ayatollah Khomeini's issue of a fatw? calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie. The September 11, 2001 attacks strengthened his embrace of an interventionist foreign policy and his vociferous criticism of what he called "fascism with an Islamic face."
Identified as a champion of the "new atheism" movement, Hitchens describes himself as an anti-theist and believer in the philosophical values of the Enlightenment. Hitchens says 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."
He argues that the concept of God or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization. He wrote at length on atheism and the nature of religion in his 2007 book God Is Not Great.
Though Hitchens retained his British citizenship, he became a United States citizen on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, on 13 April 2007, his fifty-eighth birthday. His latest book, Hitch-22: A Memoir, was published in June 2010. Touring for the book was cut short later the same month so that he could begin treatment for newly diagnosed oesophageal cancer.
Life and career
His mother Yvonne and father Eric (1909-1987) met in Scotland while both serving in the Royal Navy during World War II, Yvonne as a "Wren" (a member of the Women's Royal Naval Service), and Eric as an imperialistic, "purse-lipped and silent" Commander, whose ship (Hitchens claims) had sunk Nazi Germany's Scharnhorst in the Battle of North Cape. His father's Naval career required the family to move and reside in bases throughout the United Kingdom and its dependencies, including in Malta, where his brother Peter was born in Sliema in 1951.
Due to Yvonne arguing that "if there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it," he was educated at the independent Leys School, in Cambridge, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was tutored by Steven Lukes, and read philosophy, politics, and economics. Hitchens was "bowled over" in his adolescence by Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley, on the plight of Welsh miners, 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. In 1968 he took part in the TV quiz show University Challenge. Hitchens has written of his homosexual experiences when in boarding school in his memoir, Hitch-22. These experiences spilled over into his college years when he allegedly had relationships with two men who eventually became a part of Margaret Thatcher's government.
In the 1960s, Hitchens joined the political left, drawn by his anger over the Vietnam war, nuclear weapons, racism, and "oligarchy", including that of "the unaccountable corporation". He would express affinity to the politically charged countercultural and protest movements of the 1960s and 70s. However, he deplored the rife recreational drug use of the time, which he describes as hedonistic.
He joined the Labour Party in 1965, but was expelled in 1967 along with the majority of the Labour students' organization, because of what Hitchens called "Prime Minister Harold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam". Under the influence of Peter Sedgwick, translator of Russian revolutionary and Soviet dissident Victor Serge, Hitchens forged an ideological interest in Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist socialism. Shortly thereafter, he joined "a small but growing post-Trotskyite Luxemburgist sect". Throughout his student days, he was on many occasions arrested and assaulted in the various political protests and activities in which he participated.
He then became a correspondent for the magazine International Socialism, which was 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". This was symbolized in their slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism".
Fleet Street career (1970–81)
Hitchens left Oxford with a third class degree. His first job was with the London Times Higher Education Supplement, where he served as social science editor. Hitchens admits that he hated the job and was later fired from the position, recalling that "I sometimes think if I'd been any good at that job, I might still be doing it." In the 1970s, he went on to work for the New Statesman, where he became friends with, among others, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. At the New Statesman, he acquired a reputation as a fierce left-winger, aggressively attacking targets such as Henry Kissinger, the Vietnam War, and the Roman Catholic Church.
In November 1973, Hitchens' mother committed suicide in Athens in a suicide pact with her lover, a former clergyman named Timothy Bryan, in what was initially thought to be a murder scene, after overdosing on sleeping pills in adjoining hotel rooms with Timothy slashing his wrists in the bath to be sure. Hitchens flew alone to Athens to recover her remains. While there he reported on the Greek constitutional crisis of the military junta that was happening at the time. It became his first leading article for the New Statesman. Hitchens stated his belief that his mother was pressured into taking her own life under the fear of his father becoming aware of her infidelity, in an already strained and unhappy marriage, and with both her children now independent adults.
American career (1981–present)
After emigrating to the United States in 1981, Hitchens wrote for The Nation. While at The Nation he penned vociferous critiques of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and American foreign policy in South and Central America. He became a Contributing Editor of Vanity Fair in 1992, writing ten columns a year. He left The Nation in 2002, after profoundly disagreeing with other contributors over the Iraq War. There is speculation that Hitchens was the inspiration for Tom Wolfe's character Peter Fallow, in the 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, but others—including Hitchens—believe it to be Spy Magazine's "Ironman Nightlife Decathlete" Anthony Haden-Guest.
