Sixty-three years ago today, Christopher Hitchens was born here in the UK, in Portsmouth, England. As a vocal supporter of the Iraq War, a proponent of military interventionism abroad, and a devoted Marxist throughout his career, Hitchens was not a libertarian by any stretch. At the same time, however, he was a fierce critic of the establishment, and this earned him a significant following within the libertarian movement. His attack on organised religion is without a doubt the most famous expression of this subversive streak, and hardly needs to be mentioned here. He will certainly be remembered for that most of all.
Nevertheless, he cast a wider net than that.
Everywhere he found it, Christopher Hitchens tore down dogmatism, political correctness, and irrationality in public discourse, and the ten quotes compiled below are meant to highlight some of these less-famous elements of his thinking. While it is a small deviation from the usual parade of libertarian thinkers that dominate the “10 Great Quotes” specials here at The-Libertarian.co.uk, a compilation of thought-provoking quotes from this famous author, critic, and essayist is all too appropriate on this special day.
Happy birthday, Mr. Hitchens.
Christopher Hitchens in 10 Great Quotes
1) “If most of those who took part in this one-dimensional debate were honest with themselves, they would admit that they do not in principle believe that the United States can do any good overseas for anyone but the American government, its armed forces, or privileged American elites.”
“Never Trust Imperialists (Especially When They Turn Pacifist)“, Boston Review, December 1993/January 1994
2) “The pornography of tough-mindedness, covert action, and preparedness for “peace through strength” has had a predictably hypnotic effect on the legislative branch, turning it from legal watchdog to lapdog.”
“The State Within the State” (1991)
3) “I have noticed in observing and debating [Michael Moore] that he is an addict of crowd-pleasing and demagogy, and also an addict of “secret financial government” rhetoric. He also affects a certain plebeian and blue-collar style. When he thinks it will work, he will pretend to believe that “American jobs” are migrating to Mexico, or that “American boys” are being duped into war by hidden cabals. This combination of nativism and populism (stirred in with a nauseating dose of sentimentality and an absolutely breath-taking contempt for objective truth) reminds me very much of the dolts who joined the SA. But then, those guys were probably as surprised as their dumb Stalinist counterparts when the Hitler-Stalin pact was signed. By the way, that was the only treaty he signed that Stalin didn’t break. With much of the remaining Left, I have to say, there is a certain immunity from Moore’s gruesome posturing, if only because they don’t think it was a good idea to have General Motors, or the city of Flint, Michigan, in the first place. And some of them are genuine pacifists, while Moore is an open supporter of the Islamist death-squads in Iraq.”
“Love, Poverty and War”, FrontPageMagazine.com
4) “The progress that’s made … in any argument or in any discussion is by confrontation. That’s a dialectical fact. People say “oh let’s have less heat and more light,” fatuously. There’s only one source of light. It happens to be heat.”
May 4, 2008 TimesTalk
5) “The crucial thing for most of the left now, is what goes under the name of “anti-globalization”. A sort of primitive, I would say non-Marxist form of anti-capitalism. If that is your main concern then by definition the United States is the main enemy. Which with only a little displacement means that any enemy of the United States is at least a potential friend. I have certainly read articles and heard speeches from quite prominent leftists that give the strong impression that jihadism may have it’s drawbacks but it is better than no “anti-globalization” at all.”
6) “The only real radicalism in our time will come as it always has — from people who insist on thinking for themselves and who reject party-mindedness.”
“Interview with Christopher Hitchens“, History News Network
7) “I don’t think it’s healthy for people to want there to be a permanent, unalterable, irremovable authority over them. I don’t like the idea of a father who never goes away, the idea of a king who cannot be deposed, the idea of a judge who doesn’t allow a lawyer or a jury or an appeal. This is an appeal to absolutism. It’s the part of ourselves that’s not so nice; that wants security, that wants certainty, that wants to be taken care of. For hundreds and hundreds of years, the human struggle for freedom was against the worst kind of dictatorship of all: the theocracy, the one that claims it has God on its side. I believe that totalitarian temptation has to be resisted. What I’m inviting you to do is to consider emancipating yourselves from the idea that you, selfishly, are the sole object of all the wonders of the cosmos and of nature - because that’s not a humble idea at all, it’s a very arrogant one and there’s no evidence for it. And then, again, the second emancipation - to think of yourselves as free citizens who are not enthralled to any supernatural-eternal authority; which you will always find is interpreted for you by other mammals who claim to have access to this authority - that gives them special power over you. Don’t allow yourselves to have your lives run like that.”
Christopher Hitchens vs. William Dembski, 18/11/2010
8) “What is a totalitarian system if not one where the abject glorification of the perfect leader is matched by the surrender of all privacy and individuality, especially in matters sexual, and in denunciation and punishment — “for their own good” — of those who transgress?”
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) p.230
9) “Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”
Letters to a Young Contrarian (2001)
10) “It is not enough to “have” free speech. People must learn to speak freely. Noam Chomsky remarked in the sixties about the short-life ultra-radicals on campus who thought that Marx should have been burning down the British Museum rather than writing and thinking in it. The less political descendants of that faction have now tried to reduce life to a system of empowerment etiquette, and have wasted a lot of their own time and everyone else’s in the process. But the real bridle on our tongues is imposed by the everyday lying and jargon, sanctioned and promulgated at the highest levels of media and politics, and not by the awkward handful who imagine themselves revolutionaries.”
“Politically Correct” (1991)