Hitchens is among the best known and most controversial figures
in contemporary media. He is a prolific author, journalist, literary
critic, and public intellectual who is often described as a "contrarian".
Born in England, Hitchens was educated at The Leys School Cambridge
and Balliol College, Oxford, where he took a third in PPE. He now
lives in Washington, D.C.
has been a columnist at Vanity Fair, The Nation, Slate, and an
occasional contributor to many other publications.
is known for his iconoclasm, anti-clericalism and atheism, anti-fascism
and anti-monarchism. He is also noted for his acidic wit and his
noisy departure from the Anglo-American political left. He was
formerly a socialist and a fixture in the leftist publications
of Britain and America. But a series of disagreements beginning
in the early 1990s led to his resignation from The Nation shortly
after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
is a vociferous critic of what he describes as "fascism with
an Islamic face," and is now sometimes described as a "neoconservative"
or a "Liberal Hawk," though his idiosyncratic ideas
and positions preclude easy classification. Hitchens
no longer considers himself a socialist, but maintains that his
political views have not changed significantly. He points out
that, throughout his career, he has been both an atheist and an
antitheist, and that he has always remained a believer in the
Enlightenment values of secularism, humanism, and reason.
an article in the Guardian Unlimited on April 14, 2002, Hitchens
insists he is Jewish because Jewish descent goes through his mother.
It happened when Hitchens' brother Peter took his new bride to
meet their maternal grandmother, Dodo, who was then in her nineties,
and Dodo said, 'She's Jewish, isn't she?' and then announced:
'Well, I've got something to tell you. So are you.' She said that
her real surname was Levin, not Lynn, and that her ancestors were
Blumenthals from Poland. Christopher was thrilled when Peter told
him. By then he was living in Washington and most of his friends
were Jewish. Moreover, he felt that he had somehow known all along.
a column he wrote for the Los Angeles Times on February 9, 2006,
Hitchens wrote, "my grandmother told me as an adult that
both she and my mother were Jewish, and it sent me looking for
my forebears on the German-Polish border." Hitchens's brother
Peter disputes that the brothers have significant Jewish ancestry.
Hitchens became a Trotskyist during his years as a student at
Oxford University, where he was tutored by Steven Lukes and was
impressed by the example of Noam Chomsky (Hitchens 1985). He wrote
for the magazine International Socialism, which was published
by the International Socialists, the forerunners of today's British
Socialist Workers Party. This group was broadly Trotskyist but
differed from more orthodox Trotskyist groups in its refusal to
defend communist states as "workers' states". This was
symbolized in their slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow
but International Socialism".
left Oxford with a third class degree and in the 1970s went on
to work for the New Statesman, where he became friends with, amongst
others, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. At the New Statesman he became
known as an aggressive left-winger, stridently attacking targets
such as Henry Kissinger, the Vietnam War, and the Catholic Church.
After moving to the United States in the 1980s, Hitchens wrote
for The Nation. While at The Nation he penned vociferous critiques
of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and American foreign policy
in South and Central America. Hitchens criticized the first Gulf
War, claiming—in an essay reprinted in For the Sake of Argument—that
the Bush administration lured Saddam Hussein into the war.
"Theocratic fascism" and early
disagreements with the Left
Hitchens was deeply shocked by the fatwa (February 14, 1989) against
his longtime friend Salman Rushdie, and he became increasingly
concerned by the dangers of what he called "theocratic fascism"
or "fascism with an Islamic face": radical Islamists
who supported the fatwa against Rushdie and sought the recreation
of the medieval Caliphate. Hitchens is sometimes credited with
coining the term Islamofascism, but he denies inventing or using
this term. Malise Ruthven appears to be the first to have used
it in an article in The Independent on 8 September 1990.
did use the term "Islamic Fascism" for an article he
wrote for The Nation shortly after 9/11 (although again the phrase
is used earlier than that, for example in the Washington Post
on 13 January 1979, and it also seems to have been used by secularists
in Turkey and Afghanistan to describe their opponents).
also became increasingly disenchanted by the presidency of Bill Clinton, accusing him of being a rapist and a serial liar. Hitchens
also claimed that the missile attacks by Clinton on Sudan were
a major war crime. The support of some on the left for Clinton
alienated him further from the "soft left" in the United
States. On the other hand, he became increasingly distanced from
the "hard left" by their lack of support for Western
intervention in Kosovo.
years after the Rushdie fatwa also saw him looking for allies
and friends, and in the United States he became increasingly frustrated
by what he saw as the "excuse making" of the multiculturalist
left. At the same time, he was attracted to the foreign policy
ideas of some on the Republican right, especially the neoconservative
group that included Paul Wolfowitz, with whom he became friends.
