Was Christopher Hitchens a liar and a thief?


Before the crash of 2007, as aid agencies were asking the governments of what we once called ‘the rich world’ to wipe out poor countries’ debts, Christopher Hitchens received a begging letter from his publishers.

Verso, if you have never come across it, boasts that it is ‘the largest independent, radical publishing house in the English-speaking world’. Its old stagers are Tariq Ali and Perry Anderson, Marxist-Leninists of the upper class, who had been Hitchens’s comrades on the soixante-huitard left. Hitchens told me that along with aristocratic style of their fine offices in London and New York went the classic capitalist desire to expropriate the fruits of the workers’ labour.

As ‘debt forgiveness’ was in the air, Verso had said to him, would he forgive the debts of his publishers by allowing them to keep his royalties? ‘They think,’ said Hitchens, his eyes shining with incredulous glee, ‘that I’m the equivalent of the World Bank and that they’re the equivalent of a banana republic.’

Verso looks like a tin-pot dictatorship now.

Read the whole thing

The last words of Christopher Hitchens

From the Literary Review

Review of Mortality

By Christopher Hitchens

Defending Philip Larkin from his critics, Christopher Hitchens said that readers loved him because he understood everyday suffering. He mapped ‘decaying communities, old people’s homes, housing estates and clinics’ better than most social democrats. While dying is often referred to as‘going down hill’, Hitchens saw that Larkin realised that debilitation is not an easy glide to oblivion but an exhausting climb of ‘extinction’s alp’.

Hitchens’s account of his climb to extinction is Larkinesque, and not only because his sentences stay in the mind as firmly as good poetry. Hitchens maps the world of intensive care. Not without regret, he dismisses those who pretend they can soften its horrors, including perhaps his younger self. A heart-breaking final chapter contains quotations from great writers that he scrawled as material for an essay he would never live to write. As the pneumonia brought on by oesophageal cancer overwhelmed him, Hitchens recalled Larkin’s reprimand, in ‘Aubade’, of atheists who believe that stoicism will see them through:

 And specious stuff that says No rational being

Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing

That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,

No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,

Nothing to love or link with,

The anaesthetic from which none come round.

‘Fair enough in one way,’ Hitchens writes. ‘Atheists ought not to be offering consolation.’ Notice that he did not write ‘false consolation’, as most of us would. Mortality is an argument against comforting cliché, among which the notion that cancer sufferers are ‘fighting’ their tumours outdoes even ‘going down hill’. Hitchens does not feel like a warrior. If only he were like a soldier in battle or a revolutionary on the barricades, he thinks. If only he were suffering for a purpose. But you cannot fight when you are ‘swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water’. Nor is one surprised to learn that Nietzsche had not experienced chronic illness when he offered his ‘what does not kill me makes me stronger’ for healthy men and women to quote until they learned better. As for purpose: in the best and bleakest line in the book, Hitchens reflects, ‘To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: “Why not”?’ Continue reading

A man with a score to settle. Christopher Hitchens: review of What’s Left

Sunday Times
Published: 21 January 2007

WHAT’S LEFT? How the Liberals Lost Their Way
by Nick Cohen
Fourth Estate £12.99 pp296

It is not until quite near the end of this mordant and instructive polemic that Nick Cohen comes right out with his own confession: “My instant reaction to the 9/11 attacks was that they were a nuisance that got in the way of more pressing concerns. Throughout the 1990s, I had been writing about the overweening power of big business and how it could corrupt democratic governments. I had lambasted new Labour for its love of conservative crime policies and attacks on civil liberties for years. Attacking Tony Blair was what I liked doing — what got me out of bed in the morning. Accepting that fascism is worse than western democracy, even western democracies governed by George W Bush and Tony Blair, sounds very easy in theory, but it is very difficult to do in practice when you are a habitual enemy of the status quo in your own country.”

He might have left it at this. After all, there are thousands and thousands of middle-aged lefties for whom their once-revolutionary “credentials” are all they have left to show for a lifetime of “activism”, and who could not face their friends — or, perhaps, their students — if they found themselves endorsing a war fought by British or American soldiers. (I myself remember repressing a twinge of annoyance at the idea that the assault on civilisation represented by the 9/11 attacks would drive my anti-Kissinger book from the front page where I still believe it belonged.) But Cohen goes further: “I wanted anything associated with Tony Blair to fail, because that would allow me to return to the easy life of attacking him.” Continue reading

Christopher Hitchens: He died too young, with too much left to say

Nick Cohen pays tribute to the most ‘intellectually generous’ man he ever met

Why are so many who love the English language and human freedom in mourning for Christopher Hitchens? His full-length books never showed his talents to the full – not even God is not Great, his atheist bestseller. With typical modesty – and he was always self-critical, despite appearances to the contrary – he thought that only his literary essays would be read after his death. The dominance of theory-spouting obscurantists in university English departments meant he had that field pretty much to himself, and his writing on Larkin, Powell, Rushdie, Bellow and, above all, Orwell is indeed “imperishable,” to use his favourite word.
Carry on reading