Hitchens participating in a debate (2015)
Peter Jonathan Hitchens|
28 October 1951
Sliema, Crown Colony of Malta
|Education||The Leys School|
|Alma mater||University of York|
|Relatives||Christopher Hitchens (brother)|
Peter Jonathan Hitchens (born 28 October 1951) is an English journalist and author. He has published six books, including The Abolition of Britain, The Rage Against God, and The War We Never Fought. He is a frequent critic of "political correctness", and describes himself as an Anglican Christian and Burkean conservative.
Hitchens writes for Britain's The Mail on Sunday newspaper and is a former foreign correspondent in Moscow and Washington. He works as a foreign reporter and in 2010 was awarded the Orwell Prize. He is the younger brother of the late writer Christopher Hitchens.
Peter Hitchens was born in the Crown Colony of Malta, where his father, a career naval officer, was stationed as part of the then Mediterranean Fleet of the Royal Navy. He was educated at the Leys School and the Oxford College of Further Education before being accepted at the University of York, where he studied Philosophy and Politics and was a member of Alcuin College, graduating in 1973. He later commented that he "must have been a severe disappointment" to his parents after making sure he "would never get into Oxbridge" by sabotaging his own education, through actions which included being arrested breaking into a government fall-out shelter in Cambridge.
He was a member of the Trotskyist International Socialists (forerunners of the modern Socialist Workers' Party) from 1969 to 1975 (beginning at age 17), claiming to have been introduced to the organisation by his brother. In 2010 he dismissed the "cruel revolutionary rubbish" he promoted as a Trotskyist as "poison", but said in an interview with left-wing columnist Owen Jones that "it was a reasonable mistake to have made. I'm glad I made it, because unlike people who've been vaccinated against a disease, I've actually had the disease and therefore I'm totally immune from it in a way that a mere vaccination couldn't possibly provide. ... It taught me how to think, in a lot of ways. So I don't regret the experience at all, I think everybody should have it."
He joined the Labour Party in 1977, but left it in 1983 when he became a political reporter at the Daily Express, thinking it wrong to carry a party card when directly reporting politics. This also coincided with a culmination of growing personal disillusionment with the Labour movement. In 2009, Hitchens wrote of this period, "Against the Labour Party, which I knew to be penetrated by all manner of Marxists, and soaked in the ideas of the revolutionaries, it was increasingly necessary to support the Tories. This was partly because of the strikers' lies, but much more because of Poland and Czechoslovakia. On the Cold War, I knew she [Thatcher] was right and the Left were wrong."
He married Eve Ross, the daughter of left-wing journalist David Ross, in 1983. They have three children, a daughter born in 1984, a son born in 1989 – Daniel Hitchens, who is currently Deputy Editor of the Catholic Herald – and a second son born in 1999. Peter Hitchens originally hoped to become a naval officer, but an eye defect prevented him from doing so.
Hitchens worked for the Daily Express between 1977 and 2000, initially as a reporter specialising in education and industrial and labour affairs, then as a political reporter, and subsequently as deputy political editor. Leaving parliamentary journalism to cover defence and diplomatic affairs, he reported on the decline and collapse of communist regimes in several Warsaw Pact countries, which culminated in a stint as Moscow correspondent and reporting on the final months of the Soviet Union in 1990–91. He took part in reporting the UK 1992 general election, closely following Neil Kinnock. He then became the Daily Express Washington correspondent. Returning to Britain in 1995, he became a commentator and columnist. Hitchens continued to espouse a conservative viewpoint, despite the publication's move towards the political centre in the mid-90s and its decision before the 1997 general election to support the Labour Party under Tony Blair. In 2000, Hitchens left the Daily Express after its acquisition by Richard Desmond; Hitchens stated that working for Desmond would have represented a moral conflict of interest. Hitchens joined The Mail on Sunday, where he has a weekly column and weblog in which he debates directly with readers. Hitchens has also written for The Spectator and The American Conservative magazines, and occasionally for more left-leaning publications such as The Guardian, Prospect, and the New Statesman. In 2010, Hitchens was described by Edward Lucas in The Economist as "a forceful, tenacious, eloquent and brave journalist. He lambasts woolly thinking and crooked behaviour at home and abroad."
