The Passion of Christopher Hitchens

The Passion of Christopher Hitchens

Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays
by Christopher Hitchens
Nation Books, 2004, 475 pp., $16.95

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, an unsettling matter has roiled certain precincts of the left: Christopher Hitchens’s zealous support of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, in particular its war in Iraq. How could the once fearless radical polemicist have become a cheerleader for the neoconservative project to remake the world? Why must he revile former comrades as either traitors or slackers in the struggle against terrorists? Why, this June, did he join David Horowitz to conduct a ten-day tour of London, featuring private visits to the House of Lords and the estate of Winston Churchill?

Some believe Hitchens’s apostasy began in 1989 when an Iranian fatwa—which still stands—demanded the murder of his close friend the novelist Salman Rushdie. A few connect his militant patriotism to his applying for American citizenship or even the discovery that he had Jewish ancestors. Others prefer to fault his personality instead of his politics. Hasn’t Hitchens always been an arrogant individualist, eager to bash the illusions of the left? Perhaps all that good whiskey and champagne finally curdled his synapses?

Turncoats can fascinate, particularly when they are such brilliant and prolific writers. For decades after the 1947 hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee, left-wing commentators tried to psychoanalyze Whittaker Chambers; they alleged that spurned affection, perhaps even lust for Alger Hiss drove the squat, anxious journalist to target the suave, handsome diplomat. Hitchens is certainly Chambers’s intellectual equal, although the sum of his opinions will never match the historical significance of the former spy’s testimony to Richard Nixon and his fellow red-hunters.

What tempers the furor over Hitchens is the recognition that he has not really become a soldier for the right. Browsing through his ample writings during the first quarter of 2005, one finds, alongside support for the war in Iraq, a variety of opinions that many American leftists would applaud: a slap at the late Pope John Paul II for “saying that condoms are worse than AIDS,” praise for John Brown as a prophet “who anticipated the Emancipation Proclamation and all that has ensued from it,” and a tribute to Tom Paine as “our unacknowledged founding father . . . the moral and intellectual author of the Declaration of Independence.”See quotes at Hitchens also continues to oppose the death penalty and to advocate putting Henry Kissinger on trial as a war criminal.

He does seem perverse at times; why indeed would any non-disciple of David Horowitz choose to do business with that screeching bully? But Hitchens, who put in many years as an editor of New Left R...