Hitchens was a curiosity. I sporadically followed his interviews and writing, admired his courage travelling to world hot spots and in the face of his own mortality, yet couldn't quite keep him pinned in any one category of intellectuals. Hitchens was an Anti: Anti-theist, Anti-fascist, Anti-totalitarian, Anti-Stalin, Anti-Zionist....I didn't follow him that closely, but the list goes on. I was curious as to whether I fundamentally agreed with him or not, given that many times I had agreed, and many times I hadn't. His thinking seemed to be in a constant state of evolution as I heard him project and defend popular and unpopular opinions. I wanted to know the underlying principle in his personal map. What made this man tick?
His memoir is written in a mostly reserved fashion, with a few exceptions. First, his upbringing seemed almost Shakespearean. His pretty and ambitious mother insisted on sending her boy-king off to quality English boarding schools from the age of eight, despite her own unhappy marriage, and the financial and personal sacrifices that such ambition required. Their relationship was close. When Hitch was a young adult, his mother sought and gained his approval of her secret lover. The most sad and moving part occurred in November 1973 when Hitchens' mother committed suicide in Athens in a suicide pact with that very same, Hitch-approved, lover. At first, news had been that his mother had been murdered. Hitch then had to tell father and brother about the infidelity and suicide. He regreted he was not available when his mother called him the day she died. Beyond that, Hitch does not describe romances or marriages for a couple of reasons: he thought it not fair to disclose other people's stories, and he thought they would bore the reader. Instead, he focused on what he termed, heterosexual love between males, primarily his nonsexual love for Amis Martin. At the same time, he does not hide nor deny the homosexual acts in boarding school and after.
For most of the remaining text, Hitch describes a life as a “rebel with a cause”. From the start, he sided with the working class, yet had to reconcile this allegiance with the obvious corruption of trades and unions. This, it seems to me, was the beginning of a refinement of stances that he'd take throughout his life. I believe Hitch developed a keen sense of gray. Or, a fine honing knife.
Hitch was an author and journalist for over 40 years. He was ranked among the most influential liberals in the U.S. Media, yet he was a harsh critics of Clinton and sided with the Iraq war because he wanted to see regime change. He saw the Iraq as an alliance of goons and gangsters and terrorists. However, he was genuinely surprised at the incompetence of Bush administration and he criticized the planning and execution of the war. This was a man in agreement with neo-cons and progressives, but he rejected both labels and was not a fan of either.
Hitch was an atheist who saw organized religion as "the main source of hatred in the world'. He was against any state that “recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life.” He believed “individual freedom, and free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization.” This, I believe was the essence of the man. He weighed all opinions and judgments and stances on the basis of that one truism. I believe much of his ambition stemmed from the need to justify and earn his mother's love and sacrifice. The man was complicated.
Hitch's book is about battles of ideas and psychodrama. He describes countercultural and protest movements. He had ideological interests that labeled him a Trotskyist and a sort of anti-Stalinist socialist, yet he rejected socialists, as he claimed they ceased to offer a positive alternative to the capitalist system. He described himself as thinking like a Marxist, yet he thought capitalism had become the more revolutionary economic system, and he welcomed globalization. He sided in the freedom of the individual from the state, yet he had harsh words for libertarians.
I'd personally call much of what he believed as being a humanist. Despite his acerbic tongue, Hitchens believed "one must not insult or degrade or humiliate people." Hitch was terrified of being boring, or of being bored, and went to great lengths to be the center of attention. Good grief. After reading Hitch-22, I have a sense of the man as he matured. The man was complicated, but so is life and if Hitch has taught me anything, it's to not look for a side to follow blindly, but to slice and parse and think a bit more deeply about what it is I believe.