Around this time he also befriended the Iraqi dissident and businessman
After 9/11 his stance hardened, and he has strongly supported
US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly in his
"Fighting Words" columns in Slate. Hitchens had been
a longterm contributor to the left-wing The Nation weekly, where
he wrote his "Minority Report" column. After 9/11 he
decided the paper was making excuses on behalf of Islamist terrorism,
and in the following months he wrote articles increasingly at
odds with his colleagues.
the 9/11 attacks, Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature
of the threat of radical Islam and of the proper response to it.
On September 24 and October 8, 2001, Hitchens wrote criticisms
of Chomsky in The Nation. Chomsky responded. Hitchens issued a
rebuttal to Chomsky, to which Chomsky again responded. Approximately
a year after the 9/11 attacks and his exchanges with Chomsky,
Hitchens left The Nation in part because he believed its editors,
its readers, and contributors such as Chomsky considered John
Ashcroft a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden. This was one of
the most highly-charged exchanges of letters in American journalism,
involving Hitchens and Chomsky, as well as Katha Pollitt and Alexander
he stands now
Hitchens has said he no longer feels a part of the Left and does
not object to being called a "former" Trotskyist. However,
his affection for Trotsky remains strong, and he says that his
political and historical view of the world is still shaped by
Marxist categories. In June 2004, Hitchens wrote a blistering
attack on Michael Moore in a review of Moore's latest film, Fahrenheit
9/11; this review was so widely discussed that three major publications
his many articles supporting the US invasion of Iraq, Hitchens
made a brief return to The Nation just before the US presidential
election and wrote that he was "slightly" for George
W. Bush, but shortly afterwards when Slate polled its staff on
their positions on the candidates, and mistakenly printed Hitchens's
vote as pro-Kerry, Hitchens shifted his opinion to neutral, saying:
"It's absurd for liberals to talk as if Kristallnacht is
impending with Bush, and it's unwise and indecent for Republicans
to equate Kerry with capitulation. There's no one to whom he can
surrender, is there? I think that the nature of the jihadist enemy
will decide things in the end.".
an interview with the journalist Johann Hari in 2004, Hitchens
described himself as "on the same side as the neo-conservatives".
In that interview, Hitchens made clear that he supports not George
Bush per se (still less Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld), but rather
those whom he sees as the "pure" neo-conservatives,
especially Paul Wolfowitz. Although Hitchens finds himself defending
Bush’s foreign policy, he has little admiration for the
man himself, and has criticized Bush's support of 'intelligent
design.' As an anti-theist intellectual with a penchant for drinking,
Hitchens was unimpressed by Bush's claim to have been "saved
from drink by Jesus."
March 2005 Hitchens supported further investigation into alleged
voting irregularities in Ohio during the US presidential election,
contributions to Vanity Fair, Hitchens offered overt criticism
of the Bush administration for its continued protection of Henry
Kissinger, whom he views as complicit in the human rights abuses
of Southern Cone military dictatorships during the 1970s. In 2001
he had published a book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, on Kissinger's
alleged role in the crimes of regimes in South America and Asia.
An even more iconoclastic work was his 1995 book on Mother Teresa,
The Missionary Position, which was highly controversial.
May 2005, George Galloway MP got into an argument with Hitchens
before giving evidence to the US Senate. Galloway called Hitchens
a "drink-sodden former Trotskyist popinjay". "Some
of which," Hitchens subsequently wrote in a newspaper column,
"was unfair." A few days later, Hitchens wrote an article
that attacked Galloway's political record, criticized his Senate
testimony, and made a case for Galloway's complicity in the Oil-for-Food
scandal. Hitchens debated with Galloway in New York at Baruch
College on 14 September 2005. Both Galloway and Hitchens appeared
on Real Time with Bill Maher on September 23, 2005.
