Christopher Hitchens passed away on 15th of December 2011. Here are some of his best quotes. We miss you, Hitch.
Some photographs (two, four and five) were taken by Jelena Đurović, editor-in-chief of Agitpop.me, during summer of 2013. Wyoming Apartments is an historic apartment building, located at 2022 Columbia Road. George Stephanopoulos, Christopher Hitchens and Dwight D. Eisenhower lived there.
Yes or No - Letter B
Hitchens addresses a hypothetical question he was asked on a panel with radio host Dennis Prager: if he were alone in an unfamiliar city at night, and a group of strangers began to approach him, would he feel safer, or less safe, knowing that these men had just come from a prayer meeting?
Hitchens answers: "Just to stay within the letter 'B', I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem and Baghdad. In each case ... I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance"
And I'll close by saying this. Because anti-Semitism is the godfather of racism and the gateway to tyranny and fascism and war, it is to be regarded not as the enemy of the Jewish people, I learned, but as the common enemy of humanity and of civilisation, and has to be fought against very tenaciously for that reason, most especially in its current, most virulent form of Islamic Jihad. Daniel Pearl's revolting murderer was educated at the London School of Economics. Our Christmas bomber over Detroit was from a neighboring London college, the chair of the Islamic Students' Society. Many pogroms against Jewish people are being reported from all over Europe today as I'm talking, and we can only expect this to get worse, and we must make sure our own defenses are not neglected. Our task is to call this filthy thing, this plague, this—this pest, by its right name; to make unceasing resistance to it, knowing all the time that it's probably ultimately ineradicable, and bearing in mind that its hatred towards us is a compliment, and resolving (some of the time, at any rate) to do a bit more to deserve it.
On Julian Assange
All you need to know about Assange is contained in the profile of him by the great John F. Burns and in his shockingly thuggish response to it. The man is plainly a micro-megalomaniac with few if any scruples and an undisguised agenda. As I wrote before, when he says that his aim is "to end two wars," one knows at once what he means by the "ending." In his fantasies he is probably some kind of guerrilla warrior, but in the real world he is a middle man and peddler who resents the civilization that nurtured him.
When the Washington Post telephoned me at home on Valentine's Day 1989 to ask my opinion about the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwah, I felt at once that here was something that completely committed me. It was, if I can phrase it like this, a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying, and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humor, the individual, and the defense of free expression. Plus, of course, friendship—though I like to think that my reaction would have been the same if I hadn't known Salman at all. To re-state the premise of the argument again: the theocratic head of a foreign despotism offers money in his own name in order to suborn the murder of a civilian citizen of another country, for the offense of writing a work of fiction. No more root-and-branch challenge to the values of the Enlightenment (on the bicentennial of the fall of the Bastille) or to the First Amendment to the Constitution, could be imagined.
A good friend of mine called Basil Davidson, a British officer and a leftist, also a socialist, who was involved in the Second World War in working with the European resistance in the Balkans, largely, but also in Greece and in Italy, once wrote that having seen what occurred in Nazi-occupied Europe, he no longer believed the old line that you can't change human nature. You can change it for the worse very easily. So if you can change it for the worse, why do we give up on the idea you can change it for the better?
I think the socialist movement, by removing many, many people from grinding stagnation and poverty and overwork, does enable people not just to lead better lives but to be better people. I think that the same can be said for the emancipation of the populations of the colonies from colonial rule; and yes, conditions can be created in which people are more civilized. I think the socialist movement can claim a lot of credit for that. But there is always the danger, if you proclaim the “new man,” that you will have to use an inquisition as a means of conditioning people. In other words, a state of terror, or a concentration camp. Or that you'll just create, as in Cuba for example, where the new man was very much hymned, a rather stagnant, boring, unimaginative conformist, despite the fact that the idea is everyone should, in Cuba, emulate Ché Guevara. In fact Cuba is a very backward country.
On Lenin and Russian Revolution
Lenin's Russia was an attempt to start from scratch. The war had already pre-destroyed a lot of the old order for him. It had destroyed the Czarist army for example, turned it into a rabble, which the strongest element, the strongest element were mutineers who already supported the Bolshevik party. It had crucially undermined the autocracy, the Romanov dynasty. And I think it had very much discredited the Russian Orthodox Church, for which he had a particular dislike. But he was very willing to finish those jobs, all three of them, to wipe out the Romanov family, to rebuild the army, and under Trotsky's leadership of the Red Army, and to seize the opportunity to confiscate church property and to dissolve, as far as possible, the influence of the church.
One of Lenin's great achievements, in my opinion, is to create a secular Russia. The power of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was an absolute warren of backwardness and evil and superstition, is probably never going to recover from what he did to it.
The difficulty was that he also inherited, and partly by his measures created, even more scarcity and economic dislocation. The Bolsheviks had studied what had happened to the French revolution and they knew there was a danger of autocracy developing in their own ranks, and they were always on the look out for another Bonaparte. And the person who most looked like Bonaparte to them was Trotsky, who had flamboyance and military genius and charisma. And so they often didn't trust him. But the person who least looked like a Bonaparte was a mediocrity from Georgia, a pockmarked, mustachioed, rather unintellectual fellow, Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili, Mr. Stalin. They thought, well actually, he's probably quite a reliable guy.
