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 remaining conversation.

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 cohort 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]

But times change, and now Christopher himself has been associated with a generation of post-9/11 second-thoughters. He has revised his attitudes towards the left and its loyalties, and has vaunted a patriotism towards America he would once have thought of as, well, sinister. To commemorate and explicate these heresies, which he prefers to describe as a “mutation” rather than a “metamorphosis,” he has written an engrossing memoir, called Hitch-22. Among its other utilities, the book provides a fertile occasion for those of us who preceded him to take a second look at second thoughts, and to measure the distances that we, and our one-time antagonist, have come.

The man his friends call “Hitch” is a figure of such unruly contradictions that it may be said of him, as Dr. Johnson did of the metaphysical poets he has “the ability to yoke heterogeneous ideas by violence together.” Opponent of America’s war in Vietnam and supporter of America’s war in Iraq; libertarian defender of free market capitalism and unabashed admirer of Trotsky and Marx; pro-lifer and feminist doctrinaire; friend to neo-conservative hawk Paul Wolfowitz and to Victor Navasky, an apologist for the Rosenbergs, Hamas and Alger Hiss.

It is not only incompatible ideas and comrades that Christopher comfortably embraces but modes of being. He is both a political renegade and keeper of the flame, a ferocious partisan and practiced ironist, a post-modern skeptic and romantic nostalgist, a passionate moralist and calculating operator, a hard-headed critic and dewy-eyed sentimentalist, a serious thinker and determined attention grabber, irreverent contrarian and serenader of the choir, one-dimensional polemicist and literary polymath, self-styled Man of the People and accomplished social climber, and — most inexplicably – an Oxonian gentleman, conservative in manner, and a master of vitriol and the ad hominem attack.

If there is one thing to be discovered reading Christopher’s memoir, it is that there are not many things you will figure out about him that he has not already thought of himself. Thus his chronicle opens with a wonderfully realized account of origins, containing portraits of his conservative Anglican father and his rebellious (and secretly Jewish) mother, “two much opposed and sharply discrepant ancestral stems: two stray branches that only war and chance could ever have caused to become entwined.”[3] On the one side a transgressive romantic who refused to know her place; on the other a naval officer Christopher calls the Commander who knew his place and defended his country and of whom the son says in tribute, “sending a Nazi convoy raider to the bottom is a better day’s work than any I have ever done.”[4]

Those familiar with Christopher’s work have long known what a stylistically elegant writer he was, using language like a musician who plays intricate melodies without having to look at his fingers. But it was not until this book that he has shown he was also a wily one, for whom Homer’s epithet for Ulysses – “deep devising” — is apt, using his roguish charm and jeweled literacy to eat his cake and have it too, and to stutter step past potentially inconvenient truths.

At the outset, we are alerted to Christopher’s conscious pursuit of “the Janus-faced mode of life.”[5] The Roman god of temple doorways, Janus looked both ways and is invariably depicted in his statuary with two faces. Grabbing the horns of his own enigma, Christopher observes that the doors of the temple were open in time of war, and war “is a time when the ideas of contradiction and conflict are most naturally regnant,” and that the most intense wars are civil, and the most rending conflicts internal. “What I hope to do now,” he says of the text before us, “is give some idea of what it is like to fight on two fronts at once, to try and keep opposing ideas alive in the same mind, even occasionally to show two faces at the same time.”[6]

It is the initial salvo in a campaign to defend a life which aspires to moral authenticity but which often seems to skirt the edge of having it both ways, a tendency that provides his most determined enemies an opening to exploit. In the New Statesman, for example, Terry Eagleton castigates him thus: “It is as though he sees his own double-dealing as a rather agreeable versatility – as testimony to his myriad-mindedness rather than as a privileged, spoilt-brat desire (among other things) to hog it all.”[7] Characteristically, Christopher does not duck but embraces his contradictions, making no effort to hide his desire to have it both ways, or to keep “double-entry books.” Describing an occasion when his radical comrades caught him fraternizing with a notorious symbol of the ruling caste at Oxford he writes: “I could have taken refuge in some ‘know your enemy’ formulation but something in me said that this would be ignoble. I didn’t want a one-dimensional politicized life.”[8]

Whatever may be said of these choices, they are an irresistible source of Christopher’s appeal, the reason he is far more interesting than Eagleton or any of his current batch of leftwing critics, with whom he still shares basic beliefs. It is why reading his memoir — agree with the politics or find them merely confusing, or not – is an enterprise that is generally rewarding and almost always a delight. But the desire not to be confined to a single standard does not explain the life that unfolds along multiple paths, or answer the ethical questions that result.

In attempting to understand Christopher’s politics and to understand him, we are continually frustrated by a troubling lacuna at the heart of his text — a Hitch-22 as it were. Inexplicably for a writer so keenly observant of the world around him, Christopher’s attempt at a self-portrait lacks the introspective curiosity and interior dimension that would facilitate such a task or unwrap his mysteries both for himself and others.

As a way into this labyrinth, permit me the indulgence of a self-reference. A dozen years before Christopher I wrote a memoir in which I also gave an account of reappraisals. Here is the way I described a point in my life when I had to reject the faith that had shaped it until then: “In that very moment a previously unthinkable possibility… entered my head: The Marxist idea, to which I had devoted my entire intellectual life and work was false. … For the first time in my conscious life I was looking at myself in my human nakedness, without the support of revolutionary hopes, without the faith in a revolutionary future – without the sense of self-importance conferred by the role I would play in remaking the world. For the first time in my life I confronted myself as I really was in the endless march of human coming and going. I was nothing.”[9]

It was this crucible of despair in which my conservative perspective was forged, as I set about finding other reasons to go on than the political myths that had sustained me until then. But there is no such moment of crisis and self-revelation disclosed in Christopher’s account, despite the fact that he describes changes in his outlook that would seem to warrant both. The conclusion to be drawn is that through all his changes Christopher has never felt a subtraction from himself. At every stage of his career he is in his own eyes exactly what he’s always been except more so. Each twist in the road presents an opportunity for the accretion of complexity. As my second-thoughts collaborator Collier observes, “Christopher is an oyster always working on his own pearl.”

Even if there was no such dark night of the soul when Christopher abandoned his hostility to a nation he had long been at war with, such a night certainly took place, when, as a young man just out of college, he was climbing onto the wave of the future. The event was the suicide of Yvonne, still a young woman, in a hotel room in Athens. She had ended her life in a pact with the clergyman she had run off with and taken as a lover. It was, Christopher concedes, a “lacerating, howling moment in my life.”[10] He was all of twenty-four.

There is no indication in Christopher’s memoir of how this trauma involving loss and betrayal may have affected the double lives he has engaged, the personal and political triangles he has indulged or the fracturing of commitments he has made. It is left for us to speculate about them from a text that denies us elements that are crucial to the task.

Although Christopher has been married twice and has had other romantic attachments including a briefly mentioned affair with the sister of Martin Amis, none really appear in the 400-page book he has written about his life. Of Christopher’s first wife, a Greek Cypriot lawyer and the mother of his two oldest children, we are told nothing, not even her name. Carol, his second wife, is mentioned several times in passing but we are never introduced to her and there is no portrait to put flesh on the appellation, no attempt to convey how he feels towards her or towards the commitments of marriage. Of his children he writes mainly to concede his guilt over his absence as a father.

But when it comes to Yvonne, whose chapter-length portrait opens the book, the texture is quite different and his feelings rise rapidly to the surface: “Yvonne then was the exotic and the sunlit when I could easily have had a boyhood of stern and dutiful English gray. She was the cream in the coffee, the gin in the Campari, the offer of wine or champagne instead of beer, the laugh in the face of bores and purse-mouths and skinflints, the insurance against bigots and prudes.” In a single sentence at the end of the account of her life and death he provides a glimpse of their impact: “Her defeat and despair were also mine for a long time, but I have reason to know that she wanted me to withstand the woe, and when I once heard myself telling someone that she had allowed me a ‘second identity,’ I quickly checked myself and thought no, perhaps with luck she had represented my first and truest one.”[11]

Then, just when we would expect the author’s gaze to continue inward and mine the vein he has opened, the text abruptly interrupts itself with a set piece coldly headed: “A Coda on the Question of Self-Slaughter.” What follows is an academic paper discussing the psychological and sociological observations about suicide in the writings of Durkheim, Alvarez and Sylvia Plath. By telling us that these thoughts represent a quest he has pursued over “four decades,” Christopher reveals without actually conceding it, the pain that did not go away. But why this literary distraction from the turmoil in his heart? Partly because he is the enemy of moist sentiments, but also because this gratuitous erudition is a squid’s ink to cover his decision not to use the hair pin his mother offers him, in her life and in her death, to pick his own lock. Christopher is as sui generis as a memoirist as he is in other things – not really wishing to be known by others or by himself.[12]

Yvonne was the power behind young Christopher’s throne, vowing, “if there is going to be an upper class in this country, Christopher is going to be in it.”[13] Despite the constraints of their circumstances, she sent him to infiltrate England’s Protestant establishment, first at a posh private school the family could barely afford, and then to Oxford to join the upper crust. She was herself a secret agent, a displaced Polish Jew who in marrying the Commander had infiltrated an alien (and anti-Semitic) culture, hiding her true identity from her new family in order to provide herself and her children opportunities that would otherwise have been denied them.