January 2006, Hitchens joined with four other individuals and
four organizations, including the ACLU and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs
in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, filed by the ACLU challenging President
Bush's warrantless domestic spying program.
February 2006, Hitchens helped organize a pro-Denmark rally outside
the Danish Embassy in Washington, DC in response to the Jyllands-Posten
Muhammad cartoons controversy.
Hitchens has taken a stance on many issues throughout his career
as a contrarian. Whilst he may not deliberately court controversy,
he finds contention agreeable nonetheless. Listed below are some
of the key stances he has taken throughout his career, and his
reasons for these stances. Unless stated otherwise, his views
on these issues have remained consistent throughout his career.
Favored Trotsky and Trotskyism as a broadside against Stalinism
and the capitalist West, in particular both sides' support for
nuclear weapons. Hitchens regarded this as the compulsory enlistment
of civilians in a nuclear war, and as such a violation of individual
He regarded America’s intervention (and that of its allies)
in Vietnam as a shameful continuation of European colonialism,
betraying the enlightenment principles of liberal democracy and
human emancipation. Today, he also regards it as a betrayal of
the American Revolution.
Hitchens regards the occupation of Palestine as an example of
colonialism and an unjustifiable subjugation of another people.
He has described Zionism as being based on "lies," but
does support Israel's right to exist.
In 1992, Hitchens wrote an article for the US left-wing journal,
The Nation, in which he called Mother Teresa "The Ghoul of
Calcutta". He later produced a television documentary on
the subject and expanded his criticism in a 1995 book, The Missionary
Position. He despised the unquestioning adoration of the vast
majority of Western commentators, which he felt judged her actions
by her reputation, and not her reputation by her actions. His
particular qualms were with her lack of treatment for people—particularly
children—placed in her care; her strong religious views
on contraception, abortion (which she described as "the biggest
threat to world peace"); and her "acceptance" of
poverty (which took the form of encouraging the poor to embrace
has also criticized her for what he considers to be less-than-honorable
financial dealings: the pursuit and acceptance of donations from
third world dictators, large donations accepted from Charles Keating,
who was later convicted of fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy,
and the allocation of these donations away from treatment and
towards furthering what Hitchens considered "fundamentalist"
views. Hitchens's writings have earned him the ire of conservative
Roman Catholics—Brent Bozell, for example, called Hitchens
a "notoriously vicious anti-Catholic."
Mother Teresa's beatification process, Hitchens was called by
the Vatican to argue the case against her. This role was previously
known as the devil's advocate, but the position was abolished
under John Paul II. Hitchens has satirically referred to his work
in the case as "representing the devil pro bono."
Hitchens argued that the choice in Yugoslavia was between what
he perceived as multi-ethnic plural democracy in Bosnia (which
at the time of the conflict was ruled by an exclusively Muslim
government) and fascistic, religiously inspired ethno-cleansing
driven by Slobodan Miloševic. He argued that defending multi-ethnic
democracy was morally essential and of far greater importance
than any leftish concerns about a ‘new imperialism’.
Hitchens has regarded Operation Iraqi Freedom as a critical front
in the conflict between secular democracy and theocratic fascism.
He also argued that it was a moral necessity to support Iraqi
and Kurdish left-wing secularists. He drew parallels with the
left's response to the Spanish Civil War and argued that neutrality
was not an option. In his view, the anti-war left has abandoned
the principles of secularism, liberal democracy, and feminism;
in some cases by favoring isolationism, and in others by allying
themselves with the ‘insurgents’ who despise these
key principles. Hitchens has written a number of articles praising
the secular Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi.
Hitchens regards himself as a 'single-issue voter', concerning
himself almost exclusively with what he sees as the battle between
the forces of secular democracy and those of theocratic fascism.
He comments only infrequently on domestic affairs in the United
States, and when he does so it is usually to criticize religion.
his flirtation with neoconservatism, Hitchens is sometimes seen
as part of the self-styled "pro-liberation left", comprising
left wingers who supported Operation Iraqi Freedom. This informal
grouping includes Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Francis Wheen,
and Julie Burchill. Neoconservatives stylized in the last decade
are hesitant to embrace Hitchens as one of their own, in part
because of his torrid blasts of Ronald Reagan, one of the standard-bearers
of that movement.