After being shortlisted in 2007 and 2009, Hitchens won the Orwell Prize in political journalism in 2010. Peter Kellner, one of the Orwell Prize judges, described Hitchens's writing as being "as firm, polished and potentially lethal as a Guardsman's boot."
Hitchens first worked as a foreign reporter in the 1980s, mainly reporting from Communist eastern Europe (his first such assignment was to Poland during the Solidarity crisis in November 1980) though he had travelled to Japan and Germany during his time as an industrial reporter, and had also reported from several other countries, including the USA, Japan and South Korea) as part of the group of reporters accompanying Margaret Thatcher. After witnessing the collapse of the Communist regimes in Czechoslovakia and Romania, he became the Daily Express resident Moscow Correspondent in June 1990. He left Moscow (via the Bering Strait) in October 1990, and was briefly based in London during which time he reported from South Africa during the last days of apartheid, and from Somalia at the time of the US-led military intervention in the country. In September 1993 he became the 'Daily Express' resident Washington correspondent, and during the next two years he reported from many of the 50 states, as well as from Canada, Haiti and Cuba. He continued his foreign reporting after joining The Mail on Sunday, for which he has written reports from all over the globe, including Russia, Ukraine (described by Edward Lucas as a "dismaying lapse"), Turkey, Gaza, a visit to Iraq in the wake of the 2003 invasion, an undercover report from Iran (described by Iain Dale as "quite brilliant"), China, and North Korea.
British broadcast media
A regular on British radio and television, he has been described as "a formidable interview subject, with a hostility simmering just beneath the surface – perhaps because, in his words, he is used to having to 'hit hard' whenever he is given the chance to air his unfashionable views."
In 2011, Hitchens was booed by the audience for a Question Time programme, on which he appears regularly, when he said that the expansion of sex education had been followed by increased numbers of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. During the same programme, chairman David Dimbleby quoted to Hitchens comments made by John Bercow that The Mail on Sunday was "a bigoted, sexist, homophobic comic strip." After his appearance, Hitchens wrote "Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?" Hitchens is also heard on Any Questions?, This Week, The Daily Politics and The Big Questions.
Hitchens has authored and presented several documentaries on Channel 4, including critical examinations of Nelson Mandela and David Cameron. In the late 1990s, Hitchens co-presented a programme on Talk Radio UK with Derek Draper and Austin Mitchell.
In The Guardian, James Silver described Hitchens as "the Mail on Sunday's fulminator-in-chief" and his columns as "molten Old Testament fury shot through with visceral wit." In The Daily Telegraph, Ed West wrote of Hitchens, "I'm a great admirer of Peter, a decent, kind and deeply compassionate man with the air of a prophet about him; and like all prophets, doomed to be scorned by so many. I think a lot of people affect to despise his archaic value system while suspecting that there's something in it, and would say so if only more influential people would stick their head above the parapet."
Hitchens has said of his reputation: "I know a lot of people consider me to be disreputable or foaming at the mouth, but you have to learn not to care, or at least not to mind. I don't like being called 'bonkers' and I think to some extent it demeans people who use phrases like that. But I take comfort from the fact that most totalitarian regimes tend to classify their opponents as mentally disordered."
Hitchens joined the Conservative Party in 1997, but left in 2003. He challenged Michael Portillo for the Conservative nomination in the Kensington and Chelsea seat in 1999, accusing Portillo of "washy moderation." However, he says that he had "no interest in securing the nomination" and "no chance" of doing so, his real reasons having been to gain book publicity and "to draw attention to Michael Portillo's non-conservative politics."
Hitchens believes that no party he could support will be created until the Conservative Party disintegrates, an event he first began calling for in 2006. From 2008, he claimed that what would facilitate such a collapse would be for the Conservative Party to lose the 2010 general election. In 2012, Hitchens announced he was once more considering standing as a member of parliament and called for British citizens to form "small exploratory committees in existing constituencies, under the 'Justice and Liberty' motto."
Hitchens mainly comments on political and religious issues, and generally espouses a social conservative viewpoint. In 2010 Michael Gove, writing in The Times, asserted that, for Hitchens, what is more important than the split between the Left and the Right is "the deeper gulf between the restless progressive and the Christian pessimist", and in 2010 Hitchens himself wrote "in all my experience in life, I have seldom seen a more powerful argument for the fallen nature of man, and his inability to achieve perfection, than those countries in which man sets himself up to replace God with the State."