How did this matrilineal romance and its tragic ending affect Christopher’s attitude towards the sunny tomorrows, which his comrades pursued? How did it color his optimism about the quest for social justice? Where, he might have asked, was the justice for him? For Yvonne? Writing of the anarchistic upheavals in France in 1968, Christopher remarks: “If you have never yourself had the experience of feeling that you are hooked to the great steam engine of history, then allow me to inform you that the conviction is a very intoxicating one.”[14] And what happens when the engine and the feeling stop?” Christopher never answers.

While he was making his way through private schools and burrowing into the inner sanctums of the establishment, Christopher was simultaneously becoming a social rebel, taking the very skills those venerable institutions placed in his hands and putting them into the service of the war that was being waged against them. Yet, even his commitment to rebellion was only half-made, or not so much made as hedged: “I was slowly being inducted into a revolution within the revolution, or to a Left that was in and yet not of the ‘Left’ as it was generally understood. This perfectly suited my already-acquired and protective habit of keeping two sets of books.”[15]

The sect Christopher joined was actually a revolution within “the revolution within the revolution.” The International Socialists were a Trotskyist sect consisting of 100 or so members. They separated themselves from other Trotskysists (and Trotsky himself), who attacked Stalinism but still defended the Soviet Union, regarding themselves as “Bolsheviks” and Russia as a “deformed” socialist state. By contrast, Christopher’s sect regarded the Soviet Union as having reverted to capitalism and joined the international capitalist enemy. This allowed Christopher’s group to continue their attacks on the democracies of the West without having to defend Russia or make excuses for the totalitarian state.

How does Christopher view this scholastically precious politics of his youth, or interpret its significance today? He doesn’t say. But there is another witness, a Hitchens foil so to speak, who has weighed in on this puzzle. Peter Hitchens is Christopher’s younger brother by two years but virtually invisible in Christopher’s text, despite the fact that they followed intriguingly parallel paths. Peter joined the same International Socialist sect in the same era and later came to have second thoughts. But there the parallel ends. For unlike Christopher, Peter became a religious conservative with no ambivalent attitudes towards his leftist past.

From his present conservative distance, Peter comments on the International Socialists: “The [other Trotskyists] were more honest than we were. Ours was the extreme version of pretending that the USSR was not the fault of socialists, or even of Bolsheviks (which we wished to be).  Of course it was their fault, the fault of people exactly like us, but we closed our minds to this with a web of excuses. We pretended not to be who we were, and that the USSR was not what it was.”[16]

Christopher expresses no such insights, while his text provides us with examples of attitudes that are strikingly consistent with the views he held then. “Where it was easy to do so,” Peter writes of the International Socialists, “we supported causes – the National Liberation Front in Vietnam in particular – whose objects were to extend Soviet power.”[17] This was one of the realizations that had turned us to second thoughts. When America quit the field of battle under pressure from the anti-war left, and the Communists proceeded to the slaughter of innocents, we recoiled in horror at what our campaigns had helped to make possible, and said goodbye to all that.

Not so Christopher, who has stayed loyal to his positions at the time regarding the Communists as liberators and America as Vietnam’s oppressor. “The United States was conducting an imperialist war in Indo-China,” he writes, “and a holding action against the insistent demands of its own long-oppressed black minority at home.”[18] These are puzzling, troubling remarks. What holding action would Christopher be referring to? The American civil rights movement was supported by the entire nation outside the Deep South, including the White Houses of both Kennedy and the southerner Lyndon Johnson. What imperialist war could he be thinking of? The one bruited in a famous malapropism of Jane Fonda who claimed on national television that America was in Vietnam for the “tung and the tinsten?” Or is Christopher ventriloquizing Ho Chi Min Speak and claiming that Americans wanted to replace the French?

Writing of his participation in a “vast demonstration” against the war in front of the American Embassy in London, Christopher recalls “the way in which my throat and heart seemed to swell as the police were temporarily driven back and the advancing allies of the Vietnamese began to sing ‘We Shall Overcome.’” He then comments: “I added to my police record for arrests, of all of which I am still reasonably proud.”[19] But why would he be proud of this arrest? Christopher’s anti-war comrades, the International Socialists among them, were not “allies of the Vietnamese” but of the Vietnamese Communists and, as Peter Hitchens correctly points out, of the Soviet empire behind them. What these leftists actually achieved in Indo-China, in fact, was one of the largest genocides on record and a totalitarian future for the Cambodians and Vietnamese.

To remain an unreconstructed New Leftist into the 21st Century is a particularly troubling failing for a man whose model is George Orwell and whose political persona is anchored in a perceived moral authority. In a statement that amounts to a one-sentence credo, Christopher writes: “The synthesis for which one aimed was the Orwellian one of evolving a consistent and integral anti-totalitarianism.”[20] But apparently not for the Cambodians and Vietnamese.

Loyalty to bad commitments leads to moral incoherence, which also manifests itself in Christopher’s choices of friends and enemies. The epic struggle against totalitarianism for much of the 20th Century was America’s cold war against the Soviet empire. But during the last decades of this cold war, Christopher’s platform was the Nation magazine – America’s leading journal of the “anti-anti Communist left,” that is, the left of apologists for Communist crimes and enablers of the totalitarian bloc. Although Christopher undoubtedly had internal dissents, his political friends are still generously drawn from the Nation editorial board and the English Marxists around New Left Review whom he acknowledges in an endnote as “heroes and heroines of the ‘first draft’ and of the work in progress.”[21] (For the record, I was unable to detect a conservative name on the list.) Among his heroes are the aforementioned Victor Navasky, Robin Blackburn, a Castro acolyte and Perry Anderson an anti-American Marxist who regards both the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq as by-products of the “Israel Lobby’s” stranglehold on American policy.[22]

As a revolutionist within the revolution Christopher’s record was by no means as regrettable as this list might suggest, but it was bad enough. My own experience of Christopher’s malodorous cold war service was his presence on the firing squad that came to our Second Thoughts Conference with intent to stigmatize, discredit and silence the small band we had gathered to announce our revulsion at the slaughter in Indo-China and second thoughts about the destructive commitments of our socialist friends. Two years later, Christopher attacked me venomously over Destructive Generation, the account Peter Collier and I had written of the Nineteen Sixties and the way the seductive promises of socialism led to totalitarian ends. I appeared on a PBS book show with Christopher who jabbed me with the remark “Who cares about his pathetic family” after I had related my father’s strange funeral where his political comrades gathered to eulogize him couldn’t remember the flesh and blood individual he had been. Christopher had brought his friend, and Susan Sontag’s son, David Rieff along to the green room where he spat at me because in our book Peter and I had noted the way Sontag had trimmed her sails after her famously telling remark that Communism was “fascism with a human face.”[23] I have long since forgiven Christopher (and Rieff) but the incident is a sharp reminder of how fiercely partisan Christopher once was in behalf of an indefensible cause.[24]

Another telling elision in Christopher’s backward look is his failure to note the fall of the Berlin wall and the defeat of Soviet totalitarianism, except in passing. In so far as Christopher mentions the anti-Communist struggle at all, his heroes are East European socialists like Adam Michnik and Jacek Kuron, worthy enough figures whose countrymen finally had their fill of the Soviet empire. But of the conservatives who waged the anti-totalitarian struggle for nearly four decades, resisting the Communist advance, and of Ronald Reagan, the free world leader who actually wielded the power that made those “velvet revolutions” possible — or even thinkable — Christopher says only this: “Even now, when I squint back at him through the more roseate lens of his compromise with Gorbachev, I can easily remember … exactly why I found him so rebarbative at the time.”[25] Rebarbative: adj., repellent, unattractive, forbidding, grim.

(And what might Christopher have in mind when he refers to Reagan’s “compromise” with Gorbachev? Gorbachev’s agreement not to send the Red Army to repair the Berlin Wall and crush the revolt in exchange for Reagan’s agreement not to invade the Soviet Union?)