Hitchens spent part of his early career as a foreign correspondent
in Cyprus. In the past several years, he has continued journeying
to and writing essay-style correspondence pieces from a variety
of locales, including Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Chad and the Darfur
region of Sudan, and Uganda.
Hitchens actively continues to write literary reviews. One of
his books, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere,
is a collection of such works. Works he has recently reviewed
include Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie; Saturday by Ian
McEwan; the D. J. Enright translation of In Search of Lost Time
by Marcel Proust; and the Alfred Appel Jr. annotated version of
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (whom he named as on par with James
Joyce among the greatest writers).
for and criticism of Hitchens
Appropriately for a self-described "contrarian" who
deliberately seeks to provoke, Hitchens is the subject of considerable
praise and admiration, as well as of severe criticism. Among his
admirers are The Observer writer Lynn Barber, who wrote a glowing
profile of him in 2002 and the editors, including David Horowitz,
at FrontPageMag.com who appreciate his support for the Iraq war
and his criticisms of the Left. In September 2005, Hitchens was
named as one of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by
Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect magazine. Prior to Hitchens
ideological shift, the American writer Gore Vidal had declared
Hitchens his "dauphin".
criticize Hitchens for his frequent television appearances, and
claim that he is egotistic and has changed his political views
for personal gain. Among his most severe critics is one-time colleague
and friend Alexander Cockburn. Cockburn has frequently alluded
to Hitchens's tendency to tipple. In a column for August 20, 2005,
a truly disgusting sack of shit Hitchens is. A guy who called
Sid Blumenthal one of his best friends and then tried to have
him thrown into prison for perjury; a guy who waited till his
friend Edward Said was on his death bed before attacking him in
the Atlantic Monthly; a guy who knows perfectly well the role
Israel plays in US policy but who does not scruple to flail Cindy
Sheehan as a LaRouchie and anti-Semite because, maybe, she dared
mention the word Israel."
is speculation that Hitchens was the inspiration for Tom Wolfe's
character Peter Fallow in the 1987 novel 'The Bonfire of the Vanities'.
with brother, Peter
Hitchens's younger brother by two-and-a-half years, Peter Hitchens,
is also a journalist, author and critic. The brothers had a protracted
falling-out after Peter wrote that Christopher had once joked
that he "didn't care if the Red Army watered its horses at
Hendon" (a suburb of London). Christopher denied having ever
said this and broke off contact with his brother. He then referred
to his brother as "an idiot" in a letter to Commentary
Magazine, and the dispute spilled into other publications as well.
However, after the birth of Peter's third child, and after some
secret diplomacy by Peter, Christopher expressed a willingness
to reconcile and to meet his new nephew, and shortly thereafter
Christopher and Peter gave several interviews together in which
they said their personal disagreements had been resolved.
a profile of Hitchens in the Washington Post on February 12, 1999:
She gives him his ticket and he scurries toward the plane,
wheezing under the weight of two pieces of luggage. "In addition
to being a socialist and an atheist, I'm a libertarian,"
he says. It was these absurd airline security procedures that
made him a libertarian, he explains: Why should you have to show
a photo ID to get on a plane? A terrorist can get a photo ID.
It's a topic he aired at some comic length in his column in Vanity
Fair. "The penalty for getting mugged in an American city
and losing your ID," he grumbles, "is that you can't
writing the Minority Report column in The Nation, Hitchens is
"Critic at Large" for Vanity Fair. In addition to this
he has written a book The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa
in Theory and Practice (Verso, 1995) which debunks the uncritical
sanctification of Mother Theresa. He has produced a TV documentary
based on the book which was broadcast in Britain on Channel Four.
the Fall 1996 issue of Free Inquiry Hitchens is interviewed by
Matt Cherry and says: "I'm an atheist. I'm not neutral about
religion, I'm hostile to it. I think it is a positively bad idea,
not just a false one. And I mean not just organized religion,
but religious belief itself."