Free Radical

Journalist Christopher Hitchens explains why he's no longer a socialist, why moral authoritarianism is on the rise, and what's wrong with anti-globalization protestors.

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REASON: The right and the left have joined together in a war against pleasure. What caused this?

Hitchens: The most politically encouraging event on the horizon -- which is a very bleak one politically -- is the possibility of fusion or synthesis of some of the positions of what is to be called left and some of what is to be called libertarian. The critical junction could be, and in some ways already is, the War on Drugs.

The War on Drugs is an attempt by force, by the state, at mass behavior modification. Among other things, it is a denial of medical rights, and certainly a denial of all civil and political rights. It involves a collusion with the most gruesome possible allies in the Third World. It’s very hard for me to say that there’s an issue more important than that at the moment. It may sound like a hysterical thing to say, but I really think it’s much more important than welfare policy, for example. It’s self-evidently a very, very important matter. Important enough, perhaps, to create this synthesis I’ve been looking for, or help to do that.

REASON: What are the signs that political fusion between some libertarians and some leftists is happening?

Hitchens: One reason the War on Drugs goes on in defiance of all reason is that it has created an enormous clientele of people who in one way or another depend upon it for their careers or for their jobs. That’s true of congressmen who can’t really get funding for their district unless it’s in some way related to anti-drug activity. There’s all kinds of funding that can be smuggled through customs as anti-drug money -- all the way to the vast squads of people who are paid to try to put the traffic down, and so forth. So what’s impressive is how many people whose job it has been to enforce this war are coming out now and saying that it’s obviously, at best, a waste of time.

The other encouraging sign is that those in the political-intellectual class who’ve gone public about it have tended to be on what would conventionally have been called the right. Some of them are fairly mainstream Republicans, like the governor of New Mexico. National Review, under the ownership of William Buckley, published a special issue devoted to exposing the fallacies and appalling consequences of the War on Drugs. I thought that should have been The Nation that did that. I now wouldn’t care so much about the precedence in that. It wouldn’t matter to me who was first any longer. I don’t have any allegiances like that anymore. I don’t ask what people’s politics are. I ask what their principles are.

REASON: Has your own shift in principles changed your relationship with The Nation?

Hitchens: For a while it did. I thought at one point that I might have to resign from the magazine. That was over, in general, its defense of Bill Clinton in office, which I still think was a historic mistake made by left-liberals in this country. It completely squandered the claim of a magazine like The Nation to be a journal of opposition. By supporting Clinton, The Nation became a journal more or less of the consensus. And of the rightward moving consensus at that, because I don’t think there’s any way of describing Bill Clinton as an enemy of conservatism.

I’d been made aware by someone in the Clinton administration of what I thought was criminal activity. At any rate, the administration engaged in extraordinarily reprehensible activity by way of intimidating female witnesses in an important case. I decided that I would be obstructing justice if I’d kept the evidence to myself. That led to me being denounced in The Nation as the equivalent of a McCarthyite state invigilator, which I thought was absurd. Where I live, the White House is the government. So if one attacks it, one isn’t reporting one’s friends to the government, so to speak, by definition.

The controversy shows the amazing persistence of antediluvian categories and habits of thought on the left, and these were applied to me in a very mendacious and I thought rather thuggish way. I had to make an issue of it with the magazine, and I was prepared to quit. But we were able to come to an agreement. They stopped saying this about me, in other words.

But there is no such thing as a radical left anymore. �a n’existe pas. The world of Gloria Steinem and Jesse Jackson, let’s say, has all been, though it doesn’t realize it, hopelessly compromised by selling out to Clintonism. It became, under no pressure at all, and with no excuse, and in no danger, a voluntary apologist for abuse of power.

It couldn’t wait to sell out. It didn’t even read the small print or ask how much or act as if it were forced under pressure to do so. I don’t think they’ve realized how that’s changed everything for them. They’re not a left. They’re just another self-interested faction with an attitude toward government and a hope that it can get some of its people in there. That makes it the same as everyone else -- only slightly more hypocritical and slightly more self-righteous.

REASON: In Letters to a Young Contrarian, you talk about how it was libertarians -- specifically Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan -- who did the most to end the draft by persuading President Nixon’s special commission on the matter that mandatory military service represented a form of slavery. Is it the contrarians from unexpected ranks that enact real change?

Hitchens: Absolutely. Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Friedman used my mantra correctly by saying the draft would make the citizen the property of the state. To argue against them, however, I’ll quote someone whom neither of them particularly likes, but whom I think they both respect. John Maynard Keynes said somewhere -- I think in Essays in Persuasion -- that many revolutions are begun by conservatives because these are people who tried to make the existing system work and they know why it does not. Which is quite a profound insight. It used to be known in Marx’s terms as revolution from above.

It would indeed come from enlightened and often self-interested members of the old regime who perfectly well knew that the assurances being given to the ruler were false. That the system didn’t know what was going on or how to provide for itself, but couldn’t bear to acknowledge that fact and had no means for self-correction. That is indeed how revolutions often begin.

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