But Christopher is not finished: “There was, first, his appallingly facile manner as a liar;” “he was married to a woman who employed a White House astrologer;” “[he] was frequently photographed in the company of ‘end-times’ Protestant fundamentalists…” and so on.[26] This litany has actually been cleaned up from its first appearance in the obituary Christopher wrote when Reagan died in 2004, and from which much of the attack in his memoir is cribbed: “I only saw him once up close, which happened to be when he got a question he didn’t like … The famously genial grin turned into a rictus of senile fury: I was looking at a cruel and stupid lizard.”[27] This is how Christopher sums up a man who liberated hundreds of millions of victims of totalitarianism and who is revered throughout the former Soviet empire for this very reason.

Contrast this contemptuous performance with Christopher’s enduring sympathies for his long-admired (but now ex-) friend Noam Chomsky, a man who spent the cold war years denying the Cambodian holocaust, promoting a denier of the Jewish Holocaust, and comparing America — unfavorably — to the Third Reich. When Chomsky’s extreme views came under attack from other leftists, Christopher actually defended him in a regrettable article that attempted to explain away Chomsky’s apologetics for genocide. Christopher called his piece, “The Chorus and Cassandra,” as though Chomsky was a prophet of truth to whom no one would listen.[28] Eventually the two comrades fell out over Chomsky’s justification of the 9/11 attacks and opposition to the rescue mission in Bosnia. But in his memoir, written nearly ten years later, Christopher still manages to find Chomsky “a polemical talent well-worth mourning, and [a man with] a feeling for justice that ought not to have gone rancid and resentful.”[29] As a leftist who had a similar falling out with Chomsky twenty years earlier over his insistence that America was no better than Russia and Pravda a “mirror image” of the New York Times, I can testify that Chomsky’s feelings were rancid and resentful even then.[30]

A similar myopia clouds Christopher’s otherwise admirable defenses of First Amendment freedoms. His long and courageous battle in behalf of Salman Rushdie after the Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a fatwa of death on him is one of several memorable set pieces in Christopher’s memoir and a pivotal episode in the evolution of his current beliefs. The Rushdie case was, he writes, “a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. “In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humor, the individual and the defense of free expression.”[31]

But in the next breath Christopher can fawn over a Communist hack like Jessica Mitford, who spent her life supporting dictatorships, stupidity, demagogy, bullying, intimidation – and censorship, and call her one of his “heroines.” This small hypocrisy has a larger resonance for me. When Peter Collier and I were still leftists we wrote an article about murders that had been committed by George Jackson and other Black Panthers, still regarded as progressive heroes. Leftists who were aware of these crimes suppressed the knowledge and withheld the facts in the name of a higher political truth. Peter and I published our article in the journal of a progressive writers guild and did so at some personal risk, since members of the political gangs responsible for them were still active.

While our article was undergoing the usual editorial scrutiny, Jessica Mitford and Nation journalist Eve Pell led a campaign to stigmatize us as snitches and racists (since the perpetrators of the crimes were black), and to pressure the journal’s editors into censoring what we had written. In a letter describing our article not as untrue but as “appalling” and “atrocious” because it was true Mitford said: “I deeply wish it had never been written.” At a public meeting of the progressive guild, to which we also belonged, she told the writers assembled that it was their responsibility as progressives to suppress facts that hurt the cause and to print only those facts that helped it.[32] How, in the light of this reality, is Jessica Mitford one of Christopher’s heroines?

Or how, for that matter, is Leon Trotsky one of Christopher’s heroes? The unsentimental Peter Hitchens observes that the Trotskyist left to which he and his brother belonged were in the habit of attacking Communists in power as tyrants but supporting Communists when they were out of power as liberators. As examples, he cites the lionization of Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky, who, as it happens, are two of his brother’s “favorite characters in history” (the other three being Socrates, Spinoza and Thomas Paine).[33]

Rosa Luxemburg was a revolutionary murdered young and therefore, as Peter comments, she “never lived to touch power.” Trotsky, on the other hand, became a revolutionary in power and was deeply implicated in the creation of the totalitarian state. He was the commander of the Red Army forces sent to crush the revolt of the Kronstadt sailors who were Bolsheviks protesting the sinister turn the revolution had already taken. He was a promoter of the forced labor policies that led to the gulag, author of the most articulate defense of the Red Terror, as well as one of its enforcers, and a champion of the principle that the ends justify the means. How, then, does he become one of Christopher’s five favorite historical figures?

One way is to wear political blinders and focus on the figure of Trotsky out of power, the author of The Revolution Betrayed and the leader of the sect of former Communists seeking to overthrow the totalitarian regime he had done so much to create. Which is how Christopher does see and admire him, although he frames the picture a little more magnificently, regarding Trotsky as the hero of an “epic struggle to mount an international resistance” to Stalin and the totalitarian state.[34] It is as an avatar of the anti-Stalinist left, a movement which Christopher continues to romanticize, that Trotksy inspires adulation. Trotskyism means that Christopher can regard himself as a Marxist and a revolutionary without having to say he’s sorry.[35]

There is another way that Trotsky can appear a worthy paladin, which is if one believes that the engine of “history” is still running, and that the epic oppressions of Stalinism were merely an unpleasant prelude to a noble future. This is, in fact, the way my one-time mentor Isaac Deutscher (also one of Christopher’s heroes) actually did portray and justify Trotsky. Deutscher’s three-volume hagiography was recently the object of Christopher’s intemperate praise in an Atlantic Monthly review. As it happens, the framework of Deutscher’s entire trilogy is the assumption that the engine of history is still running, that at some point in time the socialist foundations of Soviet society will assert themselves and give birth to an authentic socialist state.[36] Otherwise there is no justification for what Trotsky and the Bolsheviks did. Of course, Deutscher was wrong: the socialist foundations of the Soviet Union were bankrupt and caused the Soviet collapse. Because Marx’s economic theories are bankrupt. But there is no such recognition in Christopher’s review, or for that matter in his memoir.

Instead there is Christopher’s suggestion that “a faint, saintly penumbra still emanates from the Old Man” since the spirit of his “revolution within the revolution” can still be detected in the magical moment of 1968 or in the presence of a handful of Trotskyists in the Polish Solidarity movement during the last days of the Soviet empire.[37] But this is merely the triumph of sentiment over history. An immeasurably greater historical force against Communism in Poland was an institution that Christopher loathes so much he doesn’t deign to mention its role, namely, the Catholic Church.

A better understanding of Christopher and these attitudes comes with the realization that he is really more about sensibility than politics, or perhaps that politics is a matter of sensibility for him. Deutscher made Trotsky into an existential hero, a Prometheus daring the gods. This is why Christopher is enamored of him — because Trotsky is the arch romantic, the incarnation of the lost Yvonne.[38]

The same sensibility underlies his otherwise inexplicable attachment to Marx. In a recent conversation with Martin Amis, he said, “for most of my life I thought the only principle worth upholding, worth defending, worth advocating, worth witnessing for, was socialist internationalism,” then added, “I am no longer a socialist, but I am still a Marxist.”[39]

But how a Marxist? The stab Christopher makes in his memoir at resurrecting the Old Mole to explain the recent world economic collapse is merely embarrassing: “My old Marxism came back to me as I contemplated the ‘dead labor’ that had been hoarded…saw it being squandered in a victory for finance capital over industrial capital, noticed the ancient dichotomy between use value and exchange value, and saw again the victory of those monopolists who ‘make’ money over those who only have the power to earn it.”[40] This explication can only be appreciated as a literary trope. As economic theory it is archaic and absurd. But it is also a form of political romance of Tertullian dimensions. The analogy is to continue believing in an age where God has been declared dead. Credo quia impossibile est. I believe because it is impossible.[41]

Christopher’s comments to Amis seem to mean he no longer regards socialism as a future that can actually work. In an interview with Reason Magazine conducted just prior to 9/11 he virtually concedes as much. “There is no longer a general socialist critique of capitalism – certainly not the sort of critique that proposes an alternative or a replacement.”[42] But why then persist in describing oneself as a Marxist, since Marx’s entire critique was based on the assumption that socialism was a real, practical alternative to the existing social order? More importantly, why would Christopher fail to understand that in seeking to achieve an impossible future revolutionaries become a destructive force? If a socialist future is impossible, the effort to achieve one by tearing down existing institutions is nihilism.

Despite his disavowals (and because it is a matter of sensibility rather politics) Christopher’s book is rich in testaments to unrepentant utopianism. One particularly notable passage begins with a paean to the “labor movement” of which Christopher says, “For me, this ‘movement’ is everything.” He then proceeds to this remarkable statement: “Official Britain may have its Valhalla of heroes and statesmen and conquerors and empire builders, but we know that the highest point ever reached in the history of civilization was in the city of Basel in 1912 when the leaders of the socialist parties of all countries met to coordinate an opposition to the coming World War.”[43]

What the socialist parties coordinated in Basel in 1912 was a refusal to vote for the war credits in their respective national parliaments, when the impending conflict broke out. Marx had written — and “socialist internationalists” believed — that the working classes had no country, and therefore nothing to lose but their chains. But this was a Marxist fantasy, unanchored in reality, and two years after “the highest point ever reached in human civilization” the same socialist parties turned their back on what they had pledged and voted to go to war. In other words, Marx was wrong, the workers did have a country, socialism was an empty and dangerous illusion, and the highest point ever reached in the history of civilization was exposed as a memorable hypocrisy.