Goes to show that what people learn from history is that they don't learn.
On Marxism and Economy
The essential contention of Marxism is that anyone who says “the economy,” is stupid. To redo a well-known recent saying “it's the economy, stupid.” If you say “the economy,” you show you're stupid. There's no such thing as the economy. There is not a unity between the forces of production and the relations of production. So, you could condense the whole of the manifesto and three volumes of Das Kapital into that - the forces and relations of production are not the same. The ability to mine coal and to use that to make iron ore into steel is something that is socially in common. It's collectively done. And the mobilization for it is social but the profit goes to a small group of people, so the product of it is not shared. Thus to speak of this as an industrial revolution or a new economy is false. It's just a refinement of old patterns of exploitation for modern purposes.
You could do without this class and the same amount of production could be done. Or indeed, more could be done because there'd be no need for scarcity.
Well, having described how the rise of the industrial bourgeoisie has destroyed feudal property relations, has made old religious superstitions redundant, has broken up with Marx called the idiocy of rural life, the millennial stagnant village existence that so many millions of people have been born into and died out of without even knowing that there was any other kind of world possible, that all this energy and excitement came at a high price - it was very exploitative. It required people perhaps to lead much less happy lives than they had before, much less secure lives, much more risky lives, with a very much higher rate of exploitation and that this, in the long run, would revenge itself upon its creators, that they, in their turn, would rather conserve their own power over the process than allow it to develop further. That having unleashed it they would try and fetter it and these fetters would be broken by educated and emancipated workers movement who would use the same techniques and the same discoveries, but adapt them for social use rather than for private enrichment.
That was the theory and it was a pretty exact-word picture of the living experience of many, many millions of people at that time. You can read it in the novels of Zola; you can, to some extent, read it in the novels of Dickens. The people are suddenly living in a much richer world but their lives are much poorer. But the solution is to hand. They must enfranchise themselves, they must demand the eight-hour day, the slowing of the pace of exploitation and they must recover the imagination necessary to seize control of it for themselves so that for the first time in history, people are the subjects and not the objects.
On discovering that he is Jewish
If my mother's intention in whole or in part was to ensure that I never had to suffer any indignity or embarrassment for being a Jew, then she succeeded well enough. And in any case there were enough intermarriages and 'conversions' on both sides of her line to make me one of those many mischling hybrids who are to be found distributed all over the known world. And, as someone who doesn't really believe that the human species is subdivided by 'race,' let alone that a nation or nationality can be defined by its religion, why should I not let the whole question slide away from me? Why—and then I'll stop asking rhetorical questions—did I at some point resolve that, in whatever tone of voice I was asked 'Are you a Jew?' I would never hear myself deny it?
On becoming American citizen
America was his country, and Portsmouth, England, was his hometown. Hitchens’s oath of U.S. citizenship was administered by former Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff at the Jefferson Memorial in 2007. After September 11, “I began to feel really protective of the United States,” he told C-SPAN. “If I’m going to stand up and say that I think that we ought to be sending our armed forces overseas, I think I probably should be someone who could, in the last resort at least, be called upon to do so.”
To Chomsky, after 9/11
I was apprehensive from the first moment about the sort of masochistic e-mail traffic that might start circulating from the Chomsky-Zinn-Finkelstein quarter, and I was not to be disappointed. With all due thanks to these worthy comrades, I know already that the people of Palestine and Iraq are victims of a depraved and callous Western statecraft. And I think I can claim to have been among the first to point out that Clinton's rocketing of Khartoum--supported by most liberals--was a gross war crime, which would certainly have entitled the Sudanese government to mount reprisals under international law. (Indeed, the sight of Clintonoids on TV, applauding the "bounce in the polls" achieved by their man that day, was even more repulsive than the sight of destitute refugee children making a wretched holiday over the nightmare on Chambers Street.) But there is no sense in which the events of September 11 can be held to constitute such a reprisal, either legally or morally.
It is worse than idle to propose the very trade-offs that may have been lodged somewhere in the closed-off minds of the mass murderers. The people of Gaza live under curfew and humiliation and expropriation. This is notorious. Very well: Does anyone suppose that an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would have forestalled the slaughter in Manhattan? It would take a moral cretin to suggest anything of the sort; the cadres of the new jihad make it very apparent that their quarrel is with Judaism and secularism on principle, not with (or not just with) Zionism. They regard the Saudi regime not as the extreme authoritarian theocracy that it is, but as something too soft and lenient. The Taliban forces viciously persecute the Shiite minority in Afghanistan. The Muslim fanatics in Indonesia try to extirpate the infidel minorities there; civil society in Algeria is barely breathing after the fundamentalist assault.
Now is as good a time as ever to revisit the history of the Crusades, or the sorry history of partition in Kashmir, or the woes of the Chechens and Kosovars. But the bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about "the West," to put it in a phrase, is not what Western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state. Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content. Indiscriminate murder is not a judgment, even obliquely, on the victims or their way of life, or ours. Any decent and concerned reader of this magazine could have been on one of those planes, or in one of those buildings--yes, even in the Pentagon.