In 2009, Anthony Howard wrote of Hitchens, "the old revolutionary socialist has lost nothing of his passion and indignation as the years have passed us all by. It is merely the convictions that have changed, not the fervour and fanaticism with which they continue to be held."
Morality and religion
While Peter Hitchens used to be an atheist like his older brother Christopher Hitchens, he became a Christian later in his life. Accordingly, he became a member of the Church of England and is now an advocate of moral virtues founded on the Christian faith and institutions such as marriage. Today Hitchens defends the use of the Church of England's 1662 Book of Common Prayer and of the King James Bible. Of the latter, he has written "it is not simply a translation, but a poetic translation, written to be read out loud... to lodge in the mind and to disturb the temporal with the haunting sound of the eternal." He argues Christianity has been systematically undermined by social liberals and cultural Marxists. "The left's real interests are moral, cultural, sexual and social. They lead to a powerful state. This is not because they actively set out to achieve one," Hitchens writes. "It is because the left's ideas – by their nature – undermine conscience, self-restraint, deferred gratification, lifelong marriage and strong, indivisible families headed by authoritative fathers." He also believes that the First World War is the cause of the demise of Christianity in Europe.
Political parties of the United Kingdom
Himself a former Trotskyist, Hitchens now says that he is "in character, puritanical, and glad of a reason to be so." He describes his political philosophy as "a conservative position flowing directly and inevitably from a theist position. I'm not saying you can't be a conservative without being a theist – it seems much more difficult, I'm not certain I can work out why you would want to be."
Hitchens contends the modern Labour Party was formed by struggles in the 1980s and a programme of "social liberalism, egalitarian education and the sexual revolution" envisaged in the 1950s by figures such as Anthony Crosland and Roy Jenkins. He believes that the ideas of New Labour are based on Eurocommunism. Hitchens criticised New Labour for "attacks on the constitution", such as reform of the House of Lords, devolution and membership of the European Union. He has described former Prime Minister Tony Blair's constitutional reforms as a "slow-motion coup d'état." Hitchens believes the most significant changes introduced by New Labour concentrated power in the hands of the executive, with Blair effectively chief executive, and Orders in Council installing Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell in Whitehall.
In his columns Hitchens mocked Blair's public relations, calling him "Princess Tony" in reference to Blair's calling Princess Diana "the people's princess", and latterly making a point of calling him "Anthony Blair." Also, he has cast doubt on the accepted account of Blair's early legal and political career. Hitchens described Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, as a "dismal Marxoid", but criticised what he saw as "prejudiced, shallow" attempts by the media to destroy Brown after he became Prime Minister in 2007, and praised Brown for, in his words, "saving the pound."
At the same time, Peter Hitchens has been consistently dismissive of the modern Conservative Party, frequently deriding the party's leadership as the "useless Tories" and David Cameron as "Mr Slippery." He criticises the Conservative Party for calling itself "conservative", since he believes it's a "left-wing party" with a great deal in common with the Socialist Workers' Party. Hitchens has listed actions done by the Conservative Party that he deems as "anti-British", such as the bringing the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community (later European Union). Although initially a supporter of Thatcherism, Hitchens has criticised the Conservative Party for its free-market economic policies, calling it a "wild form of liberalism", rather than conservatism. He once clashed with Iain Duncan Smith on Question Time over the privatisation of railways. On this issue, Hitchens has written "I have always believed that the electric power grid should be nationalised. I think it should be renationalised as a prelude to an enormous programme of nuclear power station building, without which we face an appalling energy crisis within 20 years."
Hitchens has mixed views on the UK Independence Party. He has mocked UKIP as being "a fantasy and a Dad's Army organisation" that is "without political importance", a "rickety jalopy bolted together in a garden shed", and he has criticised UKIP leader Nigel Farage, calling him a "charming charlatan", and Farage's personal support for drug decriminalisation, viewing UKIP itself also as "not a conservative formation, but Thatcherism in exile." However, he also said of the 2015 general election, "If you feel for some odd reason that voting is a duty, vote for UKIP", and he has defended UKIP from "smear" attempts and has called Nigel Farage "in fact England's answer to Alex Salmond." He has also said that "only a UKIP breakthrough offers the poor, betrayed British people any hope of real change. The [other parties] must lie, because they know their real aims are hateful to us."