Hitchens spent part of his early career in journalism as a foreign correspondent in Cyprus. Through his work there he met his first wife Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, with whom he has two children, Alexander and Sophia. His son, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, born in 1984, has worked as a researcher for London think tanks the Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion. Hitchens has continued writing essay-style correspondence pieces from a variety of locales, including Chad, Uganda and the Darfur region of Sudan. He has visited all three countries in the so-called "Axis of Evil": Iraq, Iran and North Korea. His work has taken him to over 60 different countries.
In 1989 he met Carol Blue, a Californian writer, whom he later married, and had a daughter, Antonia. In 1991 he received a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.
Prior to Hitchens's political shift, the American author and polemicist Gore Vidal was apt to speak of Hitchens as his "Dauphin" or "heir." 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. Also, on the back of his book Hitch-22, among the praise from notable writers and figures, a Vidal quote endorsing Hitchens as his successor is crossed out with a red 'X' and a message saying "NO C.H."
His strong advocacy of the war in Iraq had gained Hitchens a wider readership, and in September 2005, he was named one of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines. 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.
In 2007, Hitchens's work for Vanity Fair won him the National Magazine Award in the category "Columns and Commentary." He was a finalist once more in the same category in 2008 for some of his columns in Slate, but lost out to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone.
Hitchens writes a monthly essay on books in the Atlantic Monthly and contributes occasionally to other literary journals. One of his books, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, is a collection of such works, and Love, Poverty and War contains a section devoted to literary essays. 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 interview by Book TV, he named authors who have had influence on his views.
Hitchens became a socialist "largely the outcome of a study of history, taking sides ... in the battles over industrialism and war and empire." In 2001, he told Rhys Southan of Reason magazine that he could no longer say "I am a socialist." Socialists, he claimed, had ceased to offer a positive alternative to the capitalist system. Capitalism had become the more revolutionary economic system, and he welcomed globalisation as "innovative and internationalist." He suggested that he had returned to his early, pre-socialist libertarianism, having come to attach great value to the freedom of the individual from the state and moral authoritarians. The San Francisco Chronicle referred to Hitchens as a "gadfly with gusto". In 2009 Hitchens was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the "25 most influential liberals in the U.S. media". However, the same article noted that he would "likely be aghast to find himself on this list", since it reduces his self-styled radicalism to mere liberalism.
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". 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 he was calling for the end of, but says that Marx ultimately failed to grasp how revolutionary capitalist innovation was. Hitchens was and still is a strong admirer of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, commenting that " death meant a lot to me and countless like me at the time, he was a role model, albeit an impossible one for us bourgeois romantics insofar as he went and did what revolutionaries were meant to do — fought and died for his beliefs." In a 1997 essay, however, he distanced himself somewhat from some of Che's actions.
He continues to regard both Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky as great men, and the October Revolution as a necessary event in the modernization of Russia. 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". 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."
The years after the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie also saw him looking for allies and friends. In the United States he 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. Around this time, he befriended the Iraqi dissident and businessman Ahmed Chalabi. 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. He has also been known to refer to his association with "temporary neocon allies".
Hitchens would elaborate on his political views and ideological shift in a discussion with Eric Alterman on Bloggingheads.tv. In this discussion Hitchens revealed himself as a supporter of Ralph Nader in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, who was disenchanted with the candidacy of both George W. Bush and Al Gore. Prior to 11 September 2001, and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, Hitchens was highly critical of Bush's "non-interventionist" foreign policy. He has also criticized Bush's support of intelligent design and capital punishment.
Following the 11 September attacks, Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature of radical Islam and of the proper response to it. On 24 September and 8 October 2001, Hitchens wrote criticisms of Chomsky in The Nation. Chomsky responded and Hitchens issued a rebuttal to Chomsky to which Chomsky again responded. Approximately a year after the 11 September 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, and were making excuses on behalf of Islamist terrorism; in the following months he wrote articles increasingly at odds with his colleagues. This highly charged exchange of letters involved Katha Pollitt and Alexander Cockburn, as well as Hitchens and Chomsky.
Hitchens made a brief return to The Nation just before the 2004 U.S. presidential election and wrote that he was "slightly" for George W. Bush; shortly afterwards, Slate polled its staff on their positions on the candidates and mistakenly printed Hitchens' 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".
