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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."

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There's a category error here: being smugly self-righteous may be annoying, but it's neither right nor wrong. Someone can smugly and self-righteously insist that the sun rises in the east, or smugly and self-righteously insist that forest fires are caused by space lasers.

Much of the left-wing criticism of Hitchens amounts to hurt feelings, rather than a substantive criticism.

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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.

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“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.

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The illiberal left obviously exists, and its shadow looms especially large in academia. But I can't read that "free expression, pluralism, and universalism -- the values of the Enlightenment" are "being fought for by the right" without seeing the image of classroom bookshelves being covered over with construction paper in Florida, lest the content behind the paper be deemed offensive to the state. Or, for that matter, without contemplating the first attempt in the US to nullify a Presidential election since 1861, and how that attempted nullification has been endlessly denied, rationalized, excused, justified, "both-sides-ed", and otherwise waved away by one of the two major parties -- one that used to be a reasonably sane party of the center-right.

Enlightenment universalism does exist (ideally) in uneasy equipoise with human tribal instincts. In referring to "support for free expression, pluralism, and universalism" as "the values of the Enlightenment", Mr. Johnson skates past the fact that pluralism and universalism are in tension with each other.

Cultural differences can't, and shouldn't, be waved or wished away. But culture is constructed (and certainly isn't coterminous with race or ancestry). There is a perhaps apocryphal story from the Risorgimento of a crowd, enraptured, shouting "Viva Italia!", and a passerby stopping and asking, "Excuse me, but what is 'Italia'"? The history of modernism is one of a gradual lessening of the subjective weight of cultural differences: Venetians become Italians, Bavarians become Germans, Welsh become British -- and generation after generation of foreign immigrants become American.

None of this process is without loss, but neither is the loss total. Pluralism and universalism are indeed both Enlightenment values, even if reconciling them will be an ongoing project as long as humanity exists. But in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, reconciling them will be our most important mission.

As for the notion that "nationalism ... is simply an accurate acknowledgement that a functioning nation needs a binding shared culture" -- perhaps the less said about that, the better.

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"But I can't read that "free expression, pluralism, and universalism -- the values of the Enlightenment" are "being fought for by the right" without seeing the image of classroom bookshelves being covered over with construction paper in Florida, lest the content behind the paper be deemed offensive to the state."

So, would you then support mandatory Christian theology spread throughout the books and curriculum that students would be exposed to without the ability to refuse? Because the critical theory crap is exactly that... an ideology being spread. The children are not free to refuse, so adults have to step in and regulate what they are ingesting. I trust the parents for this much more than I trust the cabal of left Democrats and cultural Marxist feminists running the teachers unions and most of the education system administration.

"As for the notion that "nationalism ... is simply an accurate acknowledgement that a functioning nation needs a binding shared culture" -- perhaps the less said about that, the better."

I love it when I hear something like this usually from a liberal friend that just came back from some overseas travel to a country where they raved about the unique culture of the place they visited. I think liberals are brain-dead on this... they opine for a new world order of sameness while also demonstrating their attraction to unique cultures of unique nations. It makes them seem insane. Multiculturalism is a dismal failure. Globalism is a bad idea.

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The amount of broad, sweeping generalisations you use for what you define as the "Left" (stuff that all amounts to dog whistling and propaganda catchphrases) puts you, along with the members of the Right that you seem to endorse, on the exact same level as the woke hysterical crowd.

Neither this part of the Right nor that part of the Left endorse "free expression, pluralism, and universalism -- the values of the Enlightenment", much though they like to pretend. These positions are both positions that are tribal and hateful, making a bogey of the Other and bent on creating a system controlled by their tribe's pet peeves, which would impose such on the whole of society.

I will respond with a phrase that I heard Hitchens use often: both are the lackeys of obscurantism and totalitarianism.

I will engage happily in discussion with any person, progressive or conservative, who approaches discussion with the goal of getting to generally acceptable solutions. Those who see the world in black and white and talk of "them", dismay me to no end. Preconceived hostility, hatred and self-righteousness are the worst traits that our human nature can display.

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I appreciate this as it is what my mother would always do... stitch together both sides as equally guilty and innocent in the conflict so we could all just get along. But sometimes one side is more wrong and the other more right. That is where we find ourselves today. Those classic liberal principles once lauded by and protected by the political left while the political right chased their money interests... it has flipped... completely. The right never rejected those principles... but would often see them as inconvenient to the pursuit of self-interest. Today the left rejects the principles in pursuit of self-interest... power and money interests. Critical Theory in the classroom, woke in the media, DEI and ESG in private corporations and government... these are examples of an attempted end to free expression, pluralism and universalism. These are the tools of totalitarian authoritarians that clearly believe that all men are NOT created equal under the eyes of God.

Globalism is a failed experiment attempting to supplant the Great Experiment. The left is for globalism, the right is not. The right is right.

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The right is not a monolith and neither is the left. There are reasonable people in both, who should band together. What the war between right and left is doing in your country is appalling, and its fallout in the English speaking world is deplorable.

