Why Hitchens deserves to be remembered with Orwell

Few thinkers have shared Hitchens’s physical and intellectual courage


My editor has asked me to “cover off” Christopher Hitchens’s politics. It is, of course, an impossible task. Or at least it seems so at first. How to distill a political mind that ranged so widely? There was nothing that Hitchens wouldn’t tackle in print, and the diversity of his interests might suggest a certain erraticism in his convictions.

There was, too, his supposed migration from the left to the right. George Galloway, in one of his many debates with Hitchens, told the audience they were witnessing a phenomenon of nature—reverse metamorphosis. Hitchens, he said, had turned from a butterfly into a slug.

Hitchens deserved the slur, in Galloway’s feeble if eloquent mind, because of his support for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Hitchens had made common cause with George W. Bush, and had therefore betrayed his leftist roots. Galloway was not alone in this view. Tariq Ali declared that Hitchens was among the casualties of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and that the man now bearing his name and image was a “vile replica.” An online friend of a friend dismissed him as a “good mind lost to Bush and booze.”

All this misses what Hitchens stood for, which was, in a nutshell, freedom—freedom from tyranny and from religious dogma; freedom of thought and expression; and, on a personal level, the freedom of the individual to pursue and live his life as he sees fit. He didn’t pick his causes from an ideological menu dictating which causes to support or shun.

Few who champion Palestinian freedom from Israel’s occupation also backed Iraqi freedom fighters against Saddam. Hitchens did both. He was a friend to the Kurdish resistance when it was fashionable, and he stuck by them when they were sneered at as American lackeys. He sided with Nelson Mandela, and against Gandhi. He took apart Mother Teresa. And then when Nelson Mandela said some stupid things about race, the United Nations, and Iraq, Hitchens took him apart, too.

(A pre-set political compass did lead Hitchens astray at least once, as a younger man, on Zimbabwe and its odious dictator, Robert Mugabe. Hitchens was initially soft on the brute and admitted in his memoirs it was because he wanted to believe Mugabe was an anti-imperialist rather than an opportunistic thug. He was and is a monster, and Hitchens later attacked him as such, directing his readers’ attention to the millions of Zimbabweans who suffer Mugabe’s rule but are nonetheless generally ignored by most Western journalists.)

One gets the feeling that Hitchens loved language for its own sake. His memoir has some delicious scenes involving regular lunches with now literary legends such as Clive James, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, and Salman Rushdie. They amused themselves with games that involved replacing words in book and play titles. “House” would be changed to “sock,” and “man” to “prong,” or that very English profanity, “cunt.” The results ranged from schoolboyish—”A Cunt’s a Cunt for All That”—to the slightly more sophisticated—“A Shropshire Cunt, by A. E. Sockprong.”

Hitchens was so adept at language, it sometimes seemed as though he’d take on a topic just to see if he could pull it off. And yet there were other topics that spoke to Hitchens’s essence. In 2002, he published a book-length essay, Why Orwell Matters. I don’t know how well it sold. It was denser than a lot of his writing, and it’s not often included in lists of his best works. But it was brilliant. It was brilliant because Orwell mattered deeply to Hitchens. They deserve to be remembered together. Both shared loyalty to their ideals and convictions rather than any one political tribe. They were physically brave. They wrote well. They stood against fascism. And they died far too soon.

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Why Hitchens deserves to be remembered with Orwell

  1. Utter BS.   Hitchens was a great essayist and even better orator.  But he was wrong about alot of issues.  Marxism and the Iraq war just to name two.   Hitchens lacked judgement.  Orwell on the other hand had superb judgement.  He was right about the the great issues of the day. 

    • Opinions again. You were not around at Orwells time, he received alot of criticism at the time, and being called wrong, you can’t in hindsight say he was right, when yolu can’t do that about Hitchens. I am also chuckling that you think Orwell had superb judgement and Hitchens had terrible judgement, especially when you use Marxism as an example. Both their views on that subject were practically the same. 

  2. Oh dear one must turn to The Guardian for any real insight ; I think John M. Morrison sums Hitch up quite nicely today in that august sheet. I quote. “A royal Navy boy, a strange combination of nostalgic imperialist and revolutionary Marxist, a show-off, a boozer and a smoker who turned his back on England because it was too small and found a larger, more powerful homeland. Yes, he was an odd echo of Guy Burgess. What is it about these ex-Trots and ex-Communists which enables them to swing from the far left to the far right without missing a beat? 

    And another poster on the same subject:  The Hitchens
    of particularly the last decade and a half or so was solely macho, boorish, and
    attracted a fan base that eschewed culture in the broadest sense. 
I find it
    odd that eulogies are now being poured over a man who never hesitated to piss
    on people’s graves or humiliate them in public while still alive (and often
    unjustly so). 
I also find it odd that being ‘fiercely outspoken’ (i.e. an
    intransigent know-it-all) and ‘bloody-minded’ (confrontational) are somehow
    regarded to be qualities of an intellectual. They surely aren’t. He was wrong
    on most counts over the last decade. 
He also contributed nothing towards
    solving the global issues he sought to address, and instead decided to pour
    fuel into the fire. 

    • The fact that you state he was wrong on most counts, over subjects that are a matter of opinion, seems that you believe your opinion holds weight over everybody elses. Get over yourself, it doesn’t.

      Agree or disagree, if you are unable to see the point Hitchens was making during debates or essays, then either your ability to read is not up to scratch, or you did not know the man and are jumping on the bandwagon now that he has died.

      Pray tell which subjects he got wrong (in your opinion)?

  3. what useless piece of trash… is this the core of your argument, you canadian hillbilly? “hitchens luvd freeduhm” ?

  4. Galloway “Feeble” minded yet eloquent? rofl take your phallus out of Hitchens orifice necrophilia is a no, no i imagine even Hitchens would agree if he wasn’t busy lamenting over his youth being ridiculed by the church

  5. What utter codswallop.  Michael Petrou is such a joke. 

  6. I found this article by accident.  I enjoyed the essay about Hitchens but the folks responding to it are impressively crude and incoherent. I wonder if they actually read the books and articles Mr. Hitchens wrote.  Even if I disagreed with him I found his general reasoning, presentation of factual material and articulation of his case to be of very high quality and always provocative in a very positive way.  The world is greatly diminished by his death.

    • “The world is greatly diminished…” The neoconservative world perhaps. Of course the fact that he tried to put his “close” friend Sidney Blumenthal behind bars over the Lewinsky affair; or that he was a cheerleader for an illegal invasion of a country during which 1,000,000 mostly civilians perished; one million refugees were created, and a country  destroyed, no doubt only serves to enhance his reputation. 

      • You were happy for Saddam Hussein to continually privately own Iraq and it’s people then? Supporting a policy that targets the removal of Saddam from power wasn’t a wrong move. I find it pathetic that people wanted him to remain in power, even if you disagree over the reasons for going to war, Saddam Hussein not being in power is only good for the world, and that is what Hitchens said.

        And if you believed Hitchens was a Neoconservative, then you did not and do not understand the man at all. He supported Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands War because he was opposed to the military junta running Argentina at the time. Supporting the war in Iraq should be no surprise to anybody. And it isn’t to people who know about him. He waan’t accused of jumping to the right or becoming a neoconservative then, because he wasn’t, and the exact same point is made about Iraq. He supported it because he was again totalitarianism. George Galloway showed his loving support for Saddam Hussein many times. 

  7. He`s found out there is a god, and that he is quite merciless with people of his ilk , and no amount of “language” can get him out of the eternal flames.

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