Monday, 30 April 2012

Hitch 22: A Memoir by Christopher Hitchens

Not even I can live on Peter Hitchens alone (this one, or that one or his blog) so I thought it was time to give his late brother another whirl.

And in fact, there are a lot of similarities between PH and CH - both are fiercely independent and intelligent thinkers; both are equally contemptuous of received wisdom and neither are afraid to follow Keynes and change their minds when the facts change.  They both adore Orwell.  And I imagine the pair of them will infuriate many readers, although I find both to be wonderful and exhilarating writers.  Though I have to admit Christopher has the edge.

After a fairly conventional start (childhood, family, school, university) these memoirs become a lot more thematic.  The recent history of Iraq is examined in detail, as a way to explain why he opposed the first Gulf War but became a prominent cheerleader for the second.  His late discovery that he's a little bit jewish sparks an in-depth analysis on the tension between atheism and Jewishness, the history of Israel and Palestine and the horrible mistakes, injustices and hypocrisy on both sides.

Peter was a hardline Trotskyist back in the day before he become, well, what he is today.  Christopher had a similar past, but his journey has been more nuanced.  He fully accepts the seeds of Stalinism were in Leninism, but wonders what conditions allowed those seeds to grow - were there other seeds which could've taken root?  He still admires Trotsky (and Rosa Luxemburg) but admits the left has failed. 

His relationship with the USA is a useful way for him to examine this - not many socialists choose to take US citizenship, you'll notice.  He considers politicians from Kissinger to Clinton to be war criminals, but stands up for neo-con boogeyman Paul Wolfowitz.  His argument isn't that he's changed from a radical left-winger to a rabid right winger - it's the Left in general which has lost its moral compass.  His disgust is more than palpable after 911 when his former comrades can barely hide their delight in seeing the USA brought low by religiously inspired fascism.  If that isn't the kind of thing you should be smashing with all your power, what's the point of the Left any more?

There's plenty more here to enjoy aside from the politics: lots about literature and poetry; great character studies of friends like Martin Amis, the soul searching about his mother's suicide, and a wonderful account of what it was like to be a teenager filled with the spirit of 1968.  And no matter what meandering side streets you're being led down, that beautiful writing just carries you along.

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