Christopher Hitchens, writes Dalrymple, fell prey to the illusion that the striking of trivial attitudes was generosity enough for a lifetime. He
commodified his dissent, albeit in a niche market (though niches in America are larger than entire markets elsewhere).
While his brother Peter has thoroughly repented, Christopher retained
an emotional sympathy for his former views. In others, he would no doubt espy in this intellectual dishonesty and historical distortion; in himself, he sees truth to his own generous principles.
His review of a reissue of Isaac Deutscher’s three-volume biography of Trotsky, for example,
presents Trotsky principally as a gifted journalist and sage — a little like Hitchens himself, in fact — the force of whose ideas, or phrases, made the unjustly powerful tremble everywhere.
Why Hitchens’s unusual delicacy over this moral monster? Because, says Dalrymple, he
was himself once a follower of Trotsky and does not want to admit that he was, by implication, a supporter of mass murder, the ruthless suppression of opponents and the kind of tyranny that made all previous tyrannies appear bumbling and amateurish.
It was not that Hitchens wanted
to bring about such a tyranny, let alone live under one (anyone who did would hardly decamp to the US). Rather, he fell prey to the adolescent illusion that the striking of attitudes is generosity enough.
Other people had only
when Hitchens was striking attitudes, which was most of the time, and his hatred of religion
strikes me as adolescent. We most of us know by now that religious bigotry is a bad thing — though the record of hardline secularists in the 20th century is not exactly spotless — but only an adolescent sees in the religious history of mankind nothing but intolerance. Compulsory attendance at school chapel must have been a traumatic experience for Hitchens.