Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was an Anglo-American author, literary critic and journalist.
He contributed to New Statesman, The Nation, The Atlantic, London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Slate and Vanity Fair. Hitchens was the author, co-author, editor and co-editor of over thirty books, including five collections of essays, on a range of subjects, including politics, literature and religion. A staple of talk shows and lecture circuits, his confrontational style of debate made him both a lauded and controversial figure. Known for his contrarian stance on a number of issues, Hitchens excoriated such public figures as Mother Teresa; Bill Clinton; Henry Kissinger; Diana, Princess of Wales; and Pope Benedict XVI. He was the elder brother of the conservative journalist and author Peter Hitchens.
Long describing 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 “anti-war” movement’s opposition to intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Even though Hitchens did not leave his position writing for The Nation until post-9/11, stating that he felt the magazine had arrived at a position “that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden.” 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 which challenged “fascism with an Islamic face“. His numerous editorials in support of the Iraq Warcaused 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. 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 was “still a Marxist“.
A noted critic of religion and an antitheist, he 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”. According to Hitchens, the concept of a god or a supreme being is atotalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilisation. His anti-religion polemic, New York Times Bestseller, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, sold over 500,000 copies.
Hitchens died on 15 December 2011 from complications arising from esophageal cancer, a disease that he acknowledged was more than likely due to his lifelong predilection for heavy smoking and drinking.
Life and caree
Early life and education
Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire. His parents, Eric Ernest Hitchens (1909–87) and Yvonne Jean Hitchens (née Hickman; 1921–73), met in Scotland when both were serving in the Royal Navyduring World War II. His mother was Jewish, and kept that fact a secret. It was not until late 1987 that Hitchens learned of his Jewish ancestry (though he became a lifelong atheist). He said, “My initial reaction, apart from pleasure and interest, was the faint but definite feeling that I had somehow known all along.” His mother was a “Wren” (a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service), and his father an officer aboard the cruiser HMS Jamaica, which helped sink Nazi Germany’s battleship Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape. 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.
Hitchens’s mother, arguing “if there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it”, sent him to Mount House School in Tavistock in Devon at the age of eight, followed by the independent Leys School in Cambridge. Hitchens then went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was tutored by Steven Lukes and Anthony Kenny and read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. 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. In 1968, he took part in the TV quiz show University Challenge.
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 expressed affinity with the politically charged countercultural and protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He deplored the recreational drug use of the time, which he described as hedonistic.
Hitchens was bisexual during his younger days – until he claimed his looks “declined to the point where only women would go to bed with me.”  He claimed to have had sexual relations with two male students at Oxford who would later become Tory ministers during the Premiership of Margaret Thatcher, although he would not reveal their names publicly.
He 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”. 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”.
Journalistic career (1970–81
Hitchens began working as a correspondent for the magazine International Socialism, 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“.
Hitchens left Oxford with a third class degree. In 1971 he 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: he recalled, “I sometimes think if I’d been any good at that job, I might still be doing it.” Next he was a researcher for ITV‘s Weekend World. In 1973 he went to work for the New Statesman, where his colleagues included the authors Martin Amis, who he had briefly met at Oxford, Julian Barnes and James Fenton, with whom he had shared a house in Oxford. It was at this time that the legendary 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 andMark Boxer. At the New Statesman Hitchens 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’s mother committed suicide in Athens in a suicide pact with her lover, a defrocked clergyman named Timothy Bryan. 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.
In December 1977, Hitchens interviewed Argentine dictator Jorge Rafaél Videla, a conversation he later described as “horrifying”.
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.
American career (1981–2011)
Hitchens went to the United States in 1981, as part of an editor exchange program between The New Statesman and The Nation. After joining 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 (or he indicated as such while alive)—believe it to be Spy Magazine ’s “Ironman Nightlife Decathlete” Anthony Haden-Guest. In 1987, his father died from cancer of the esophagus; the same disease that would later claim his own life. In April 2007, Hitchens became a U.S. citizen. He became a media fellow at the Hoover Institution in September 2008.
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 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, includingChad, Uganda and the Darfur region of Sudan. His work took him to over 60 countries. In 1991 he received a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.
Hitchens met Carol Blue for the first time at the Los Angeles airport in 1989, and would marry her in 1991. Hitchens called it love at first sight. 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, 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. The incident ended their friendship and sparked a “personal crisis” for Hitchens who was stridently criticised by friends for a cynical and ultimately politically futile act.
Before 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. 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 one of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” byForeign 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 inSlate but lost out to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. He won the National Magazine Award for Columns about Cancer in 2011. Hitchens also served on the Advisory Board of Secular Coalition for America and offered advice to Coalition on the acceptance and inclusion of nontheism in American life. In December 2011, prior to his death, Asteroid 57901 Hitchens was named after him.
Hitchens wrote a monthly essay on books in The Atlantic and contributed 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 In Depth interview on Book TV, he named authors who have had influence on his views, including Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, P. G. Wodehouse and Conor Cruise O’Brien.
|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 arse.
|– Christopher Hitchens
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”. 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. Hitchens’s political perspective appears in his wide ranging writings, which include many of the political dialogues he published.
In 2010, Theodore Dalrymple wrote, “Christopher made an early commitment to Trotskyism, but it is difficult to take him very seriously as a revolutionary because he always has been too much of a hedonist. Indeed, he appears to me to have had roughly the same relationship to proletarians as Marie Antoinette had to sheep: They have walk-on parts in his personal drama. There is not much evidence of his having thought deeply, or even at all, about the fate, under a social system he vociferously advocated, of the pleasures he so clearly values, the liking for which I don’t in the least blame him; nor is there evidence of any real reflection on what the world would have been like had his demands been met. Not permanent revolution but permanent adolescence has been his goal, and I think he has achieved it.”
Hitchens became a socialist “largely [as] 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 globalisationas “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 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.”
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 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”. 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. 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”. In 2004 he resumed 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 bourgeois romantics insofar as he went and did what revolutionaries were meant to do—fought and died for his beliefs.”
He continued to regard Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin as great men, and the October Revolution as a necessary event in the modernisation of Russia. In 2005, Hitchens praised Lenin’s creation of “secular Russia” and his discrediting of the Russian Orthodox Church, describing the church’s power as “absolute warren of backwardness and evil and superstition”.
According to Andrew Sullivan, his last words were “Capitalism, downfall.”
Iraq War and the war on terror
In the years after the fatwa issued 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. 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. Hitchens had also been known to refer to his association with “temporary neocon allies”.
Following 11 September attacks, Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature of radical Islam and the proper response to it. In 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 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 that they were making excuses on behalf of Islamist terrorism; in the following months he wrote articles increasingly at odds with his colleagues.
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, Scott Ritter, and his brother Peter Hitchens.
Criticism of George W. Bush
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 designand capital punishment.
Although Hitchens defended Bush’s post-11 September foreign policy, he criticised the actions of US troops in Abu Ghraib and Haditha, and the US government’s use of waterboarding, which he unhesitatingly deemed as torture after he was invited by Vanity Fair to voluntarily undergo it. In January 2006, Hitchens joined with four other individuals and four organisations, including the American Civil Liberties Unionand Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, challenging Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program; the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU.
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 to be a supporter of Ralph Nader in the 2000 US presidential election, who was disenchanted with the candidacy of both George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Hitchens made a brief return to The Nation just before the 2004 US presidential 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 ifKristallnacht 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”.
In the 2008 presidential election, Hitchens in an article for Slate stated, “I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilisation 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, 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”.
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 noPalestinians.”
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”. Others have commented on his anti-Zionism as well. 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 de