Liberty, security, crime, drugs and health
Hitchens advocates a society governed by conscience and the rule of law, which he sees as the best guarantee of liberty. He believes that capital punishment is a key element of a strong justice system, and he was the only British journalist to attend and write about the execution of Nicholas Ingram in America in 1995.
Hitchens is critical of the British government's desire for identity cards, its attempts to abolish jury trial, and its creation of the national law enforcement body the Serious Organised Crime Agency. He opposes the abrogation of the rule against double jeopardy. Hitchens views these developments both as an attack on liberty and facets of a constitutional revolution.
Hitchens criticises the concept of "human rights" and the ECHR, citing that "habeas corpus, the answerability of the sovereign to the law, jury trial, the right to silence, the rule against double jeopardy, the prohibition of torture, the freedom to bear and keep arms, the inviolability of property, the prohibition of search or arrest without proper warrant, the enforcement of open trials" are things "worth having", while the ECHR is "a counterfeit currency of fake liberty. And worse, it is a licence for judicial interference". Also, he believes that "‘Human Rights’ not only don’t protect us...they can be used by Judges to reduce our freedoms".
Hitchens is well known for his anti-cannabis views, and is opposed to the decriminalisation of recreational drugs in general. He argues that the legal prohibition of drug use is an essential counterweight to "pro-drug propaganda." He has stated that attempts to combat drug use by restricting supply and prosecuting drug dealers are futile, unless possession and use are also punished. In 2012, Hitchens gave evidence to the Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee as part of its inquiry into drugs policy, and called for the British government to introduce a more hardline policy on drugs. Hitchens describes drug addiction as a "fantasy", stating that drug abuse is a choice.
Hitchens has been critical of the authenticity of dyslexia, calling it an "absurdity", "pseudo-science" and "quackery", and has said "there is no single agreed diagnosis, let alone an objective one. There are at least 28 different descriptions of it." Hitchens has also criticized ADHD, labeling it as a "fantasy", "unscientific" and "non-existent".
International relations and national sovereignty
Hitchens opposed the Kosovo and 2003 Iraq War, on the grounds that neither was in the interests of either Britain or the United States, and opposes the British military presence in Afghanistan, arguing that it has no achievable aim. He believes in upholding the principle of Westphalian sovereignty, which he described as that "you didn’t interfere in foreign countries because you didn’t like the way they were governed". He urges better relations between the West and Russia, viewing conflict as unnecessary, and, while condemning the old Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and Vladimir Putin as corrupt, he states his "strong affection for post-communist Russia." Also, he endorsed the 2014 Crimea referendum.
On Europe, Hitchens argues that the United Kingdom should negotiate an amicable departure from the European Union, whose laws and traditions he regards as incompatible with the laws and liberties of Britain, and with the national independence of the United Kingdom as a whole. Likewise, he opposes the Human Rights Act (which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law) and the European Court of Human Rights.
Hitchens has described London as "the fifth state in the United Kingdom" and as having "an explicitly republican form of government." He views the Good Friday Agreement as a "surrender" of the British state to the IRA, and its referendum as "manifestly unfair", arguing that the Protestant community was "browbeaten" into voting for it, and that the British government was put "under huge duress, both from IRA violence and from the White House." He opposes Scottish independence, because of his affection for Scotland and because he believes that independence within the EU would not be independence at all, but he also says that, having itself ceded power to the EU, the British government cannot argue against Scottish independence. However, he supports devolution for Scotland, having changed his mind, but he is ambivalent about devolution for Wales, and still "completely against" it for Northern Ireland, while predicting that the province will eventually be absorbed as a "special autonomous zone" of the Republic of Ireland.
Hitchens has stated his "love" for the United States and his support for the US's being the successor to Britain as the world's leading power, but he has denounced "sentimental" attitudes towards the alleged "Special Relationship", arguing that the US rightly follows its own self-interest to the detriment of Britain.
Hitchens supports Israel and denies the notion of occupied Palestinian territory, viewing the British exit from Mandatory Palestine as having left a legal vacuum. He also praises Israel's "European" culture, which he says makes Israel "the permanent ally, in the Middle East, of the world's lawful and free countries", and which he suspects is the main reason for the perceived hostility of the Arab governments. However, he condemns past Jewish terrorism and some Israeli military actions.
