Today marks the third year since the passing of Christopher Hitchens. The Hitch, for you who don’t know, was a widely published author and journalist who was born in the United Kingdom but lived the latter half of his life in the US. He was perhaps best know as a supporter of secularism, speaking out time and again against the abuses of theocrats and clergymen all over the world, but his contributions to literature and journalism were by no means limited to that field.
The Hitch was ever a champion of the right to free expression, an embodiment of the old saying that “I may dislike what you say, but I would die fighting for your right to say it”. He traveled all over the world to spread these ideas and lend support to those fighting totalitarian rulers. From Nicolae Ceaușescu’s authoritarian communist rule in Romania to the dirty war of the Argentinian dictatorship to the twin horrors of the reign of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the tyrannical clerics in Iran, you can be sure that Christopher Hitchens was at some point there, on the ground, doing what he could to shine a light in the darkness, give moral support to legitimate resistance groups where such were to be found and above all making sure that the rest of us didn’t turn a blind eye to the doings of tyrants.
I could continue for a while in such a positive tone, but lest this start looking like the beginnings of a personality cult it is of course worth to point out that he too made mistakes on occasion. He was, as is now painfully obvious, too optimistic about the fallout of George and Dick’s adventuring in Mesopotamia. He wanted the best for that region, anyone who denies that doesn’t know what they are talking about, but we have to admit that when it came to what would happen after the invasion of Iraq in ’03 he was wrong.
He was, I should point out, a self-proclaimed socialist. Of course not of the kind that glorifies totalitarian communism, he was more of a social democrat like those one today can often find in Scandinavia or the UK. This means that he and I were bound to disagree on certain economic issues, but I want to point out that Christopher Hitchens was always opposed to government intrusion into individuals’ private lives in ways not related to finances. In regards to social issues he could honestly have been described as a libertarian.
We have to remember that when Hitchens was young, in the seventies and eighties, what in the west was known as “the right” was to some extent involved in shady business, propping up fascists in certain countries and, in the case of among others president Ronald Reagan, flirting with christian fundamentalists. This was bound to cause a man like the Hitch to flee across the political spectrum in revulsion.
Having said all I intend to regarding the fact that Hitchens was a socialist and I am not, let’s instead take a look at a few of his great moments, that I missed at the time they took place but that have been immortalized through the wonders of the video camera. Though people forgot it later on as he got involved in other things, Christopher Hitchens was always a stern opponent of the war in Vietnam, especially the later half of it. A very interesting moment took place in 1999, on Bill Maher’s old show, Politically Incorrect. Hitchens was there arguing against the necessity of the war while Bill Maher, believe it or not, seemed to defend it. Those remembering only the first decade of the 21th century may be a bit surprised by this. That whole segment may not have been the most serious discussion on the subject, but it made one suspect that the Hitch was not the bloodthirsty warmonger that some people have tried to present him as.
Another characteristic moment where the Hitch appeared on the television screen came 2007, upon the death of the late reverend Jerry Falwell. Others in the media conveniently forgot that Falwell had been a vile vulture of a man who, while Manhattan was still burning, in part blamed some of the victims in New York by saying that the 9/11 attacks were god’s punishment for human sins rather than the work of men in airplanes. The Hitchslap on the other hand would have none of it and said straight out what he thought of Falwell on national television, which at the time caused quite a fuss. Here’s a link to a clip of Hitchens saying what needed saying about Fallwell, and here is another one.
Like clearly evident from the episode with Fallwell and as has since become much of Hitchens’ legacy, he was indeed a fierce opponent of religious fundamentalism, and much of his greatest work has to do with opposing the idea that heavenly powers give some individuals the right to decide how others live their lives. This was in no way limited to just the christian religion, the Hitch was sort of an equal-opportunity doubter. For more on that, have a look at this.
I would, as the end of this article looms near, again mention that while his contributions on that front were significant he did much more than that. He called out the worst offenders in the personality cult surrounding the princess Diana one day and exposed certain lies within the Clinton administration the next. There is so much more I could write about the life and deeds of Christopher Hitchens, of the honesty, the wit and the conviction that to despots and fanatics and final solutions and dear leaders there has to be a response, there has to be resistance. This will, however, have to do for now. Rest in peace, Hitch.