Although Hitchens defends Bush’s post-11 September foreign policy, he has criticized the actions and alleged killings of Iraqis by U.S. troops in Abu Ghraib and Haditha, and the U.S. government's use of waterboarding, which he unhesitatingly deemed as torture after being invited by Vanity Fair to voluntarily undergo it. In January 2006, Hitchens joined with four other individuals and four organizations, including the ACLU and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, challenging Bush's warrantless domestic spying program; the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU. 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.
In the 2008 presidential election, Hitchens in an article for Slate would state, '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, Barack Obama and John McCain. Hitchens would go on to support Barack Obama, calling McCain "senile", and his choice of running mate Sarah Palin "absurd", calling Palin a "pathological liar" and a "national disgrace".
Hitchens has described Zionism as being based on "the initial demagogic lie (actually two lies) that a land without a people needs a people without a land", and he went even further saying "Zionism is a form of Bourgeoisie Nationalism" when debating the Jewish Tradition with Martin Amis at a Town hall function in Pennsylvania. Hitchens supports Israel's right to exist, but has argued against what he calls Israel's "expansionism" in the West Bank and Gaza and "internal clerical and chauvinist forces which want to instate a theocracy for Jews". Hitchens would collaborate on this issue with Edward Said, in 1988 publishing Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question.
Hitchens actively supports drug policy reform and has called for the abolition of the "war on drugs" which he described as an "authoritarian war" during a debate with William F. Buckley. He has supported the legalization of cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes, citing it as a cure for glaucoma and as treatment for numerous side-effects induced by chemotherapy, including severe nausea, describing the prohibition of the drug as "sadistic". On the issue of abortion, Hitchens prioritizes in affirming that he believes a fetus should be regarded as an "unborn child", but opposing the overturning of Roe v. Wade, supporting the development of medical abortion techniques, and fundamentally believing in access to contraceptives and reproductive rights in order to obviate surgical abortion altogether.
Other issues Hitchens has written on include his support for the reunification of Ireland, abolition of the British monarchy, and his condemnation of the war crimes of Slobodan Miloševi? and Franjo Tu?man in Yugoslavia, and the Bosnian War.
Main article: Christopher Hitchens' critiques of public figures
Over the years, Hitchens has become famous for his scathing critiques of public figures. Three figures — Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and Mother Teresa — were the targets of three separate full length texts, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, and The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Hitchens has also written book-length biographical essays about Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson: Author of America), George Orwell (Why Orwell Matters) and Thomas Paine (Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man": A Biography).
However, the majority of Hitchens's critiques take the form of short opinion pieces, some of the more notable being his critiques of: Jerry Falwell, George Galloway, Mel Gibson, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, Michael Moore, Daniel Pipes, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, and Cindy Sheehan.
Hitchens often speaks out against the Abrahamic religions, or what he calls "the three great monotheisms" (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). In his book, God Is Not Great, Hitchens expanded his criticism to include all religions, including those rarely criticized by Western secularists such as Hinduism and neo-paganism. His book had mixed reactions, from praise in The New York Times for his "logical flourishes and conundrums" to accusations of "intellectual and moral shabbiness" (The Financial Times). God Is Not Great was nominated for a National Book Award on 10 October 2007.
Hitchens contends that organized religion is "the main source of hatred in the world", "iolent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children", and that accordingly it "ought to have a great deal on its conscience". In God Is Not Great, Hitchens contends 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 . 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".
His book made him one of the four major advocates of the "new atheism", and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, Hitchens said he would accept an invitation from any religious leader who wished to debate with him. He also serves on the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group for atheists and humanists in Washington, DC. In 2007 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. This exchange eventually became a book by the same title in 2008. During their book tour to promote the book, film producer Darren Doane sent a film crew to accompany them. Doane produced the film Collision: "Is Christianity GOOD for the World?" which was released on 27 October 2009.
Hitchens has been accused by William A. Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Liberties of being particularly anti-Catholic. Hitchens responded, "when religion is attacked in this country the Catholic Church comes in for a little more than its fair share". Hitchens has also been accused of anti-Catholic bigotry by others, including Brent Bozell, Tom Piatak in The American Conservative, and UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge. When Joe Scarborough on March 12, 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". Piatak claimed that "A straightforward description of all Hitchens’s anti-Catholic outbursts would fill every page in this magazine", noting particularly Hitchens' assertion that U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts should not be confirmed because of his faith.
