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British writer Christopher Hitchens, photographed in Toronto in November 2010. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
British writer Christopher Hitchens, photographed in Toronto in November 2010. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)


Contrarian writer Christopher Hitchens dies at 62 Add to ...

The next huge incident that precipitated a shift in Mr. Hitchens’s political thinking and thus his writing career came after Al-Qaeda attacked his adopted homeland on 9/11. He broke with The Nation in 2002, after profoundly disagreeing with other contributors about the military course the U.S. should follow in response to the terrorist attacks. In his last “Minority Report” column he wrote: “When I began work for The Nation over two decades ago, [editor] Victor Navasky described the magazine as a debating ground between liberals and radicals, which was, I thought, well judged. In the past few weeks, though, I have come to realize that the magazine itself takes a side in this argument, and is becoming the voice and the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden.”

Mr. Hitchens’s support for US President George W. Bush’s War on Terror and the American-led invasion of Iraq, even though the 9/11 terrorist attacks emanated from elsewhere and no weapons of mass destruction were uncovered, made him the darling of the Right and the pariah of the Left. In September 2005 he was named one of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals“ by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines.

God and Himself

Mr. Hitchens was still mainly a mid-list selling writer until he published his grand polemic, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything in 2007. Writing in The New York Times, Michael Kinsley, former editor of The New Republic, caught the spirit of most reviewers when he declared that Mr. Hitchens had written “with tremendous brio and great wit” as well as “an underlying genuine anger” a full frontal and erudite attack on religion. The book was an international bestseller and made Mr. Hitchens an in-demand speaker on the lecture circuit.

The notoriety about God is Not Great boosted sales for Hitch-22, which was released in the late spring of 2010. The book received thoughtful if sometimes antagonistic reviews, which couldn’t have been a surprise even to the author. More of a presentation of his ideas and passions than a chronological account of his life, the book consists of a series of essays about family–although there is very little about his wives and his children–friends and causes, ranging from his early embrace of the radical left to his stomp to the militaristic right after 9/11.

As the end neared, Mr. Hitchens continued to refuse the prayers offered on his behalf by the faithful. Instead he tended to his legacy. Just before the tenth anniversary of 9/11, he wrote an article in the online magazine Slate entitled, “Simply Evil.” It might better have been named, “What I Believe.” Mr. Hitchens, ever the moralist, concluded that “against the tendencies of euphemism and evasion, some stout simplicities deservedly remain. Among them: Holocaust denial is in fact a surreptitious form of Holocaust affirmation. The fatwa against Salman Rushdie was a direct and lethal challenge to free expression, not a clash between traditional faith and “free speech fundamentalism.” The mass murder in Bosnia-Herzegovina was not the random product of “ancient hatreds” but a deliberate plan to erase the Muslim population. The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fully deserve to be called “evil.” And, 10 years ago in Manhattan and Washington and Shanksville, Pa., there was a direct confrontation with the totalitarian idea, expressed in its most vicious and unvarnished form. Let this and other struggles temper and strengthen us for future battles where it will be necessary to repudiate the big lie.”

With that paragraph, he wrote his own epigraph.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this online story incorrectly identified the poet who wrote The Hollow Men. This online version has been corrected.

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