Slightly inebriated, a portly Christopher Hitchens armed with a plastic cup of scotch whisky joins a motley cast of celebrities on the Real Time with Bill Maher show. Rap artist Mos Def, fatwa-fleeing fugitive novelist Salman Rushdie, and Bill Maher, the avowedly anti-theist primetime talk show presenter, discuss with Hitchens the whole gamut of issues plaguing the American public imagination in 2009: the prospect of a nuclear Iran, the merits of legalising marijuana and heroin to help finance a national health system, and the global recession. Hitchens was in his element. By now, he had acquired celebrity status in the United States, his adopted home, for the acerbic treatment of his opponents on primetime outlets. Punditry was less of a career than an enjoyable past-time for the verbal pugilist. The media was a commonplace haunt for Hitchens’ turnaround ‘born-again’ politics as he increasingly began to repudiate many of his previous stances. Not least becoming a vocal cheerleader for the wars waged by George Bush Junior since 9/11.
Richard Seymour’s Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens aims to provide a general readership with when and how this turnaround took place. Hitchens is subjected to a sardonic critical treatment, in manner employed by Hitchens himself, tackling the issue of his apostasy from the left. Part of Verso’s self-declared polemical series of ‘Counterblasts’, Seymour’s book aims to place Hitchens in the dock of moral and intellectual judgement. It is in the tradition of critical conversations that Verso has published over the decades, Hitchens himself making a substantial contribution, with such titles as No One Left to Die, The Missionary Position and The Trial of Henry Kissinger. That last title is important. Imitation is often said to be the best form of flattery, so Seymour models his book on Hitchens’s The Trial of Henry Kissinger, putting Hitch’s apologia of the gung ho adventures of Bush Junior’s two terms as American president under the microscope. This book appears against the backdrop of the defendant’s own indictments against an alleged war criminal, Henry Kissinger, in a number of comprehensively researched cases. This is where Seymour departs from his object of prosecution in seeking not a legal sentence but a moral conviction of sorts in the court of public opinion.