Regarding his own religious background, 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 part Jewish. In an article in the Guardian Unlimited on 14 April 2002, Hitchens says he could be considered Jewish because Jewish descent is matrilineal. According to Hitchens, when his brother Peter Hitchens took his fiancée to meet their maternal grandmother, Dodo, who was then in her 90s, Dodo said, "She's Jewish, isn't she?" and then announced: "Well, I've got something to tell you. So are you." She said that her real surname was Levin, not Lynn, that her ancestors had the family name Blumenthal, and were from Poland. His brother has researched the family tree and says they are one thirty-second Jewish.
Marriage and children
Hitchens married Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, in 1981. They had two children, Alexander and Sophia. Hitchens left Meleagrou for Carol Blue, an American writer, in 1989. They have one daughter, Antonia.
Relationship with younger brother
Hitchens' younger brother by two-and-a-half years, Peter Hitchens, is a socially conservative journalist in London. The brothers had a protracted falling-out after Peter wrote that Christopher had once joked that he "didn't care if the Red Army watered its horses at Hendon" (a suburb of London). Christopher denied having said this and broke off contact with his brother. He then referred to his brother as "an idiot" in a letter to Commentary, and the dispute spilled into other publications as well. Christopher eventually expressed a willingness to reconcile and to meet his new nephew; shortly thereafter the brothers gave several interviews together in which they said their personal disagreements had been resolved. They appeared together on the 21 June 2007 edition of BBC current affairs discussion show Question Time. The pair engaged in a formal televised debate for the first time on 3 April 2008, at Grand Valley State University.
Health and lifestyle
A June 2006 profile on Hitchens by NPR stated: "Hitchens is known for his love of cigarettes and alcohol — and his prodigious literary output." However in early 2008 he gave up smoking, undergoing an epiphany in Madison, Wisconsin. His brother Peter later wrote of his surprise at this decision. It was while writing his memoir Hitch-22 that he resumed smoking cigarettes and continued until his cancer diagnosis. Hitchens admits to drinking heavily; in 2003 he wrote that his daily intake of alcohol was enough "to kill or stun the average mule", noting that many great writers "did some of their finest work when blotto, smashed, polluted, shitfaced, squiffy, whiffled, and three sheets to the wind".
Anti-war British politician George Galloway, on his way to testify in front of a United States Senate sub-committee investigating the scandals in the U.N. Oil for Food program, called Hitchens a "drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay", to which Hitchens quickly replied, "Only some of which is true". Later, in a column for Slate promoting his debate with Galloway which was to take place on 14 September 2005, he elaborated on his prior response: "He says that I am an ex-Trotskyist (true), a "popinjay" (true enough, since the word's original Webster's definition is a target for arrows and shots), and that I cannot hold a drink (here I must protest)."
Oliver Burkeman writes, "Since the parting of ways on Iraq Hitchens claims to have detected a new, personalised nastiness in the attacks on him, especially over his fabled consumption of alcohol. He welcomes being attacked as a drinker 'because I always think it's a sign of victory when they move on to the ad hominem.' He drinks, he says, 'because it makes other people less boring. I have a great terror of being bored. But I can work with or without it. It takes quite a lot to get me to slur.'"
In his 2010 memoir Hitch-22, Hitchens wrote: "There was a time when I could reckon to outperform all but the most hardened imbibers, but I now drink relatively carefully." He described his current drinking routine while he is working as follows: "At about half past midday, a decent slug of Mr. Walker's amber restorative, cut with Perrier water (an ideal delivery system) and no ice. At luncheon, perhaps half a bottle of red wine: not always more but never less. Then back to the desk, and ready to repeat the treatment at the evening meal. No 'after dinner drinks' — ?most especially nothing sweet and never, ever any brandy. 'Nightcaps' depend on how well the day went, but always the mixture as before. No mixing: no messing around with a gin here and a vodka there."
On 30 June 2010, Hitchens postponed his book tour for Hitch-22 to undergo treatment for metastatic oesophageal cancer that has spread to his lymph nodes and lungs. He first made the announcement of his diagnosis in Vanity Fair magazine. In August, Hitchens discussed his diagnosis with Anderson Cooper on CNN. He told Cooper that the long-term prognosis is far from positive and that when you use cigarettes and alcohol, which he has used heavily, you "make yourself a candidate" for the disease. Speaking with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, Hitchens stated that he would be a "very lucky person" to live another five years.