Although he has bravely abandoned his “anti-war” stance, and “internationalist” faith, the romantic (and literary) side of Christopher prefers to live in this fantasy and continue the dream. In the dream, the engine of history is still running: “The names of real heroes like [the socialists] Jean Jaures and Karl Liebknecht make the figures of Asquith and Churchill seem like pygmies.” And why would this be so? Because if an international socialist revolution had taken place in 1919, it would in this fantasy have precluded all the subsequent nightmares of the 20th Century, including the ones that faux socialists like Stalin created: “The violence and disruption of a socialist transformation in those years would have been infinitely less than the insane sacrifice of culture to barbarism, and the Nazism and Stalinism that ensued from it.”[44]

Socialism or barbarism – this was the precise slogan and choice that Rosa Luxemburg put before her fellow revolutionaries, among whom Christopher would still like to count himself today. But looked at dispassionately, Luxemburg’s challenge is little more than a secular version of the choice between heaven and hell. One of the oddities of Christopher’s compartmentalized life is that the author of God Is Not Great and of its brazen anathema of a subtitle – religion poisons everything – should be so passionately attached to this political version of an earthly redemption. But he has a quasi-exit clause for this cul-de-sac he has worked himself into as well. The “‘movement which for me is everything,” is for all intents and purposes dead (“all gone now, gone to pieces,”) and so there are no real world consequences for believing this.[45] On the other hand, there is always the possibility that one day it might spring back to life.

In the 1970s, Christopher adopted a “second identity,” making more and more frequent trips to America, eventually migrating across the Atlantic and setting up shop at the Nation. It was (as always for him) a two-track engagement. On the one hand there was the America that functioned as the left’s version of capitalist hell — a racist, imperialist bastion of international oppression. In exposing the evils of this new home he paid his dues at the Nation. On the other hand, he was sensitive to the existence of another America, a land of expansive contradictions and freedoms that were entirely seductive to the other dimension of Christopher’s personality: “Here was a country that could engage in a frightening and debilitating and unjust war, and undergo a simultaneous convulsion of its cities on the question of justice for its oldest and largest minority, and start a conversation on the rights of women…and have a show trial of confessed saboteurs in Chicago where the incredibly guilty defendants actually got off…”[46]

Would that Christopher had allowed the generous, free-spirited, creative side of America, which spoke with such resonance to his better side, to temper the scorn he poured on it in his Nation years. But the guilty pleasures he experienced in enemy territory had to be paid for by a pact he had made which precluded a just accounting. “My personal way of becoming Americanized,” he explains, “was to remain a blood brother of the American left.”[47] But the left that had emerged from the campaign against the Vietnam war was increasingly defined by a corrosive anti-Americanism, one that was incompatible with a reasonable appreciation of American virtues.

As Christopher became more familiar with his new environment, the increasing irrationality of this anti-American fervor began to take its toll on a sensibility so oppositely tuned. It began with the discordant attitudes his Nation comrades expressed towards the totalitarian enemy, which did not sit well with a Trotskyist familiar with the toll of Stalin’s victims. “I was often made aware in Nation circles that there really were people who did think that Joseph McCarthy had been far, far worse than Joseph Stalin.”[48] Noam Chomsky unnerved him by saying that America’s democracy was morally worse than the Soviet police state. His “much-admired” friend Gore Vidal shocked him by describing the F.B.I. as “our KGB,”[49] and then by writing an anti-Semitic screed, which Christopher protested but the best man at his wedding, Victor Navasky, decided to publish saying “Well, Gore is Gore.”[50]

Christopher’s tensions with the American left had begun with Bill Clinton, a veteran of the anti-Vietnam war movement, and the first Sixties “progressive” to be elected to the White House. He had met Clinton when they were both students at Oxford, and he took a strong disliking to the presidential candidate when Clinton ordered the execution of a mentally retarded black prisoner, Ricky Ray Rector, as a campaign stratagem to demonstrate that he was “tough on crime.” The dislike increased with Clinton’s actions in office and led to a sharp tract Christopher published about the President and the First Lady called No One Left To Lie To: The Worst Family. In his Reason interview Christopher recalled how the tensions over his attacks on Clinton reached a point where he felt he might have to resign from the Nation. The determination of the editors to defend Clinton’s indefensible actions, “completely squandered the claim of a magazine like the Nation to be a journal of opposition.”[51]

These currents came to a head in the spring of 1999, when Christopher appeared before a congressional committee to testify against Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal. The testimony ended a fifteen-year friendship with Blumenthal and inspired attacks from Christopher’s erstwhile comrades. Yet it is another critical omission of Christopher’s memoir that it fails to mention Blumenthal or the friendship, or the effect the schism had on him.

The White House had assigned Blumenthal to the task of neutralizing potential female witnesses to Clinton’s abusive sexual advances by spreading defamatory stories about them to Washington reporters. Blumenthal made the mistake of choosing his friend Christopher as a reporter whom he could trust to pass on the slanders. Christopher chose to expose Blumenthal instead. In the eyes of his leftist comrades, this transgression was bad enough, but it was compounded by the fact that he gave his testimony to a congressional committee chaired by Henry Hyde, a pro-life conservative they fervently hated.

This hatred now descended on Christopher’s own head, as radicals like his longtime friend Alexander Cockburn (who is also a missing person in this book) began reviling him as “Snitchens” and worse. In a purification ritual reminiscent of a religious witch-hunt, prominent leftists declared that Christopher would not be allowed to cross their thresholds again. Ever. Without mentioning his broken friendship with Blumenthal or the internal wrenchings the episode caused him or the impact it may have had on his allegiances to the left, Christopher reproduces a message left on his phone answering machine by Dorothy Healy, a well-known Communist and friend: “You stinking little rat. I always knew you were no good. You are a stool pigeon and a fink. I hope you rot in scab and blackleg hell….”[52]

So much for the warm fraternity of the party of the working class. Christopher did refer to the Blumenthal episode in the Reason interview, where he recalled how his progressive friends were now attacking him as a “McCarthyite” in the pages of the Nation. This reaction, he comments, “showed the amazing persistence of antediluvian categories and thoughts on the Left…[which were] applied to me in a very mendacious and I thought thuggish way.” Christopher concluded: “there is no such thing as a radical Left anymore.  The world of Gloria Steinem and Jesse Jackson, let’s say, has all been, though it does not realize it, hopelessly compromised by selling out to Clintonism. [And how about selling out to Communism?].  It became, under no pressure at all, and with no excuse and in no danger, a voluntary apologist for abuse of power.”[53]

Witnessing the way his comrades turned on him, I could not help but thinking of my own experience, and published an article defending him.[54] “This tainting and ostracism of sinners,” I wrote, “is, in fact, the secret power of the leftist faith…. The spectacle of what happens to a heretic like Hitchens when he challenges the party code is a warning to others not to try it.”[55] I explained the attempt to purge Christopher in this way: “The community of the left is a community of meaning and is bound by ties that are fundamentally religious. For the non-religious, politics is the art of managing the possible. For the left it is the path to social redemption….[Therefore,] it is about us being on the side of the angels, and them as the party of the damned.”[56]

Like a good secret agent, Christopher still possessed his packet of false passports, and therefore was able to reach a modus vivendi with the Nation editors who agreed not to print any more defamatory attacks on him.[57] This rendered the purge incomplete, and enabled him to retain a foothold in the left. When a year passed and he hadn’t contacted me about my piece, I reflected that he was probably resentful a political enemy had spoken in his behalf and worsened his case.  But then we chanced on each other at a Los Angeles Times book festival, and quite unexpectedly he thanked me, warmly and graciously, for the article, and we agreed to make a date for a longer talk. It was the beginning of our friendship, and in that moment I also knew Christopher was in a state of motion in regard to his allegiances on the left, and therefore, in regard to his loyalties to the country that defended his freedoms.

