The Life and Times Of Atheist Christopher Hitchens


He was a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, buy Vanity Fair, tadalafil Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the Hoover Institution in September 2008. He was a staple of talk shows and lecture circuits and in 2005 was voted the world’s fifth top public intellectual in a Prospect/Foreign Policy poll.

Hitchens was known for his admiration of George Orwell, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson and for his excoriating critiques of, among others, Mother Teresa, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Henry Kissinger.

His confrontational style of debate made him both a lauded and controversial figure. As a political observer, polemicist and self-defined radical, he rose to prominence as a fixture of the left-wing publications in his native Britain and in the United States.

His departure from the established political left began in 1989 after what he called the “tepid reaction” of the Western left following Ayatollah Khomeini’s issue of a fatw? calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie.

The September 11 attacks strengthened his internationalist embrace of an interventionist foreign policy, and his vociferous criticism of what he called “fascism with an Islamic face.” His numerous editorials in support of the Iraq War caused some to label him a neoconservative, although Hitchens insisted he was not “a conservative of any kind.”

Identified as a champion of the “New Atheism” movement, Hitchens described himself as an antitheist and a believer in the philosophical values of the Enlightenment. Hitchens said that a person “could be an atheist and wish that belief in god were correct,” but that “an antitheist, a term I’m trying to get into circulation, is someone who is relieved that there’s no evidence for such an assertion.”

He argued that the concept of god or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization. He wrote at length on atheism and the nature of religion in his 2007 book God Is Not Great.

Though Hitchens retained his British citizenship, he became a United States citizen on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial on 13 April 2007, his 58th birthday. Asteroid 57901 is named after him.

His memoir, Hitch-22, was published in June 2010. Touring for the book was cut short later the same month so that he could begin treatment for newly diagnosed esophageal cancer. On 15 December 2011, Christopher Hitchens died from pneumonia, a complication of his cancer, in the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Early life and education

His mother, Yvonne Jean (née Hickman), and father, Eric Ernest Hitchens (1909–1987), met in Scotland while both were serving in the Royal Navy during World War II. Yvonne was at the time a “Wren” (a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service), and Eric a “purse-lipped and silent” commander, whose ship HMS Jamaica helped sink Nazi Germany’s battleship Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape.

The father’s naval career required the family to move and reside in bases throughout Britain and her dependencies, including in Malta, where Christopher’s brother Peter was born in Sliema in 1951.

Because Yvonne argued that “if there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it,” he was educated at the independent Leys School, in Cambridge, and then later at Balliol College, Oxford. He was tutored there by Steven Lukes, and read philosophy, politics, and economics.

Hitchens was “bowled over” in his adolescence by Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, R. H. Tawney’s critique on Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and the works of George Orwell. In 1968, he took part in the TV quiz show University Challenge.

Hitchens has written of his homosexual experiences when in boarding school in his memoir, Hitch-22.These experiences continued in his college years when he allegedly had relationships with two men who eventually became a part of the Thatcher government.

In the 1960s, Hitchens joined the political left, drawn by his anger over the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, racism, and “oligarchy”, including that of “the unaccountable corporation”. He would express affinity to the politically charged countercultural and protest movements of the 1960s and 70s. However, he deplored the rife recreational drug use of the time, which he describes as hedonistic.

He joined the Labour Party in 1965, but was expelled in 1967 along with the majority of the Labour students’ organization, because of what Hitchens called “Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s contemptible support for the war in Vietnam”.

Under the influence of Peter Sedgwick, translator of Russian revolutionary and Soviet dissident Victor Serge, Hitchens forged an ideological interest in Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist socialism. Shortly thereafter, he joined “a small but growing post-Trotskyist Luxemburgist sect”. Throughout his student days, he was on many occasions arrested and assaulted in the various political protests and activities in which he participated.

Journalistic career (1970–1981)

Hitchens began working as a correspondent for the magazine International Socialism,published by the International Socialists, the forerunners of today’s British Socialist Workers Party.

