The Two Christophers

(I had just finished the draft of this essay when I heard the terrible news that my friend Christopher had a cancer whose prognosis was dire. My heart and thoughts go out to him, as they would to a brother. I have known Christopher as a man of great courage and decency and have an affection for him that is not adequately disclosed in the intellectual argument that follows. As an argument Christopher I am sure will welcome it as a test of his mettle and a testament to the way in which he has – and will continue – to challenge us all. —DH)

I first met Christopher Hitchens in 1970 when I was editing Ramparts, then the largest magazine of the left. Christopher, who was fresh out of Oxford and ten years my junior, was embarking on his first adventure in the New World. When he arrived at my Berkeley office looking for guidance, and after we had gotten acquainted, he asked me in all seriousness, “Where is the working class?” Only the devout left — the “holy rollers” as I thought of them — still believed in this mythical entity in the nation where every man was king. But rather than make an issue of it, I directed my visitor to the local Trotskyists, failing to realize that he was one of them.

Our next encounter took place a dozen years later and was not nearly as pleasant. By then I had abandoned most tenets of the leftist faith, although not yet departed its community. I was invited to a small lunch at which Christopher was present with Nation editors Victor Navasky and Kai Bird, and one or two others. Before long the conversation at the table turned to the Middle East and I found myself confronting what in those days we referred to as a political “gut check.” What was my attitude, Christopher wanted to know, towards Israel’s invasion of Lebanon?  The left abhorred the invasion whose purpose was to clear out the PLO terrorists who had entrenched themselves behind an international border and were shelling towns in northern Israel killing civilians. “This is the first Israeli war I have supported,” I said, thereby ending any fraternal possibilities for the remainingconversation.

Two years later, my writing partner Peter Collier and I voted for Ronald Reagan, and three years after that organized a “Second Thoughts” conference, which brought together former radicals like ourselves who had become advocates of the anti-Communist cause, specifically in Nicaragua and Vietnam. Christopher came to the conference with his Nation co-hort and long-time friend, Alexander Cockburn, and attacked us. In the Nation column he filed after our event, Christopher described its implication that second thoughts might be superior to first ones as “smug,” and my suggestion that supporting America’s enemies should be considered treason, as “sinister.”[1] He made his feelings about second thoughts explicit later in a brutal attack on Paul Johnson sneering at his “well advertised stagger from left to right,” which Christopher regarded as the venal maneuver of someone “who, having lost his faith, believes that he had found his reason.”[2]

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  • tarleton

    I have read many of hitch's books over the years and find many of his comments to be very insiteful and wily but I also remember him when he was younger , when he sometimes reminded me of bill ayrers, in his leftism and personal immaturity ….who can ever forget his embarrassing spectacle with Ed Meese on Crossfire……Hitch , like many people from over protected, elitist backgrounds seemed to have problems with arrested development and his tirades aginst religion were a fine example of this juvenile utopianism….methinks there was a little of Robespiere's fatal purity in Hitch__His latest memoir ''Hitch 22'' shows a photo of him looking overly dramatic in an atempt to apear as a veteran , slightly sinister reporter/journalist , with his raincoat , turned up collar , puffing on his trademark cigarette , that in retrospect looks cruelly ironic

  • philclock

    My compliments to David Horowitz for both a well-written essay, as well as a thorough explanation and background of the "progressive" or leftist movement throughout his and Mr. Hitchens' careers, what a terrific reference! I shall keep it handy for periodic revisiting.

  • AnnetteSilva

    David's essay "The Two Christophers" is one of the most thoughtful pieces I have read about the contradictions in the thinking process of a Marxist (or Trotskyite) and, specifically the two faces of Christopher Hitchens. While I have long admired Hitch's melodic prose, I am repeatedly befuddled by his split sympathies–and have wondered over his two allegiances. David speaks eloquently about the division in the person, i.e., the commanding father who represents the establishment vs. the tragic figure of his mother, Yvonne, who is lively, emotional and desperate–and a Jew. Thus the seeds were sown for the political and emotional division within the man. I congratulate David for elaborating the struggle within the man and Hitch's misunderstanding of the Jewish state. I am not Jewish, but I have always admired how the Jewish people endure, persist, overcome and flourish. I know too many Jews that don't seem to share this sentiment and it is so self-defeating. Thanks, David, for a brilliant piece of work!