The turn in Christopher’s political life would culminate on 9/11 when the United States came under attack by a new totalitarian foe. For Christopher, the threat this adversary posed had been first brought home in the fatwa issued against his friend and fellow author Salman Rushdie. “The realization that we were in a cultural and political war with Islamic theocracy came to me with force and certainty not on September 11, 2001 but on February 14, 1989,” he said in an interview with the editor of my Internet site, “when the Ayatollah Khomeni offered money in his own name to suborn the murder of my friend Salman Rushdie.”[58]

Soon afterwards there was another revelation. This time it was about the leviathan whom the left had declared war on, and which it regarded as the headquarters of global oppression. The United States military had intervened to stop the genocide of Bosnian Muslims in the heart of Europe when no European (or Muslim) nation would. “The realization that American power could and should be used for the defense of pluralism and as a punishment for fascism came to me in Sarajevo a year or two later,” Christopher writes. “It was the first time I found myself in the same trench as people like Paul Wolfowitz and Jeanne Kirkpatrick: a shock I had to learn to get over.”[59]

There were more shocks in store. Christopher was in the Northwest to lecture about one of his personal bête noirs, Henry Kissinger, when his wife called from their Washington home to tell him the World Trade Center had been struck. The attack was mounted by the same enemy that had attempted to kill Rushdie, and was an episode in the same war of “everything I hated” against “everything I loved.” As Christopher pondered the moment, he was immediately torn by two thoughts, the first a fear of being swept up in an unthinking totalitarian patriotism and the second revulsion at a comment made by one of the leftwing students who had attended his lecture: “You know what my friends are saying? They are saying it is the chickens coming home to roost.”[60]

The remark infuriated Christopher, provoking a response which “came welling up in me with an almost tidal force: What bloody chickens? Come to think of it, whose bloody ‘home.’” When his Nation colleagues, most prominent among them Noam Chomsky, regurgitated the same sentiments, a seismic crack opened the ground between them: “Regarding almost everything since Columbus as having been one big succession of genocides and land-thefts, [Chomsky] did not really believe that America was a good idea to begin with. Whereas I had come to appreciate that it most certainly was.”[61]

Christopher began speaking and writing publicly to the same effect, and the more he did the more vicious the attacks that were directed at him from former friends on the left. In the process, further troubling thoughts began to percolate in Christopher’s head: “I could not bear the idea that anything I had written or said myself had contributed to this mood of cynicism and defeatism, not to mention moral imbecility on the left.”[62]

Christopher had found a cause, which was no longer a radical cause, which was not a fantasy of an imagined future but a present, flesh and blood reality needing his support and defense: “Shall I take out papers of citizenship,” he asked at the end of a poignant post-9/11 article he wrote for Vanity Fair. “Wrong question. In every essential way, I already have.”[63]

Once he had allowed himself to recognize that America, with its passion for liberty and openness to change could be a force for good, other recognitions followed. Christopher became in his own words “part of [the] public opinion” that supported America’s campaigns to remove the perpetrators from Afghanistan and to unseat the despot and mass murderer, Saddam Hussein, in Iraq. “The idea of ‘Reds for Bush’ might be incongruous,” he observed wryly of his support for the president, “but it was a great deal more wholesome than ‘pacifists for Saddam,’” which is what the anti-Iraq war movement that was supported by most of Christopher’s friends had become.[64]

Six months after the beginning of war in Iraq, Christopher reviewed a book of my writings called Left Illusions. “With the Cold War so to speak behind us,” he wrote, “I suspected that Horowitz would find life without the old enemy a little dull. How much of an audience would there be for his twice-told tale about growing up in a doggedly loyal Communist family and his agonizing over the series of wrenches and shocks that had detached him from Marxism all together? But then, I didn’t anticipate that in the fall of 2001, I would be reading solemn polemics by leading intellectualoids proposing a strict moral equivalence – moral equivalence at best in some cases – between America and the Taliban. Nor did I expect to see street theater anti-war demonstrations, organized by open admirers of Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, and Kim Jong-Il, united in the sinister line of, in effect, ‘hands off Saddam Hussein. So I admit that I now find the sardonic, experienced pessimism in Horowitz’s book a bit more serviceable than I once did.”[65]

This is not the full-throated endorsement of second thoughts one might expect after such events, but it is a familiar Hitch-22. In his final chapter Christopher turns to an assessment of his changes, and titles it: “Decline, Mutation or Metamorphosis?” By this point, there is no mystery that the middle term is going to be the preferred one, while the ends will be excluded. One of the unkinder cuts delivered in this envoi is to those of us who did not regard ourselves as new born on a particular day of revelation, such as September 11, but undertook the necessary and painful task of reassessing what we did and the damage we inflicted in the life we had lived before. Christopher’s demarche: “I didn’t so much repudiate a former loyalty, like some attention-grabbing defector, as feel it falling away from me.”[66]

Christopher should blush to ascribe attention-getting to others, particularly those who have been cut off for their efforts from the same cultural platforms that have made Christopher such an intellectual celebrity. And what other reason than fear of losing audiences might prevent Christopher from repudiating the loyalties that helped to seal the fates of so many innocents, as he himself acknowledges? Referring to Oscar Wilde’s suggestion that a map of the world that did not have utopia on it would not be worth consulting, Christopher remarks, “I used to adore that phrase, but now reflect more upon the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest has led.” But how, then, does one justify continued loyalty to those responsible?

The final chapter of Christopher’s memoir opens with the unexpected appearance of his brother, Peter, who has published a book with his own reflections about his parallel life. Peter’s book, The Broken Compass, contains a chapter Christopher finds particularly “unsettling.” It is Peter’s assault, as a paleo-conservative, on the small contingent of leftists who supported the Iraq War. It is pointedly called “A Comfortable Hotel on the Road to Damascus.” The “comfortable hotel” is a reference to the Iraq War and more broadly to the larger “war on terror.” Peter opposes both as crusades to change the world, and therefore as endeavors frowned on by conservatives but appropriate to the utopian left. “For the habitual leftist,” Peter writes of his brother, the war on terror “has the virtue of making him look as if he can change his mind, even when he has not really done so.”[67]

Peter is wrong and Christopher right about the war on terror which is not a crusade to change the world, but the response to a totalitarian movement’s criminal aggressions. But he is right in perceiving that for Christopher it has acquired a dimension that has all the earmarks of the utopian movement he has abandoned but is still reluctant to leave. This would be his crusade against religion and its believers, which came to the fore in his writings and then became a virtual obsession following the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the attacks of 9/11. “The defense of science and reason is the great imperative of our time,” Christopher proclaims in his last peroration, appearing on the final page of his book.[68] But this great imperative is difficult for an outsider to comprehend. Science and reason aren’t confronted by the scorched earth attacks that religion is at the hands of Christopher and his new political allies. There are no best-selling broadsides called “Reason Is Not Great” or “The Science Delusion” against which Christopher and his band of atheists are forced to contend, nor are scientific institutions being blown up and desecrated the way synagogues and churches and mosques routinely are at the hands of rival creeds.

At one point in his text, Christopher offers an insight into the religious nature of the left’s convictions, which turns out to be self-reflective: “Rather like our then friend Chomsky, Edward (Said) in the final instance believed that if the United States was doing something, then that thing could not by definition be a moral or ethical action.”[69] As the center of global oppression, the United States personified the rule of evil in the Manichaean world that radicals inhabited, which no good deed could cancel. But was not Christopher’s view of religion, as a phenomenon which “poisons everything” also that of an institution, which by definition could do no right?

In his war against God, Christopher is thrust against his own origins, discovering at the age of forty-five that his mother, Yvonne, is a Jew. This launches him on a pursuit of the past, and into reflections on Judaism. “As a convinced atheist, I ought to agree with Voltaire that Judaism is not just one more religion, but in its way the root of religious evil,” he writes. “Without the stern, joyless rabbis and their 613 dour prohibitions, we might have avoided the whole nightmare of the Old Testament, and the brutal, crude wrenching of that into prophecy-derived Christianity, and the later plagiarism of Judaism and Christianity into the various forms of Islam.”[70] This leaden, totalitarian prose is alarmingly characteristic of Christopher’s writings in general about religion, and the very opposite of the supple textures and multivalent cadences that normally seduce and reward his readers. “Leaden prose,” he warns us in another context, “always tends to be a symptom of other problems.”[71]

The problem here is that he sees religion generally, and Judaism in particular, through his old Marxist lenses, as a “sigh of the oppressed,” and imagines a future liberation achieved by eliminating the oppressor. In the sentence quoted, Christopher casts the “rabbis” as a ruling class that imposes its yoke on a passive flock. But he is wrong on both counts. The 613 commandments are not simply prohibitions and are not merely dour.  Two among them, for example (and there are many others), enjoin the flock not to oppress the weak and to honor one’s father and mother, which are commandments that a less ideologically disposed Christopher might embrace. But even if this were not the case, rabbis could hardly impose prohibitions lasting thousands of years on congregations that did not ultimately seek or need or regard them as useful for their earthly sojourns. Has Christopher stopped to ask himself how it is that a tiny, dispersed people like the Jews could survive for several millennia – outlasting virtually all other communities — without beliefs that inspired them and held them together? Unaccountably for someone whose mind is otherwise so impressively alert, Christopher is impervious to the way religion speaks to needs that are timeless and provides comforts that are beneficial; and has contributed to the most spectacular achievements of human culture, including those that are scientific. The very concepts of individual rights and democracy so dear to Christopher are also contributions of religious thought.