Hitchens views comprehensive education, the Plowden reforms, and modern child-centred teaching methods as misguided egalitarian political projects that have diluted educational standards and decreased social mobility. To address these issues, Hitchens advocates a return to academically selective grammar schools. He devotes Chapter 11 of his book The Broken Compass to these developments and themes. Hitchens opposes sex education in schools, which he argues has led to increased sexual activity among the young and a rise in teenage pregnancies and abortions.
Climate change and transportation
Hitchens has been a skeptic of anthropogenic climate change at least since 2009. Since that time his position has hardened, at times referring to climate science as a "cult", "intolerant faith-based orthodoxy", and "an obsessive, pseudo-scientific dogma."
However, Hitchens has also said that he "loath[es] cars and oppose[s] a transport policy based on mass car ownership", and that by turning away from the "great car economy", "most of our conservation and pollution problems would be solved" and "our town and country planning would likewise be hugely improved". This is because he considers that roads "destroy and distort established ways of living", and that "every town and city in the country was rapidly, irrevocably reshaped" due to the state preference of motor cars and roads, rather than railways. He sees that the growth in car ownership "slowed down bus services and made life less pleasant for walkers and bicyclists". Also, he said that private cars, which he describes as "wasteful, ugly machines", cause the "atomisation of society", as he sees that a car user driving to work "cocooned in steel" "would never see, or speak to, even his immediate neighbour", which would "separate them from their fellow creatures". He described the Beeching Axe as "lunatic" and that the scheme destroyed "one of the most precious pieces of British social and economic capital".
Relationship with his brother
Peter's elder brother was the writer and atheist Christopher Hitchens, who said the main difference between the two is a belief in the existence of God. Peter has stated "We're different people, we have different lives, we have entirely different pleasures, we live in different continents. If we weren't brothers we wouldn't know each other."
The brothers fell out after Peter wrote a 2001 article in The Spectator, alleging Christopher had said he "didn't care if the Red Army watered its horses at Hendon"—a claim denied by Christopher. After the birth of Peter's third child, the two brothers were reconciled, although Christopher stated, "There is no longer any official froideur, but there's no official—what's the word?—chaleur, either."
Hitchens' review of God Is Not Great led to public argument between the brothers but to no renewed estrangement. In the review, Peter claimed his brother's book made a number of incorrect assertions.
In 2007, the brothers appeared as panelists on BBC TV's Question Time, where they clashed on a number of issues. In 2008, in the US, they debated the invasion of Iraq and the existence of God. Peter stated it would be the last time he would debate with his brother in public; however, in 2010 at the Pew Forum, the pair debated the nature of God in civilization.
Christopher Hitchens died in 2011; at a memorial service held for him in New York Peter Hitchens read a passage from St Paul's Epistle to the Philippians which Christopher himself had read at their father's funeral.
Hitchens is the author of The Abolition of Britain (1999) and A Brief History of Crime (2003), both critical of changes in British society since the 1960s. A compendium of his Daily Express columns was published as Monday Morning Blues in 2000. An updated edition of A Brief History of Crime, re-titled The Abolition of Liberty and featuring a new chapter on identity cards, followed in April 2004. The Broken Compass: How British Politics Lost its Way was published in May 2009, and The Rage Against God was published in Britain in March 2010, and in the US in May.
Hitchens's book The War We Never Fought: The British Establishment's Surrender to Drugs, about what he sees as the non-existent war on drugs, was published by Bloomsbury in the autumn of 2012. Writing on his blog in 2013, he expressed his desire to write a book on what he sees as the national myth of the Second World War, which he believes did long-term damage to Britain and its position in the world. In June 2014 he published his first e-book, Short Breaks in Mordor, a compendium of foreign reports.
- The Abolition of Britain (1999)
- Monday Morning Blues (2000)
- A Brief History of Crime (2003), updated in softcover as The Abolition of Liberty: The Decline of Order and Justice in England (2004)
- The Broken Compass (2009), updated in softcover as The Cameron Delusion (2010)
- The Rage Against God (2010)
- The War We Never Fought (2012)
- Short Breaks in Mordor (2014)
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- Hitchens, Peter. "Articles". American Conservative (archive).
- Hitchens, Peter. "Drug Culture". Institute of Art and Ideas. Retrieved 3 January 2014.