In a recent episode of Issues Etc. (The Legacy of Atheist Christopher Hitchens), Douglas Wilson mentioned that George Orwell was the hero of Christopher Hitchens. Christopher Hitchens, the renowned atheist who died last week, is described in the episode as a “born contrarian.” This might explain some of the questions from our recent podcast (EP003 George Orwell “1984”). Hitchens held uncommon positions for atheists, including being pro-life and supporting the conflict in Iraq. He did not care for what Orwell called “smelly little orthodoxies,” that is, positions and beliefs held for non-intellectual reasons. Instead, he followed Orwell as a freethinker and “born contrarian.”
Hitchens wrote a book in honor of his hero: Why Orwell Matters. In 1992, Hitchens was interview on the BBC regarding this book. One of the helpful comments from Hitchens regards the use of this book by a socialist (Orwell) in an anti-socialist context:
Andrew Marr Can writers have anything like the same impact now because, I mean, you were saying earlier on, of course Orwell was in his lifetime limited to certain relatively small publications, couldn’t get his books out, all that kind of stuff. Never the less, partly because of the cold war, he was given an enormous boost, he was driven into every classroom in the western world and he was, you know, Penguin were producing vast, vast quantities. When it comes to political argument, of the kind you do now, most of it is really at the edges now, it’s small magazines, it’s groups of devotees in different countries who read small publication, books and so on. Do you think that, in the age of television, in the age of all this stuff, that the individual, the independent writer can still have a decisive influence anywhere?
Christopher Hitchens Well, I think it’s more than a pious hope, yes, I think that it’s surprising how in moments of crisis, which will recur, have occurred recently, people suddenly feel they wouldn’t mind reading someone who took things seriously. His sales always go up at such times as do the sales of people Alexander Solzhenitsyn and others who’ve sort of witnessed for historic truth and so on. There aren’t very many of them at the moment no. By the way, I didn’t want you, you made a very good point, about the way that he was sort of forced into the schoolroom. Partly what I’ve tried to do in this book is to rescue him from the sort of goody-goody plaster saint image that’s been imposed on him. He was always a figure of controversy and he didn’t want, he would never have dreamt he’d be given as a good example to schoolchildren, it would have been a revolting idea. And that all depends on using a certain cannon of his, a very limited one, 1984 and Animal Farm as cold war parodies or parables. That’s, he would have seen that was propagandistic in itself, and indeed, gave very strong instructions on his death bed that, that’s not how the books were to be read.