This group was broadly Trotskyite, but differed from more orthodox Trotskyite groups in its refusal to defend communist states as “workers’ states”. Their slogan was “Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism”.

Hitchens left Oxford with a third class degree. His first job was with the London Times Higher Education Supplement, where he served as social science editor. Hitchens admits that he hated the job and was later fired, recalling, “I sometimes think if I’d been any good at that job, I might still be doing it.”

In the 1970s, he went on to work for the New Statesman, where he became friends with, among others, the authors Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. At the New Statesman, he acquired a reputation as a fierce left-winger, aggressively attacking targets such as Henry Kissinger, the Vietnam War, and the Roman Catholic Church.

In November 1973, Hitchens’ mother committed suicide in Athens in a suicide pact with her lover, a former clergyman named Timothy Bryan.They overdosed on sleeping pills in adjoining hotel rooms, and Bryan slashed his wrists in the bathtub. Hitchens flew alone to Athens to recover his mother’s body.

Hitchens said he thought his mother was pressured into suicide by fear that her husband would learn of her infidelity, as their marriage was strained and unhappy. Both her children were then independent adults. While in Greece, Hitchens reported on the constitutional crisis of the military junta. It became his first leading article for the New Statesman.

American career (1981–2011)

After moving to the United States in 1981, Hitchens wrote for The Nation where he penned vociferous critiques of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and American foreign policy in South and Central America. He became a Contributing Editor of Vanity Fair in 1992, writing ten columns a year.

He left The Nation in 2002, after profoundly disagreeing with other contributors over the Iraq War. There is speculation that Hitchens was the inspiration for Tom Wolfe’s character Peter Fallow in the 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, but others — including Hitchens — believe it to be Spy Magazine’s “Ironman Nightlife Decathlete” Anthony Haden-Guest.

Hitchens spent part of his early career in journalism as a foreign correspondent in Cyprus. Through his work there he met his first wife Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, with whom he had two children, Alexander and Sophia.

His son, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, born in 1984, has worked as a researcher for London think tanks the Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion. Hitchens continued writing essay-style correspondence pieces from a variety of locales, including Chad, Uganda and the Darfur region of Sudan. His work took him to over 60 countries.

In 1991 he received a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.

Prior to Hitchens’ political shift, the American author and polemicist Gore Vidal was apt to speak of Hitchens as his “Dauphin” or “heir”.

In 2010, Hitchens attacked Vidal in a Vanity Fair piece headlined “Vidal Loco,” calling him a “crackpot” for his adoption of 9/11 conspiracy theories. Also, on the back of his book Hitch-22, among the praise from notable writers and figures, a Vidal quote endorsing Hitchens as his successor is crossed out with a red ‘X’ and a message saying “NO C.H.”

His strong advocacy of the war in Iraq had gained Hitchens a wider readership, and in September 2005 he was named one of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines. An online poll ranked the 100 intellectuals, but the magazines noted that the rankings of Hitchens, Noam Chomsky, and Abdolkarim Soroush were partly due to supporters publicising the vote.

In 2007 Hitchens’ work for Vanity Fair won him the National Magazine Award in the category “Columns and Commentary”. He was a finalist once more in the same category in 2008 for some of his columns in Slate but lost out to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. He won the National Magazine Award for Columns about Cancer in 2011.

Hitchens also served on the Advisory Board of Secular Coalition for America and offered advice to Coalition on the acceptance and inclusion of nontheism in American life.

Literature reviews

Hitchens wrote a monthly essay on books in The Atlantic and contributed occasionally to other literary journals. One of his books, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, is a collection of such works, and Love, Poverty and War contains a section devoted to literary essays.

In Why Orwell Matters, he defends Orwell’s writings against modern critics as relevant today and progressive for his time. In the 2008 book Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Left, many literary critiques are included of essays and other books of writers, such as David Horowitz and Edward Said.

During a three-hour interview by Book TV, he named authors who have had influence on his views, including Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, P. G. Wodehouse and Conor Cruise O’Brien.


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