Christopher Hitchens is dead. His essays were feisty and elegant, well within the great tradition of combative English pamphleteering. He was usually provocative, often dazzling in his historical and literary allusions, and rarely boring. He only became a bore, really, in his final decade. His ironic and playful mind became (at times) monomaniacal, first about the war against the Islamo Iron Guard or whatever the term was in 2003, and then about vicious dictator “God.” Your book-reviewer met him once, and the man couldn’t have been more of a gent.
VERY good Hitchens books: his collection of literary essays Unacknowledged Legislation (few, maybe none, have written better about Oscar Wilde’s odd version of socialism) and the book on George Orwell.
For whatever reason, some of his best essays haven’t been collected into book form yet. Your reviewer remembers two in particular that were excellent but remain uncollected: a travel piece about Indonesia and its politics, and a piece comparing U.S. anti-smoking laws to the fox-hunting ban in the U.K. (both Vanity Fair pieces). WHERE ARE THEY NOW, BOOK PUBLISHERS?
Here’s Hitchens in 1983, writing about American “neoliberals” and “neoconservatives” (you can find this in Prepared for the Worst):
Cynics have compared the neoliberal tendency to the neoconservative one. I think that comparison must be counted as unfair. For one thing, neoconservatives are much more rigorous. For another, they are much more interesting. Neoconservatives believe in original sin, while neoliberals believe in the enervating effect of public spending programs. Neoconservatives are keenly interested in foreign policy, with its emphasis on tough choices, while neoliberals are oddly diffident about it. Neoconservatives have a sense of class struggle and know which side they are on. Neoliberals wish the word “class” had never been discovered and agree not to use it at all, ever, except when attacking radicals for being out of touch with what “ordinary people” want. Neoconservatism could occur in any country. Neoliberalism could, really, only occur in a country like America, which combines abundance with angst and has a vast population of overqualified graduate students, some of whom wish they had, after all, served in Vietnam.
It’s like, things can be written in one decade and, like, be true in another, man.