The quest for origins that Christopher is sent on by the discovery of Yvonne’s secret is doomed to ambivalence since he regards Israel, the home of the Jews, as an oppressor nation and the Arabs of the Jordan as the passive oppressed. Christopher’s dilemma is made all the more poignant by a conversation that took place with Yvonne just before she took her life. In it, she expressed her desire “to move to Israel” without revealing to her son the reason why. It was a desire, her son now believes, would have meant, had she actually done it, that in going home she was “taking part in the perpetuation of an injustice.”[72]

For Christopher that injustice is Israel itself. He regards the Jewish inhabitants of Israel as “land-thieves” inspired by a religious myth to establish a “divine claim” and therefore a people who “wanted the land without the people.”[73] According to Christopher, in stealing Arab land the Jews became oppressors who “made” the Arabs victims, “with infinite cause of complaint and indefinite justification for violent retaliation.”[74] For example, the creation of a death cult that promises sainthood and paradise to suicide bombers, who blow up women and children if they happen to be Jews? But Christopher’s premise is fallacious, and his passion misplaced. Israel was created out of the ruins of the Turkish Empire, not from an Arab – let alone a Palestinian – nation. If a Palestinian state is what the region lacks, there would long ago have been one on the West Bank and Gaza (as there already is in Jordan) if five Arab countries had not launched an aggressive war to expel the Jews and destroy their home.

Even disregarding (as Christopher does) the historical facts, consider the war in the Middle East as it is prosecuted today: On the one side, Israel, a thriving, modern, democracy containing a million Arab citizens who enjoy more individual rights in the Jewish state than the Arabs of any Muslim country. On the other side, a religious theocracy in Gaza and a fascist regime on the West Bank, both lacking individual rights, both prosecuting a holy war against the Jews as Jews. “Islamo-fascism” is a term that Christopher is rightly proud to have coined. Is there a single Palestinian faction on the West Bank or in Gaza that does not align itself with the Islamo-fascists and their war against the West? Is not Israel’s war in the Middle East a war of everything that Christopher professes to love against everything he hates? What is it that binds him to this misbegotten Arab cause, then, but his unexamined and un-repudiated loyalties to a Marxist past?

Christopher’s blindness in these matters is the most troubling of the confusions to which uncompleted second thoughts have led him and are a source of no pleasure for me. On the contrary, that my friend should be so unjust and incoherent in matters so important, not only to others but to himself, is both a misfortune, and for me a source of distress. Yet these reactionary lapses do not eclipse the brilliance of the role he has played in the battle for human dignity and freedom. Does he contradict himself? It is a price for the multitudes he contains.

In his crusade against God, and his grappling with the Jews, Christopher is thrown into the nexus of origins and his bisected family root: “one … apparently stern and flinty and martial and continent and pessimistic; the other exotic and beseeching and hopeful and tentative,…” This left him, he writes, “with a strong sense of fight or flight” on family occasions.”[75] More accurately, it left him with a sense of flight and fight, which is as good a summation of Christopher and his life as we are likely to get.



[2] Christopher Hitchens, “The Life of Johnson,” Critical Quarterly, 1989, FSA p.260

[3] CH, p. 46

[4] CH, p. 36

[5] CH, p. 7

[6] Ibid.

[7] Terry Eagleton in the New Statesman, file:///DAVID/flyerstrip/Hitch/New%20Statesman%20-%20Hitch-22:%20a%20Memoir.html

[8] CH, p. 105

[9] David Horowitz, Radical Son, 1997, p. 280

[10] CH, p. 22

[11] CH, pp. 25-26

[12] I owe these perceptions to my friend Peter Collier.

[13] CH, p. 13

[14] CH, p. 98

[15] CH, p. 87

[16] Peter Hitchens, The Broken Compass, 2009, p. 75

[17] Ibid.

[18] CH, p. 106

[19] CH, p. 108

[20] CH, p. 181

[21] CH, p. 424

[22] Perry Anderson editorial, New Left Review, November-December 2007

[23] Radical Son, op. cit., p. 382

[24] CH, p. 139

[25] CH, p. 232

[26] CH, pp 232-3

[27] Christopher Hitchens, “Not Even A Hedgehog: The Stupidity of Ronald Reagan.” Slate, June 7, 2004,

[28] Christopher Hitchens, “The Chorus and the Cassandra” in Grand Street, Autumn 1985—-.htm. For a critique of Hitchens’ article, see

[29] CH, p. 416n

[30] David Horowitz, “A Radical’s Disenchantment,” The Nation, December 8, 1979, reprinted as “Left Illusions” in the book Left Illusions.

[31] CH, p. 268

[32] Radical Son, op. cit., pp. 320-321

[33] CH, p. 333. This was an answer Christopher gave to the “Proust questionnaire.”

[34] CH, p. 87


[36] I have written about Deutscher’s mis-reading of the Russian Revolution in an essay titled “The Road to Nowhere” which can be found in The Politics of Bad Faith, 1998. My commentary on Christopher’s review of the Deutscher can be found here:


[38] I am indebted to Peter Collier for this observation.


[40] CH, p. 5

[41] Again, I am indebted to Peter Collier for this observation.

[42] “An Interview with Christopher Hitchens in Simon Cottee and Thomas Cushman, eds. Christopher Hitchens and His Critics, 2008, p. 169

[43] CH, p. 139

[44] Ibid.

[45] CH, p. 138

[46] CH, p. 215

[47] CH, p. 236

[48] CH, p. 237

[49] Ibid.

[50] CH, p. 238

[51] Cottee and Cushman, eds. Christopher Hitchens and His Critics, op. cit., p. 173

[52] CH, p. 410

[53] Cottee and Cushman, op. cit. p. 173


[55] David Horowitz, Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes, 1999, p. 245. The article first appeared in the leftwing magazine Salon, for which I was then a conservative columnist. My column was terminated when Salon became a paid subscription magazine because, its editors explained, their readership wouldn’t pay to read the columns of a conservative.

[56] Hating Whitey, op. cit. pp. 246-247

[57] Cottee and Cushman, op. cit.

[58] Interview in, December 10, 2003. Reprinted in Cottee and Cushman, op. cit. p. 173

[59] Cottee and Cushman, op., cit. p. 174

[60] CH, p. 243

[61] CH, p. 244

[62] CH, p. 245

[63] CH, p. 247

[64] CH, p. 295

[65] Christopher’s review appeared in the November 16, 2003 Los Angeles Times and is reprinted in Cottee and Cushman, op. cit. The citation appears on p. 191

[66] CH, p. 411

[67] CH, pp. 405-6; Peter Hitchens, The Broken Compass, pp. 173, et seq

[68] CH, p. 422

[69] CH, p. 394 Emphasis in original.

[70] CH, p. 376

[71] CH, p. 282

[72] CH, p. 380

[73] CH, p. 382

[74] CH, p. 381

[75] CH, p. 46

  • Gordon Winslow

    Thank you, David, for an excellent essay.

    Get well, Christopher.

  • Abraham83

    Your post on Hitchins recalls many conversion memories of my own. I, also, was a man of the left, somewhat more committed to Marxist parties than you ever were, despite your being a Red Diaper baby. My trajectory toward the right was a stutter step behind yours, however, and I still have much strong admiration for Marx's core ideas on expanded social reproduction as broadened and illustrated by Rosa Luxemburg. That doesn't mean I subscribe to the left's political program–only that Marx's core understanding of how an economy works is comprehensive. And uniquely insightful.

    However, i doubt that you ever read very far into Marx's Theories of Surplus Value (who has!), or even Luxemburg's excellent doctoral thesis. To say all this from a man of the right would otherwise seem contradictory unless you were not intellectually attracted to a useful understanding of capitalist economics.

    Unfortunately, I left my former wife, and late comrade, behind. As a Red Diaper baby herself, she remained on the left till her death

    • david horowitz

      I actually read all four volumes of Marx's Capital, including the Theories of Surplus Value. He had no understanding of capitalist economies. Vladimir Bukovsky once wrote an amusing essay on how Marxist analysis only applied to socialist economies.

      • Andini Mansia
      • Abraham83

        Glad to hear you've read those Theories, but what could they have meant in themselves? Your conclusion, without a defense? "He had no understanding of capitalist economies." Just why is that true? What is your argument? Seriously addressing his ideas does not put into question your own conversion and standing on the right, but in the realm of ideas, must one throw out the baby with the bathwater?

