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The Odd Case of Christopher Hitchens: More questions than answers


By now, most people who think deeply about politics, economics, society, culture, and religion have probably heard of Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens stands out in any crowd and is a particularly fascinating person for me. He also intrigues me for the very reason that he mystifies me. Hitchens has made a reputation for himself as a contrarian. He is also known as a former Marxist (in the Trotskyist tradition) and was for many years a noted figure of Britain and America‘s left, where he worked as a journalist and literary critic. Nowadays, while disclaiming the label "neoconservative", he considers himself a "single-issue voter" and has been making the case against religion. What has left me in the dark, almost, is his decision to abandon the Left. I have some clues that I have snipped from a book that he wrote, as well as any online sources that I was able to find. I know that he engaged in a not-so-pleasant exchange with the American linguist and foreign policy critic, Noam Chomsky. He has stated in his book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything that he abandoned Marxism because he saw "no future" in it and that all the glories of Marxism (if it ever had any) all lay in the past.

 

I have been wanting for some time for Hitchens to write a book about the Left and why he abandoned it, if, for no other reason, than to help clarify the fog of confusion that keeps me from seeing him as he really is. Any attempt I have made to contact him have not been successful and he seems damned near impossible to contact. I can understand his disdain for the Clinton family. I am no fan of the Clintons, never have been, and never will be. I think that Bill Clinton has a number of things he needs to answer for, including possible rape charges and other accusations of sexual misconduct. My biggest disappointment with the Democratic Party is the fact that the Clintons have been shielded from this kind of public scrutiny. I can understand that, perhaps, Hitchens finds Marxism no longer persuasive. Well, I have never been a Marxist myself but I considered myself a fundamentalist Christian for ten years before I finally gave up my religion, so I can understand renouncing old doctrines or a belief system that doesn’t make any sense any more.

 

But where does Hitchens stand on contemporary issues? Where does Hitchens stand on abortion? On GLBT rights? Where does Hitchens stand on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Do all human beings deserve the right to adequate health care? To education? To a remunerative job? What about FDR’s second bill of rights? What does Hitchens think of John Maynard Keynes and Keynesian economics? I know of Hitchens’ feelings about organized/revealed religion and for theism. I know that Hitchens is concerned about "Islamic fascism" and was more slightly in favor of George W Bush being reelected, thinking that the Bush Administration did more to champion the cause of freedom than the secular community. What really gets me is that Hitchens no longer considers himself a socialist. Okay, fine. But what is wrong, ultimately with socialism? Has he made the serious error that only Marxism is the true form of socialism? What does he think of anarchist political philosophy? Of Parecon? What of the work of visionaries such as Robin Hahnel and Michael Albert?

 

I wonder what his impression would be of reading the future book Real Utopia that was edited by Chris Spannos? What would he think of "complimentary holism"? Is Hitchens a capitalist? I wonder what he would think if he was to read Hahnel’s Economic Justice and Democracy? Without the benefit of a book on liberalism and why Hitchens no longer feels a part of it, some of these questions will remain unanswered. Without Hitchens’ further elaboration, some of these questions may not be asked of him.

 

In his memoir, Michael Albert discusses the change Hitchens has gone through. He notes that at first Hitchens seems to have praised the work of Chomsky and now he doesn’t. Albert asks was the younger Hitchens just ignorant and uneducated or is the older Hitchens dishonest? Good question! I want to know why Hitchens thinks that socialism will not work and what might he think of Parecon. How would Hitchens justify remunerating people according to the contribution of their labor and/or property? Does he even ponder such topics as economic remuneration? Here’s an odd possibility and I don’t lay claim to be the first to raise it: is it possible that Hitchens, having abandoned his Leftist youth, having abandoned progressive thought, feared that his journey and friendly relations among the Right might cause people to wonder if he might take up the cause of religion, might find faith and convert to a form of fundamentalism? Perhaps the reason why he would published god is not Great is due to a desire to head off at the pass, any possibility that people might think that his apparent rightward move might result in joining any kind of revealed faith. It’s certainly possible.

 

Maybe this was his way of showing that the old Hitchens has never really disappeared and that he is the same old Christopher that he has more or less always been. Perhaps. Maybe this is his way of playing his classic role of contrarian and trying not to lose his edge here. Maybe. Perhaps he originally turned his contrarian guns on the Right, wondered if he could do so with the Left, convinced himself that there was plenty to argue with, and now he’s on his own path, to where only he knows where. Hitchens hasn’t really turned Right and I don’t think that Right is particularly fond of him. Hitchens took an axe at the sacred cows of Right, namely the Almighty and Sean Hannity’s hero, St. Ronald Reagan. Good riddance to both but this still leaves a hazy mist of unanswered questions. Let me raise another possibility: maybe Hitchens was looking for a way out of the Left. Maybe Hitchens figured that he could be louder as a critic of the Left and religion. There’s a controversial stance! I seriously doubt that Hitchens didn’t think he’d get a lot of money from his written critique of religion. Who knows? But if financial gain is his motive, he can retire a very wealthy man by taking advantage of it. If he wrote a book criticizing the left, with a chapter on how he got into Marxism and why he left it, a chapter on Chomsky and the modern radical Left, chapters on important topics such as socialism, the "war" in Iraq, chapters on the Clintons and the Democratic Party, chapters on topics such as universal healthcare, universal education, taxes, and what-not, Hitchens can really make some good money.

 

Such a book hasn’t been written yet and I would probably read it with great interest. I think many of us would appreciate learning why Hitchens has come as far as he has and what he has to say about his journey.

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