October 14, 2007
Christopher Hitchens puzzles many conservatives. On the one hand, he appears to be one of our staunchest allies in the war on Islamist insurgents. Yet Hitchens makes no secret of the fact that he loathes and despises us. By “us,” I mean all those conservatives who believe in God, which is another way of saying all genuine conservatives.
Now here is the riddle: If Hitchens hates conservatives, why does he break bread with us at so many political gatherings, and why does he side with us in our present war with militant Islam? Hitchens himself has helpfully provided an explanation for this paradox. Brace yourselves, conservatives. His explanation is a doozy.
Hitchens’ own writings reveal that he believes we are fighting the Islamist uprising not so much to secure America’s interests and those of our allies, as to make the world safe for Hitchens’ peculiar brand of secular utopia. The sort of extreme Islamism exemplified by Osama bin Laden and the Iranian mullahcracy Hitchens regards as merely one symptom of an underlying disease. The disease itself, he avers, is the presence of religion in public life generally, throughout the world, and especially in America. To put it another way, Hitchens believes that the war on Islamist terror is really just Phase One of a larger war — the global war on religion. That is why he supports the war.
Exactly one year before U.S. troops invaded Iraq, Hitchens revealed his true position in The Nation, when he declared: “The struggle against theocratic fascism should, therefore, be inseparable from the struggle for a truly secular state.” (Christopher Hitchens, “The God Squad“, The Nation, posted 28 March 2002, printed 15 April 2002)
“Theocratic fascism” is a nickname Mr. Hitchens commonly assigns to militant Islam, along with “Islamofascism”. But here — as in many other of his writings — we learn that Hitchens aspires to something grander than the mere defeat of “theocratic fascism”. For him, the war on militant Islam is merely a skirmish in the larger “struggle for a truly secular state”. On November 9, 2004, for instance, Mr. Hitchens wrote in Slate:
“George Bush may subjectively be a Christian, but he—and the U.S. armed forces—have objectively done more for secularism than the whole of the American agnostic community combined and doubled. The demolition of the Taliban, the huge damage inflicted on the al-Qaida network, and the confrontation with theocratic saboteurs in Iraq represent huge advances for the non-fundamentalist forces in many countries.” ( (Bush’s Secularist Triumph: The Left Apologizes for Religious Fanatics. The President Fights Them.”, Slate.com, 9 November 2004)
Mr. Hitchens of course is not the first to call for “a truly secular state”. Many have raised this battle cry before, always with distinctly un-conservative results, including tyranny, upheaval, mass murder, vandalism, censorship and slavery on an epic scale.
A recent post by The Anchoress brought my attention to an insightful and well-crafted review of Hitchens’ celebrated tome God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. This review — titled “The Best Mind of the 18th Century“ and penned by one Benjamin D. Wiker — identifies with surgical precision the major shortcoming of Hitchens’ thesis. Wiker writes:
“The most significant problem with Hitchens’s argument is precisely that it does belong in the 18th century, that is, in a time when it was still possible to declaim upon How Religion Poisons Everything (the subtitle of Hitchens’s book). In those heady days of overt deism and covert atheism, enemies of religion could gather together, exchange stories of religious hypocrisy and savagery, and imagine that once the poisoned barbs of Christianity were removed from innocent human flesh, and priests and kings were suitably strung up by each other’s entrails, the world would breathe a long and peaceful sigh of relief. That was before the French Revolution, before Stalin, before Hitler, before Mao, before Pol Pot; in short, before any actual attempt to politically eliminate either Christianity in particular or all religion in general, and set up a regime based entirely on secular foundations. Before it was ever tried in earnest, the intellectual atheist could wade through many a hypothetical reverie of the innocent and Edenic future of practical atheism. That is the whole problem with Hitchens’s book: He still thinks he has that enviable luxury. His finale — a mere seven pages long — is titled “The Need for a New Enlightenment,” as if it hadn’t been tried already and found woefully wanting.” (Benjamin D. Wiker, “The Best Mind of the 18th Century,”, InsideCatholic.com, 20 September 2007)
Hitchens of course knows this argument and has a ready answer for it. He rejects the Soviet or “Stalinist” model (as do virtually all leftists today), and proposes instead that we fashion our enlightened “secular” state after the example of, uh… Moorish Spain.
Anyone who has ever suspected that Hitchens’ quick wit and elegant turns of phrase conceal a certain want of intellectual rigor will find startling confirmation in his March 28, 2002 essay in The Nation.
There Hitchens praises the Muslim warlords who conquered Spain in AD 711. These invaders ruled Spain for centuries, naming their newly-won lands Al-Andaluz or Andalusia. They held significant parts of the Iberian peninsula right up until January 1492, when King Ferdinand of Aragon and Castille vanquished Spain’s last Moorish Caliph in the siege of Granada. In his Nation article, Hitchens lauds the Andalusian sultans for creating what he calls:
“…a culture where there was extensive cooperation and even symbiosis among Muslims, Jews and Christians, and where civilization touched a point hardly surpassed since fifth-century Athens. … [I]t is no exaggeration to say that what we presumptuously call “Western” culture is owed in large measure to the Andalusian enlightenment. … [I]t was not Muslim but Christian intolerance that put an end to Andalusia. By 1492 their Catholic majesties Ferdinand and Isabella had completed the reimposition of orthodoxy and begun the expulsion of the Jews and Moors.”
In closing, Hitchens mourns Andalusia as, “a world we have lost, a world for which our current monotheistic leaderships do not even feel nostalgia.”
Anticipating the obvious counterargument, Hitchens grants that Moorish Spain is a long way from the “secular state” he proposes in the same article. He nonetheless goes on to suggest that life under the firm yet benevolent rule of enlightened Muslim emirs may be the closest thing to a perfect society that we benighted humans can expect to achieve, given our biological limitations — specifically, given the unhappy circumstance that “the religious impulse itself seems to be partly innate at our present stage of evolution,” as Hitchens puts it.
So there we have it. Perplexed conservatives can stop wondering what Hitchens really wants. He wants to live — and presumably wants all of us to live — in a society resembling Moorish-occupied Spain.
Who’d have thought it?
Reprinted from the author’s blog, Poe.com, with permission. Part III of Poe’s coverage of Hitchens to follow soon.
Daily updates with TM’s latest