        These volumes were among the unfinished concepts published after Marx's death—un-fleshed notebooks, as you know. Marx himself did not organize such indiscriminate thoughts into a final thesis. One must give Luxemburg –whose doctoral thesis you presumably have not read–credit for attempting to make sense of them and convincingly proving the relevance of SV itself for expanding wealth under capitalism.

        (cont’d below)

      • Abraham83

        (cont’d from above)

        After all, Marx was not HItler. His only crime was to have developed ideas–he did not murder millions to demonstrate them. Was Malthus a fiend for saying that an expanding population could never be fed or clothed by capitlist production demanding their labor? How much influence has he had in proping up the "Green" movement, or the deindustrialization of the West? Shall we lay the blame for post-modernism at the feet of Malthus, and burn his books and proscribe their mention in good company?

        • Barry Cooper

          I addressed these issues here:

          The fact of the matter is that no socialist ever developed any economic system which was not fascist. Marx, to the extent of my awareness, limited himself to bemoaning the supposed failings of Capitalism, for which the prescription was "revolution". That revolution was to be organic, not the result of professional agitators, who themselves held actual workers in contempt.

          Malthus was an idiot, as are those who follow him even today. He presupposes that his mind is infinitely superior to those of the proletarians, who have babies they can't feed indefinitely, even in conditions of plenty. This makes no sense. Africans have a lot of kids because many of them die, and they are needed for agriculture. Most Americans used to, to. When infant and overall mortality rates dropped, so did birth rates. Europe and Japan are now going backwards.

          No serious mind can fail to grasp the necessarily totalitarian nature of socialism, and no decent human being can support the consequences which necessarily flow from the implementation of such regimes. Only bad minds and hard hearts can be fully leftist. There is nothing wrong with compassion, but that virtue in useful implementation is absent from the hard left.

      • Abraham83

        (cont’d from above)

        Given the baleful socialist influence today in throttling Western economies, it is of some relevance to have demonstrated that capitalism has unlimited potential for growth absent governmental parasitism on SV itself. Especially as the post-modernists have resurrected Malthus' view that we live in a zero-sum world economy in which the West thrives by the impoverishment of the Third World.

        That is, the West is said to "primitively accumulate" at the expense of 3rd world industrial development. Or here in America or Europe, as the Greenies say, we "loot" nature (or primitively accumulate) at the expense of the "environment", further jeopardizing the West AND the 3rd world. Marx laid the basis for Luxemburg's proof and must be given some credit, putting the politics of both aside.

  • Philipa

    Interesting essay, Mr Horowitz but I must pick you up on one thing: you say that Carol Blue isn't mentioned in any great personal detail, and neither are his other loves such as his first wife. Isn't this politic on Christopher's part? And quite gentlemanly really – for he is correct in suggesting that attention to one would rather lead to another feeling some slight, best keep to the point of the book then, which is him. Didn't Carol herself say that she is but a supporting role in the Christopher Hitchens drama? You also said:

    "Peter Hitchens is Christopher’s younger brother by two years but virtually invisible in Christopher’s text"

    The brothers swapped texts before publication. Do you know if Peter had rather he wasn't mentioned? Some have assumed some feeling or motive in Christopher that they have no evidence for in reading about this. If Christopher knows Peter at all, and I think he might, he would know if Peter would rather he wasn't mentioned in some cases and in others he may simply not have been there.

    • Philipa

      I'm sorry that was poorly written, I was suggesting that CH may have been doing the gentlemanly thing in being discreet, not that he doesn't love his wife or that she isn't important to him. A supportive wife is a blessing.

    • david horowitz

      There are ways of dealing with relationships discreetly in memoirs. Christopher chose to block crucial ones out. How would you explain the omissions of Alexander Cockburn and Sidney Blumenthal, not to mention the way he fails to deal with the community of Second Thoughters?

    • Diva_Debrah

      For the life of me I cannot comprehend why it's significant whether any of Hitchens' wives or his brother were mentioned to the satisfaction of readers.

      Yes, "Hitch-22" is about Christopher; however Horowitz is right to highlight the lack of space spent on the current wife.

      I don't buy the idea that he didn't want to slight anyone. I think it's just as Horowitz subtly suggests—little attention was paid to a few of the main players in Hitchens' life.

      Nothing wrong with that. Many of us are self-absorbed.

      Why is that so difficult for some readers to comprehend?

      Also, Christopher hasn't always had the closest relationship with his brother. Should he have made a pretense to the contrary?

  • woodlander

    A thousand thanks for this in-depth assessment of Hitchens, someone I know (slightly) and admire. He is a very important figure and thinker to those of us who watched the 9/11 attacks with unblinkered eyes. Why shouldn't he come under the same kind of scrutiny, the same rigorous gaze he casts upon others? Your reasoning seems sound and the skeptical points you raise are fair. I have myself questioned his arrogant atheism. He seems to allow no middle ground between the nihilism of the non-believer and the rabid ultra-faith of the fundamentalist. Meanwhile, the vast educated middle of humans everywhere nurture a basic spirituality that their minds and hearts find both reasonable and correct. The truth of the matter is that spirituality, or religious feeling, is an inductive process — based on one's myriad interactions with the world, with actual prayer, with religious "acts," and so forth — and is actually more akin to science than the superheated deductive reasoning that is Hitchens' stock in trade. Science is about experimentation, not pure deduction. One cannot divorce religious experience (to use the Jamesian term) from actual experience. Religion is merely "the science of life," and the religions of the world are still working on getting it right. (Some of them — we won't mention names — are grotesquely flawed.) Therefore, it is all the more important to choose correctly from among them, to select from the various creeds the one that most closely describes reality and the human condition. Similarly, as you argue quite clearly, Hitch does cling to an underlying religion, or life philosophy, of his own — kind of an antique, carefully attenuated Trotskyism — that provides him with both an organizing principle and a way to experience oceanic moments of hope, clarity, and perhaps even joy (which is doubtful, since he is a Brit, after all). One can only wish him the very best and pray for a miracle recovery.

  • Jim C.

    An excellent, thorough and fair examination of Mr. Hitchens's memoir by the author of Radical Son, a book which I consider perhaps the best memoir of any political figure of that generation.

    As I try to digest what has been said, a few thoughts come to mind:

    1. People are far more complicated and messy than whatever their political stances happen to be. The more intelligent they are, the more contradictory seem the strains of their personality, creating the dynamic tension that necessarily drives the engine of their ambitions.

    2. At the end of the day, our political disagreements are really nothing more than playground squabbles–yes, even when they involve life and death (perhaps especially so). "All is vanity," begins one of my favorite scriptures. And life is like a book: when you say you've read a good one, you will be asked "Oh? What's it about?" Well, 'what it's about' is actually the least important part; it's always how the story is told that makes it worth the while.

  • flybynight

    From what I've seen and heard of them in my lifetime, Leftists of all persuasions are a cruel, friendless pack of bloody dogs. The remark made to Hitchens by one of his so-called friends; that he should "…rot in scab and blackleg hell" is a fairly obvious clue to the friendless, faithlessness of the Left.

    Where memoirs are concerned, one of the best ever written is in novel form by H.G. Wells, entitled "Tono-Bungay." An excerpt here might give Mr. Hitchens an idea of what real honesty feels like. Following a scathing self-appraisal of his marriage and divorce and a sincere search for meaning in his younger life, Mr. Wells writes this:

    "Many men and women nowadays take up some concrete aspect of Socialism or social reform. But Socialism for me has always been a little bit too human, too set about with personalities and foolishness. It isn't my line. I don't like things so human…I'm in earnest in warp and woof. I stumble and flounder, but I know that over all these merry, immediate things, there are other things that are great and serene, very high beautiful things…I'm a spiritual guttersnipe in love with unimaginable goddesses…I can't explain myself, I perceive. Perhaps it all comes to this, that I am a hard and morally limited cad with a mind beyond my merits."

    Strong medicine from a fellow Englishman may be just what Mr. Hitchens needs to set him up again. Godspeed!

  • cochavi1

    I truly wish Mr. Hitchens well. At the same time, I think that this 'very complicated' man is really, like many others, rejecting the beliefs and values that began thousands of years ago in the Land of Israel. The idea that because a person is intelligent he must invent his own value system or inner world is a tempting idea. Certainly the urge to turn personal and individual perceptions into a new philosophy is in every one of us. But if this is what Christopher has tried to do, he has failed. His 'world view' does not make sense, though he is an interesting and talented man.

    Further, his utter rejection of Israel and Zionism looks like a rejection of his Jewish roots, and there is nothing original in that.

  • Guy Green

    That Mr. Horowitz put this much thought, and genuine compassion, into a piece about someone whose offerings against him might have inspired less wonderfully reasoned eloquence is testament to David's status as one of the most civilized, and important men of our times. No one has learned more from his mistakes, or been more patient with that knowledge, than David Horowitz. My heartfelt thanks for this splendid work.