Globalism is a consequence of globalisation, which is a consequence of the process started with the industrial revolution. It is neither right nor wrong it simply is. To revert it, only an apocalypse would do. The right traditionally suffers from fugues to the past (the utopia of the great times of our forefathers) and the left traditionally suffers from fugues to the future (the utopia of the perfect times to come).

Nothing has flipped. The traditional right in many of its parts rejected and the new right in many of its parts rejects the classic liberal principles, out of religious dogma, out of beliefs that some races are inferior, out of a rejection of individual rights in favour of the imposed norms of the traditional community. The right is not made just by -- or even essentially by -- enthusiastic followers of Milton Friedman bent on making money.

The traditional left in many of its parts rejected and the new left in many of its parts rejects the classic liberal principles, out of ideological dogma, out of beliefs that some groups are intrinsically bad and should be eliminated (class warfare or race identitarianism), out of a rejection of individual rights in favour of the imposed norms of the new perfect state.

These are both tendencies that have always existed and generated monsters, both left and right.

I would object that the infatuation of the woke part of the left with elite self-flagellation and idealised minorities is driven by self-interest... it is actually the opposite and will bring it in a cul de sac. It is a new religion. The fact that some make money tangentially with it is no wonder, we live in capitalism, we can make money with canned farts. But the damage that DEI et al do to corporate firms, if taken seriously (mostly they are not, it is just a veneer) is very real and the opposite of self-interest.

On the other hand, the way that the fundamentalist part of the right (what in your country is the MAGA part of it) uses the aberrations of the left to advance its agendas is a repainted version of the traditional reaction of the right to modernity: wave the spectre of social degradation at all that does not fit with our way of thinking, throw insults of degeneracy at people with different sexual habits or identities, use the state machine to make undesired rights into crimes. I do not see any reasoned counterarguments made by your Rubios and DeSantises, not to speak of Trump.

Neither of these parts are looking after their own self interest, truly, but looking at what they believe is the common good from the point of view of slavering, rabid fanatics. They are totalitarian hopefuls.

So, we'll have to agree to disagree -- because I am not Hitchens and do not particularly enjoy confrontation. You have clearly chosen a side. I chose to choose neither, because I believe that they are not the only sides on the field, and instead engage with those individuals and groups, both on the right and left (and may we finally name the unmentionable, the Centre?) who are interested in coming to reasonable agreements to end this giant intoxication of ideology and begin to work for the solution of problems.

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Frank, you do not seem to understand what globalism, universalism and nationalism are. https://www.opulens.se/english/globalism-for-dummies-the-case-for-polycentric-governance/

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Globalism is not a bad idea, but necessary because nations need to cooperate. Multiculture is normal and freedom goes with pluralism and multiculture. https://boundedsolidarity.wordpress.com/2017/06/12/does-liberalism-need-nationalism/?fbclid=IwAR3VL1pKpucvR0ZQxd75Xu4cqbiV76vfsk7uM5ui8kwF5sMq2YuvQieJpsU

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I think if your concern is that Florida's schoolchildren are being taught by a "cabal of left Democrats and cultural Marxist feminists," then denying the children access to books at school is a woefully inadequate remedy.

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We deny children access to many things that are bad and/or dangerous to their ongoing health. These are in fact children. When they are adults they get to decide what they can read, consume, etc. The cabal of left Democrats and cultural Marxist feminists have power and control outside of Florida's education system to inject the fake scholarship of critical theory into much text and curriculum.

The arguments here are easy to label disingenuous given lying freakout over Russian disinformation influencing the electorate to vote for Trump in 2016.

Come on man. You know that you are stuck in a partisan trap here. Clearly the kids are much more easily to manipulate than are adult voters and yet they. the uniparty cohort freaks out over that and the demand to censor and ban everything opposing the uniparty agenda. The kids are little sponges by design. Throughout history regimes dreaming of totalitarian revolution have sought the control over what the kids are taught.

Of course we need to control what the kids read. It isn't Orwellian, it is to combat the fall to an Orwellian dystopia.

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Jan 29, 2023·edited Jan 29, 2023

You think including a final section on modern takes on racism in a long syllabus on Black History would be 'dangerous' to high school seniors competent enough to take a college-level (AP) courses in in the first place? Come on, man. Come on, Florida.

As for Russian disinfo in late 2016, it was real and documented, as were multiple ties between Trump's operation and Russia. Those facts -- which even Mitch McConnell knew -- are what the 'freakout' was about in the first place. The right conveniently elides that by screaming 'STEELE DOSSIER' as if that wasn't just a footnote in Mueller's final report.

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You see... YOU are exactly exhibit A for the brainwashed kids that will become unemployable toxic clones of the campus and media left propaganda project.

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Frank, nationalism is = nation as the highest and most important authority. Also, culture is not limited to nations and nationalism is a political, not a cultural idea. Nationalism divides the world and humanity into tribes. You cannot solve global problems and challenges with nationalism

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You are wrong. The impulse supporting nationalism is the desire for cultural homogeity. Multiculturalism is a failed experiment.

