The Tenth Man

The key to Christopher Hitchens wasn’t his iconoclasm; it was his desire for belonging—and the proof can be found in an unexpected place

By Marc Tracy|December 19

By the time Christopher Hitchens died last week at the age of 62, the arc of his intellectual career was so notorious, ingrained, and agreed-upon that the many, many tributes tended to skip it and instead move straight on to relating the man’s personal kindnesses, biting polemical barbs, and prodigious feats of alcohol consumption. The contours of that broadly accepted arc are as follows: Hitchens, born in England, became known as a talented radical while at Oxford; then, first at the New Statesman and later, upon his move to the United States, for more than two decades at The Nation, he was the English-speaking world’s most prominent left-wing journalist and intellectual; then came 9/11, which inspired a strange conversion—all of a sudden Hitchens was chastising his former ally Noam Chomsky, unceasingly polemicizing against the outrages of Islamic fundamentalism or, as he frequently preferred, “Islamofascism,” and tacitly endorsing the re-election of George W. Bush (only four years after he supported Ralph Nader!). By 2006, when he received the New Yorker treatment, his profile’s subtitle articulated the confusion felt by the political class: “How a former socialist,” it promised, “became the Iraq war’s fiercest defender.” It’s a classic story of a radical’s life, with a bizarre and unexpected epilogue that took up his final decade.

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