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The Liberal Internationalist

A fine new book argues that the contemporary Left could learn a lot from the life and work of the late polemicist Christopher Hitchens.

· 18 min read
The Liberal Internationalist
Kathy deWitt / Alamy

A review of How Hitchens Can Save the Left: Rediscovering Fearless Liberalism in an Age of Counter-Enlightenment by Matt Johnson, 462 pages, Pitchstone Publishing (February 2023)

British-American journalist, essayist, author, and human bulldozer Christopher Hitchens intimidated nearly everyone who encountered him, whether in print, on television, or on a debate stage. “He likes the battle, the argument, the smell of cordite,” his best friend and novelist Martin Amis once observed. Nobody ever beat Hitchens in argument, not even when he was wrong.

His scathing wit, his barn-burner polemics, his prodigious output, his ability to demonstrate the depth and breadth of an entire classical education on a single page, his knack for speaking extemporaneously in perfectly formed paragraphs, and his near-photographic recall of virtually everything he ever read were peerless. The man could knock out a sparkling magazine column in 30 minutes after sinking an entire bottle of wine (always red, never white) at four o’clock in the morning.

In 2011, Hitchens left us when he succumbed to complications caused by esophageal cancer. The drink didn’t get him, but smoking apparently did. There will be no new books from Hitchens himself after his posthumous Mortality, but plenty have been written about him in the meantime, not all of them friendly. How Hitchens Can Save the Left: Rediscovering Fearless Liberalism in an Age of Counter-Enlightenment by Matt Johnson is not a hagiography, but it is friendly. It offers a delightful and (yes) nostalgic tour through Hitchens’s ideas and arguments over the decades by an author who clearly appreciates what the man had to say, how he said it, and how he thought.

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