  • LarrycTX

    The two keys that I get from this excellent essay are your comment about feeling the self-importance of saving the world and Collier's description of Hitchens as an oyster continuously working on his own pearl.

    Both offer excellent insights into the character of Marxists and of Hitchens.

    Conditioned by a stern father and an intriguing and secretive mother he incorporated both into his chosen persona. He was purposefully an enigma and smart enough to be a charming and interesting one. That is the image he chose to project, eliminating any possibility of letting down his guard and being himself – much like the Trotskyites.

    • david horowitz

      Good eye.

  • Neapolitan Patriot

    Thank you, David Horowitz, for opening a window into the soul of a man whom I've primarily seen as one of the invited guests on evening news programs. Your detailed account of the road of life that Mr. Hitchens has traveled is revealing in that you've shone the light of truth on a man who's continually chosen to walk in the darkness of his own understanding. Although Mr. Hitchens denies having a personal faith in God, I know that God believes in him. I hope and pray that, like a soldier in his foxhole who's under fire, Mr. Hitchens will turn to God in his hour of need for physical and spiritual healing. For those of us who believe in God, we know that as long as there's life, there's hope…hope for life.

  • USMCSniper

    I always had a problem with Hitchen's opinions and his evasion of facts. His continuing support the communists in the Vietnam war is either because he is ignorant or worse, because he evasively dishonest of the facts. He should understand what David says the leftists actually achieved in Indo-China, in fact, was supporting one of the largest genocides on record and a totalitarian future for the Cambodians and Vietnamese. From 1975 to 1978, there were 1.5 million Cambodians slaughtered in the killing fields by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and almost 2 miilion South Vietnamese in the purges and reeducation camps by the NV Communists – more civilian deaths than in the previous 13 years from 1952 to 1975.

  • Vorpal

    Excellent article. I think that much of Hitchens' contradiction can be attributed to simple human selfishness and pride and the resulting blindness. Is there anymore contradiction with Hitchens' indulgence of the totalitarian ideology of the left and the lifestyle of freedom than there was with Politburo members enjoying secret material privileges in spite of the poverty of their nation?

  • Caron McCracken

    David, as always,thank you so much for the article on the "God is Not Great" author Chris Hitchens. I have worried about your close association with him, and even stopped donating
    when he was a featured speaker.

    Our God is great and He has inspired men in years past to make this nation the exceptional one that it is. We will be giving to your work again. "Radical Son" is one of my favorites. Best wishes, CM

  • Noel Leerskov

    From your writings I've learned and still have occasion to relate your evolutionary concept of Liberalism as it found birth in the Friench revolution and is now reaching a crescendo of presence with it's destruction of contemporary America.

    The point I want to make here is that Hitchins came through the same epoch of sociological transformation as yourself, but despite his unique intellectual prowess Christopher has been unable to see his error of judgement and clings to his long held perceptions. I'm even willing to postulate that his flaw is one of base pride that forces him to create this horrendous web of defensive rationale that puts him in the middle and on both sides that defy any intellectual assessment of his primary position.

    Thank you, Mr. Horowitz, and I too wish Mr. Hitchins well and pray for his recovery as well as a valiant and clean transition to Conservatism .

  • BoyntonStu

    I really like the way Christopher expresses his thoughts.

    His genius is obvious.

    I am very sorry to hear of his illness.

    I will say an Atheist Mishabarach for him

    I have a question to ask Socialists:

    "Who gets the beachfront property?"

  • Taxpayer1234

    It seems Hitchens has learned that his political and philsophical castles were built on sand, but he is afraid to fully admit it.

  • Louie723

    Hitchens is obviously a man of great intelligence and broad education. Whenever I have read his articles I've always been impressed by his ability to quote obscure figures and events in such as way as to suggest that we should all know who and what he is talking about! I admire his courage in taking on the left and even old friends such as the weasel Blumenthal. As far as his contradictions and refusal to renounce old positions, I view that as nothing more than stubbornness and contrarianism, and I understand his unprovoked attacks on Judaism and Christianity in that light.

  • traeh

    I didn't know David Horowitz could write as he does in this essay. Now I understand his large reputation. This essay changes the view of him I took on from watching him in videos.

    I'm glad to have DH's powerful attempt at a summation of Hitchens. Hitchens has been something of an enigma to me. He seems unaware that behind the various religious doctrines, however inaccurate those doctrines may often be, are sometimes core experiences that attest to realities with irreducibly non-material characteristics. Those experiential characteristics are in some essential ways akin to what has sometimes been theorized or verbalized about "the divine." Beyond or prior to doctrine, there can be a phenomenology of the sacred as experience. But Hitchens seems to think the doctrinal aspect exhausts whatever there is to religion.

    Hitchens perhaps must reject the experiential "sacred," because if one does not reject it, then one may naturally look toward the historical articulations of religion and develop an expectation of finding they are partly rooted in valid experience of the sacred. Then one may even find oneself accepting as largely true one of those historical articulations in particular. But if one bases oneself on phenomenology and experience, then one will always be, at least to some extent, at some sort of a remove from orthodox statements and articulations of that experience. After all, no experience can ever be exhaustively accounted for by a limited set of verbal articulations of that experience. Concrete experience is too rich, too inexhaustible, for that. There is always more to discover.

  • Glenn

    Congratulations, Mr. Horowitz, on writing an incisive and terribly well crafted essay on Hitch. Most of the interviews of him, post-memoir that is, have been flaccid in comparison. Even the excellent NYPL interview didn't in any way succeed in pressing Hitch on his convictions. So, bravo, it's great to see such a masterful display of your critical and writing talents.

    One area in which I think you are inaccurate is when you challenge Hitchen's account of Israeli history, but don't really offer a counter-factual argument to support your challenge. You then go on to ignore vast swaths of history yourself. Even the Israeli scholar Benny Morris readily admits that the Zionists forced 700,000 Arabs off their land when establishing Israel. You and every other defender of Israel never address this point – but rather immediately fall back to validating Israel's religious claims to the land based on standards that apply to no other nation wrt to indigenous peoples rights. This argument is quite weak as presented and is strangely inconsistent with the rigorous reason on display in most of your arguments. Perhaps you are not that unlike Hitch, keeping your own "two sets of books" when it comes to Palestinian's rights?

    Finally, the evident affection you have for Christoper is well received as we all hope for the best. Thanks for taking the time to seriously think about the questions Hitch22 raises.

    • Consider

      A point immensely less adressed in the general debate regarding the Israeli Arab conflict is the expulsion of 850,000 Jews from Arab countries in the years following the creation of Israel.

  • Willieboy

    A great appreciation and critique of America's foremost naturalized citizen. As a rule I hate sappy hyperbola, but I can't think of any other way to say it–Hitchens is a national treasure.

  • Docsmith

    Thank you Mr Horowitz for one of the most wonderfully erudite and thoughtful pieces I have ever had the pleasure to read about a man I have greatly admired. Hitch is a conundrum – a riddle wrapped in an enigma – but his intellect and compassion or rather passion, towers over his all too human failures. You use the analogy that Hitchens writes like a musician. Well I think your own 'jeweled prose' about him is a composition that matches anything I have read of his. My take on him is that it is his very contradictions that make him so interesting – his natural charm and his passionate but literate expression of his convictions make him one of the most entertaining intellectuals I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. At the least Hitchens fascinates and makes you think. You may (even quite often) disagree vehemently with him, but you are always grateful for having heard what he has had to say (but never satiated, one could always stand to hear or read a bit more Hitch!) It must have been a Herculean task to write so comprehensively and incisively on a man to whom you have been so opposed to for so long. The fact that you both call the other friend is a tribute to the character of each. Thank you for sharing your profound thoughts on Chris Hitchens with the rest of us.

    I pray to my own non-specific deity that the prognosis for Chris is not as dire as it appears to be and that he will recover to continue to challenge and provoke us in word, written or spoken, for many years to come.


  • richard

    To see vermin like David Horowitz and Roger Kimball crawl out of their subterranean revetments to sing the praises of Christopher Hitchens is all the convincing one needs.

    Let us direct our sympathies to the suffering Iraqis, Palestinians and other victims of the despicable policies advocated by Horowitz, Hitchens and like-minded louts.

  • Gavin

    Richard's reply is so quintessential leftist – with insult truimphing over reason.

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  • Miip

    I am a centrist and vote republican but not because of the religious right but because of important political issues that you & Hitchens were in agreement on. I however disagree with the following statement you made in this article…

    “The very concepts of individual rights and democracy so dear to Christopher are also contributions of religious thought.”

    I disagree with you in that these contributions are from religious thought but rather that they are from human thought that is outside the bounds of theology. They are human thoughts seeking solutions whereby religion is organized totalitarian rule that has finished seeking….