Yes, it’s possible to feel compassion, even a sneaking admiration, for a man who was once accurately described as “lying, self-serving, fat-assed, chain-smoking, drunken, opportunistic [and] cynical.” Christopher Hitchens was all those things, but also a gifted writer, polemicist, and story teller, and now he is gone, following an excruciating battle with esophageal cancer. You’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to be touched by what he endured.
But questions remain. What does Hitchens’ legacy tell us about ourselves and our time? That legacy, of course, is that of articulate and militant promotion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Look at how that legacy is celebrated by supposedly antagonistic camps in the political blogosphere. Over at The Other McCain, Hitchens is recognized as an “atheist [who] abandoned the Left for conservatism.” Meanwhile, at Charles Johnson’s Little Green Footballs, Hitchens is mourned with this farewell: “One of the real heroes of rational humanism and critical thinking has left us, and we’ll all be poorer for his leaving. I’ll miss you, Christopher.”
Despite the ferocity of his prose, Hitch has in death transubstantiated into a revered figure of unity. Those who once were far off have been brought near by his life’s work, and especially by his advocacy of war, the great unifier.
Problem is, Hitchens never “abandoned the Left for conservatism”; he remained a self-described Trotskyite. The Neocon Wars he supported were conceived and implemented as grand Trotskyite projects to promote big government and globalism. Yes, he despised Islam, but he despised all religion. Hitchens also had nothing but the leftist’s contempt for traditional culture, especially the South, for daring to defend its beloved symbols.
Now why, in the middle of a euology, would some trouble-maker elbow his way to the podium to demand time for a rebuttal? Because if we continue to spread the misconception that support for war, any war, somehow defines conservatism, we will end up abandoning genuine conservatism and its love of liberty for a bizarre ideology that promotes and glorifies war’s chief sponsor and beneficiary, which is authoritarian government. These days, the policies of open borders, perpetual war, and the scuttling of the Bill of Rights in the name of national security are sold in the name of “conservatism.”
Can we mourn the man while repudiating his projects? We must do both.