To the recent influx of atheist nerds, Christopher Hitchens embodies a status of almost godlike proportions, eclipsed only perhaps by fellow God-baiter Richard Dawkins.
His claim to fame, at least for contemporary audiences, probably lies in the publishing of his anti-theist door stopper God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. His widespread status as celebrity atheist began with his character assassination of Mother Theresa titled Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice. Written near the end of her life, Hitchens uses what is ostensibly other people’s unaccredited research to frame Theresa as a sadist and a hypocrite, obsessed with fame and the cause of more harm than good.
It is deliciously ironic then, that the posthumously released hatchet job Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens, by Richard Seymour seeks to do exactly the same, exposing him as the sadistic, avaricious Thatcherite, who in his Oxford days was known by the nickname ‘Hypocritchens.’
Seymour, an avid socialist, describes with caustic methodology the way in which Hitchens rose through the ranks of the International Socialists, forerunners to the Socialist Workers’ Party (whose ranks, in full disclosure, include both Seymour and I, so forgive me if this seems a little biased,) and then his sudden and timely conversion to pro-war neo-conservatism. This meant that come 2001, he was in prime position to become the darling of the Bush Administration. Enjoying his new found status as America’s golden boy, while retroactively bleaching the red out of his past, his final betrayal lying in the sudden and surprising revelation that he held an almost Oedipal level of respect and admiration for Margaret Thatcher, and his naturalisation as an American citizen, a shamefaced rejection of his anti nationalistic background.
This needs to be put frankly; if you like Christopher Hitchens, you will hate this book. His every misdeed is laid out in eye-blistering detail, from the backstabbing of his closest friends that marked the start of his career, to the rampant Islamophobia that he extolled until his last breath. Even if you’re one of the thousands of people that laughed, even agreed with his unique brand of sardonic libertarianism, it’s impossible not to respect the staggering amount of research Seymour has put into the scant 160 pages it takes to disembowel Hitchens. You almost feel sorry for him, but Hitchens was no stranger to speaking ill of the dead, and regarded any posthumous softness to be an act of complete hypocrisy. It’s quite hard to find a lot to say about the book that’s not about its subject; the prose is fairly straightforward, which makes it seem a lot more brutal than Hitchens’ tradition of hiding vicious statements behind an often delightful degree of wit and articulation. Seymour often assumes we have prior knowledge of Hitchens’ associates and clique, but there’s nothing a quick Google won’t fix. The one shame, I’m sure Hitchens would agree, is that we’ll never get to hear the not-so-great man’s response to it.