June 1, 2005

The Hitchens Brothers-at-Arms:

Reading this hilariously twisted dialogue between the estranged Hitchens Bros. -- Trotskyite-Neocon Christopher and Tory-Anglican Peter -- makes me worry that I had too happy a childhood ever to have the ambition to claw my way to the top of the punditry heap. From The Guardian:

Ian Katz (Moderator): Christopher. You've talked slightly with your tongue in your cheek about regretting the competition for your mother's attention and you said in one interview with the Times: "Mothers aren't supposed to have favourites, are they? But boys know. And to know that your mother loves you most, more than anyone, more than your father, more than your brother, which I always did know ..." Did you have a firm conviction that you were favourite?

Christopher Hitchens: No, what I was expressing there and badly, too, [was] an ambition, I hoped it was true but I am sure it was not. I don't usually use this term as a compliment but she was very even handed. Impartial. What I'm really saying there I think would be obvious to anyone who has even scanned the more accessible works of Sigmund Freud, is that had I been an only child, I could probably have handled it, to have mummy to myself and then of course to kill daddy and marry mummy. I thought I had all my ducks in a row, and suddenly to have to go to some nursing home and bring home a bundle was a shock and I may never have got over it. Took up smoking at around that time.

Peter Hitchens: I don't know about the parenting but there was a story, although I can't remember anything about this, of Christopher having been discovered gleefully releasing the brake of the pram in which I was lying ...

CH That's when I took up drinking ...

PH There was another occasion when Christopher was sitting on the edge of a flower bed, admiring the blooms, when he saw a sinister shadow, growing, and it was me staggering up behind him with a rake. I have no memory of that ...

CH I do! I remember that very well. I've never moved so fast in my life. What I've left out, because what everybody prefers in some way to talk about is mama, is the personality of our father... And I was always pretty sure that Peter was much more like him than I was, and I think I suspected that he slightly preferred Peter. And I can live with that.

IK People have often posited a competition between you, and they've generally implied that you, Peter, were living in Christopher's shadow - though you of course are columnist of the year now and one of the grandest commentators in the country ...

CH I had NO idea, well done! Bloody good! I don't belong to the prize-winning fraternity. I always get nominated, but I never win.

IK Did it occur to you when you won that award [Peter], did you think, "Ahh, that's one up on him!"

PH Never. I always get asked whether I'm worried about living in my brother's shadow ... you might try asking that the other way from time to time.

IK I want to ask one last personal question. The idea of this meeting today was more about brotherhood than politics. One thing that you, Christopher, have talked about in the past, is your mother's suicide when you were, I think, a student. Can I ask how formative an experience was that, and how did it change the dynamics of your family?

CH Yes, you can, but I would rather you hadn't. I wasn't a student, I was working in London. I'd just got a job with the New Statesman when I was woken up with the news that my mother had taken her own life. It was a terrible moment in my life which turned into a terrible week...

IK Peter, I've not heard you talk about this before, do you want to add anything?

PH No.

IK Are you two friends?

PH No. There was an old joke in East Germany that went, Are the Russians our friends or our brothers? And the answer is, they must be our brothers because you can choose your friends.

CH The great thing about family life is that it introduces you to people you'd otherwise never meet.

IK One last question from the audience.

Audience member You've been casting furtive glances at each other throughout the whole event but you've never yet made eye contact. Would you for this final moment, look each other in the eye?

CH You don't know what we've just been through. We were asked by James Naughtie to do an on-radio handshake, [and] I thought it was a handshake made for radio.

Audience member So will you do it?

[CH and PH look briefly at each other]

PH They want everything to be all right.

CH They want a happy ending - that's their problem.

I've pointed out that what might look like ideological clashes on the surface are often actually just rationalizations for ethnic clashes between extended families, but the Hitchens Brothers represent an interesting case of an ethnic clash between brothers within a nuclear family. Peter was the favorite of their English father, Christopher of their Jewish mother. Christopher is still an atheist, but as Paul Johnson pointed out in his "History of the Jews," it's been common down through the centuries for young atheist intellectuals to become more focused on Jewish ethnic interests as they age, without necessarily becoming theists. The conversion to the ideology of neoconism of Christopher, who, despite his hatred of religion, has taken to dropping in to synagogues as he travels to express his ethnic solidarity, is a good example of this venerable tendency toward gerontocratic ethnocentrism.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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