Ben Burgis, our most recent podcast guest, chose the late Christopher Hitchens as the topic for his latest book entitled Christopher Hitchens: What He Got Right, How He Went Wrong, and Why He Still Matters. In it, he examines the ideas and influence of one of the most enigmatic and entertaining public intellectuals of our time.
A lifelong socialist turned Bush-aligned neocon later in life, Hitchens’ politics defied conventional labels, to put it mildly. For example, he’s one of the few people you’d ever encounter who was both vehemently pro-Iraq War and ruthlessly critical of the state of Israel. He never fully disavowed his commitment to Leftist politics, though by the end of his life someone discovering him for the first time would have been hard-pressed to find any evidence he ever supported the Left in the first place.
Hitchens died on December 15, 2011, at age 62, of esophageal cancer. Burgis begins his book by speculating how Hitchens may have responded to the Trump era, which began during the 2016 Presidential primaries. Because Hitchens’ politics were as difficult to predict as they are to categorize, it’s not quite clear where he’d have come down as Trump was trouncing the Republican field and Bernie and Hillary were duking it out on the Democratic side.
There are those who believe that Hitchens, a self-proclaimed contrarian, would have supported Trump. Burgis rightly rejects this idea, citing Hitchens’ lifelong contempt for nationalism and nativism. Hitchens also, in 2008, said that no responsible person could support the McCain campaign because of Sarah Palin. Palin is widely considered a harbinger of the Trump phenomenon, and so it stands to reason Hitchens would have felt that Trump was simply not a serious choice.
On the Democratic side, Hitchens’ hatred for Bill and Hillary Clinton was widely known. His 1999 book, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, was published in paperback the following year with a new title. This time, the cover read No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family, and included Hillary on the cover.
Because Hitchens spent much of his life as a socialist, Bernie Sanders might have seemed like a logical choice. But of course, his political evolution into a full-throated war hawk would have made Bernie’s candidacy a difficult one for him to fully endorse.
Would he have lent his support to the Bernie movement despite these reservations? Would Hillary’s aggressive foreign policy led him to begrudgingly support her instead? Or would he have shocked his peers and his readers once again and backed Trump?
We discussed this question with Ben Burgis on our podcast. We also delved into what could have been the cause for Hitchens’ mysterious transformation from a “Trotskyist popinjay” as George Galloway described him into an unapologetic advocate for the United States’ post-9/11 regime change wars. Given Ben recently wrote an article in The Daily Beast about the Joe Rogan/Spotify affair, we touched on that as well in the latter portion of the conversation.
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