And what apostate hunters get wrong.
When you think for yourself, as Hitchens always did, chances are that you'll be right about some things and wrong about other things, as Hitchens certainly was. (The way he could be so smugly self-righteous is one of the wrong ones.) It beats the alternative. "Orthodoxy means not thinking--not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."
Excellent article, which defines very well the essence of Hitchens. We had the same alma mater and met a few times (never at the level of personal acquaintance, but I had the privilege of enjoying his conversation in a relaxed small group of people); he was a man of strong opinions -- quite opinionated in fact -- but never to the point of blindness. Many of his opinions one could disagree with -- I did -- but he seldom allowed himself to be stuck in them against reason; and he was willing to change his positions when it was warranted.
He did punch a number of the traditional sacred cows of the Left where they needed to be punched, but never became the kind of conservative that his critics painted. He was often vitriolic in his harangues but capable of listening to opposing opinions.
He represented in many ways the core Enlightenment principles that have always been part of the progressive culture, and fought strenuously against the progressive sects that strived to obliterate them, just like Orwell did against Soviet Communism.
He remained to his last day a progressive: a man who believed in the perfectibility of mankind and in the duty to spread and establish democracy, human rights, and freedom -- often at whatever cost, which is a sin of passion.
I re-read him often, and mourn him regularly, because over the years I have found myself sharing more and more of his idiosyncrasies. His voice would have been, I think, an important one in today's horrid cultural landscape.
“He understood that the left could only defeat these noxious political forces by rediscovering its best traditions: support for free expression, pluralism, and universalism—the values of the Enlightenment.”
These are gone from the left and are the principles being fought for by the right. Hitchens was right about many things, but not about the way forward being universal global cooperation and common human rights. He never really got the points of evolutionary psychology, culture and the related human need for tribal alliances around a shared culture. He did not seem to understand the foundations of humanism at the core of the systemic systems he lamented or prescribed. Nationalism isn’t authoritarianism for authoritarianism sake… it is simply a an accurate acknowledgement that a functioning nation needs a binding shared culture… a national tribe if you will… otherwise it degrades to granular tribal conflict. See the US for what that looks like.
Just a fantastic article. Thank you, thanks to Orwell and Hitchens as well. I rest more easily knowing I am not alone.
Hitchens was a secular prophet. He told us what we should do and not do to get to where we should be. Like the biblical prophets of old, Hitchens knew that much of what he said was going to be ignored human nature being what it is.
“Orwell as Integrity, Defying Both Left and Right”
An Amazon Review (2-2023) by Dick Burkhart of
“Why Orwell Matters” By Christopher Hitchens (2002)
As “Orwellian” attitudes and behavior spread on both the Woke Left and Conspiracy Theory Right, it’s worthwhile understanding how George Orwell himself navigated these waters. Just like Orwell, Christopher Hitchens is well-known for his wit, insight, and fearlessness in taking on sacred cows. In this short and readable book, Hitchens shows why he was so inspired by Orwell, especially the trials and tribulations Orwell suffered whenever he became immersed in some new experience and started asking too many questions. These ranged from British colonialism in Burma, to the hardships of working class life in England, to the terrors of the Spanish War between Communists and Fascists.
It was such experiences that compelled Orwell to write “1984” after WW II – to graphically demonstrate the extreme dangers of alluring ideologies run amok. It was a time when Communism especially still drew in many in the West who believed the Stalinist propaganda. But some Eastern Europeans had actually lived “1984”, with Hitchens quoting the Polish writer Milosz that “Such a form of writing is forbidden by the New Faith because allegory, by nature manifold in meaning, would trespass beyond the prescriptions of socialist realism and the demands of the censor. Even those who know Orwell only by hearsay are amazed that a writer who had never lived in Russia should have so keen a perception into its life” (p 55).
Many Ukrainians, especially, felt the same way about “Animal Farm”, presaging today’s Ukraine War: “The survivors of the Ukraine famine were able to decipher the meaning of the pigs (and of the name Napolean) without any undue difficulty” (p 92), leading to a Ukrainian edition of the book. Orwell had actually worked as a farm hand and took a very practical, not romantic view of nature – “It was a prefiguration of the universal humanism to be found in all his work” (p 137).
Orwell exposed the Stalinist purges and show trials against the Trotksyites for what they were, joining a Trotskyite group in the Spanish War and later modeling the heretic “Goldstein” in “1984” on Trotksy. Today most international socialists declare themselves to be followers of Trotsky to establish their anti-Stalinist credentials. I once read Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution” just out of curiosity, much like Thucydides “History of the Peloponnesian War”.
It is interesting that it was Orwell who coined the term “Cold War” and who quickly foresaw the crucial role that would be played by nuclear weapons and the arms race. In addition, he said that “the scene of the book [“1984”] is laid in Britain in order to emphasize that the English-speaking races are not inherently better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere” (p 85).
Christopher Hitchens concludes that George Orwell illustrated the maxim that “it matters not what you think, but how you think; and that politic are relatively unimportant, while principles have a way of enduring, as do the few irreducible individuals who maintain allegiance to them” (p 211).
I do not think that neither "the left" nor "the right" have to be "saved". Instead, the future should be about decentralization, liquid democracy and politics without political parties https://medium.com/@memetic007/liquid-democracy-9cf7a4cb7f
"50 shades of Hitchens" or "Hitchens vs Hitchens"
Another eloquent effort by Persuasion to reform the left. But if 250 years of being egregiously wrong on so many fundamental issues won't do it (Rousseau onward), a smattering of essays in this forum will certainly not. Why not do something bolder, Mounk et al, and found a new tradition in the name of reason? Jacobins can't be reformed. They must be defeated.