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You mean racial and religious homogeneity. Just say it.

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Nope. Pluralism with respect to race, but with a binding common national culture. And in the US that culture respects all religious freedom because it supports freedom and liberty of the individual to pursue his own interests.

This is really a stupid argument and I think you know it. Just like your family would suffer decision making dysfunction if you brought in another family from say Africa holding completely different values and ideas but you allowed them to be an equal stakeholder in the decision making. I have a lot of experience in organizational decision-making processes. Well-run organizations understand the need for a binding organizational culture that its constituents adopt. It is just a human behavior truth that disparate cultures gum up the works. All constituents need to be assimilated into the common community culture or else there is too much unresolvable conflict and progress is impossible.

Libs reject the existence of American culture and that is a giant mistake. Every country that libs laud own a binding national culture. There is room for multi-ethnicy, multi-race, etc. But there is not room for multi-culturalism... because then not enough binds the people together and they devolve to tribal conflict.

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Frank, there are 193 official sovereign nations, UN members. That does not mean that there are only 193 official cultures.

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Frank, there is no 100% same and coherent American culture. Just compare California to Texas. Also, if you want pluralism you have to value freedom. Right now, your values seem to be very stupid and collectivist.

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What's stupid is your ahistorical view of America. Every dominant group has historically raised the same fears about 'others' as 'stakeholders' that you cite here (the ones who were right to fear that ,were the Indigenous). But American culture has for centuries been infused with other cultures, yet remained a distinct nation. Remember the melting pot? It was always more of a stew. 'Others' didn't 'melt', they contributed. Ironically, nowadays it's MAGAs and non MAGA who might well be considered two cultures, and unlike, say, that African family in your example, there's real hatred flowing between them. You're fomenting it with sweeping half-baked views like yours about 'Libs'. Maybe that's the multiculturalism you should worry about. But a country is not a family. Nor is it a business. So don't bother with those stupid analogies anymore, 'kay?.

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No, what is stupid is your ignorance of history and the changes we are seeing today. Also your ignorance of human psychology and human nature. The fucking country is a mess of conflict more so than we have ever seen. It is a mess because the fucking academic and wealthy elites have destroyed the middle class economic opportunity that kept the tribes from waring with each other over scarce resources. The market economy was the assimilation engine. But we have let in WAY to many immigrants that are poor and have their culture baked in... and there is not enough economic opportunity to go around, so the Great Experiment is falling apart as almost every political/culture historian predicted. You just don't get it or you are such a left ideologue you won't admit it. I live in a liberal college town with people blocking new development because they worry about getting too many conservatives voting. They demand that the community stay true to their culture... their values... their ideas. They claim to be multiculturalists and support open borders and claim they are a sanctuary city. But they are the most tribal group in the county. It is natural human nature to want to be around people that think and act like you expect and that results in greater trust. It does not matter what fucking skin color or race or sexual orientation. We all have better trust connections with people that behave and think as we do. And that is why we need a foundation binding culture. Without it the entire thing falls apart with warring tribes. If you don't get this then the topic is over your head and you should just shut up so you don't make a fool of yourself.

Name a country as diverse as the US that works well. We have been the only one, and the reasons it as worked have been dismantled. We either need to evolve to a country with a base culture that all are expected to assimilate to, including language.... or we need to get back that working class economic opportunity so that the poor and middle class are made calm in their cultural bubble because they can access a good life.

It isn't the color of a man's skin, it is the content of his character. Stop with the weak ass claim that people supporting a nationalist view are racist. You are the racist based on your clear woke ideology beliefs. You are part of the neoKKK.

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Your desire is dangerous and undemocratic

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That is nationalism and it is a problem because cultural homogenity = uniformity and collectivism. For example Canada is multicultural and not a failed state. Also for example Sweden, German, other parts of the EU. Even the modern USA is more multicultural.

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Feb 2, 2023·edited Feb 2, 2023

The UK was/is rather multicultural too. And look where right-wing/tabloid press-fomented hysteria about immigration has got them now. Brexit isn't working out too well.

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Canada is heading toward a failed state. Without the economic benefits of the US, it would be. Sweden is 90% ethnic Sweds. Germany is German. Its culture is locked in. The US is a mess of multiculturalism. Its problems are directly attributable to the lack of a binding national culture that has resulted from WAY too much immigration. Your recent immigrant neighbor will steal your stuff because he does not feel connected to you. He really does not care about you. Your are not of his family. He has his own tribe within the country and that is NOT good.

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Frank, I am just curios. What type of media sources do you usually get your info from?

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Here you can find my articles about Sweden https://glibe.substack.com/

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Just a fantastic article. Thank you, thanks to Orwell and Hitchens as well. I rest more easily knowing I am not alone.

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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.

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Bravo.

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“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).

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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

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"50 shades of Hitchens" or "Hitchens vs Hitchens"

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Jan 29, 2023·edited Jan 29, 2023

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.

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You realize there is actually a magazine called Jacobin, right? Better get busy defeatin'. For sure your little attempt at snark has naught to do with this essay on Hitchens.

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