Instead of an obituary, I offer today a
discussion of one of Hitchens’s ideas—helping in this way to keep his
thought alive, as he would surely have wished. I will try here to
generalize from Hitchens’s observations and take them a bit further, in
the interests of continuing the intellectual conversation.
In 2010, Hitchens published a powerful article in Slate, titled “A
Nation of Racist Dwarfs”—discussing his unique and insightful
impressions of some overlooked elements of North Korean totalitarianism.
What struck Hitchens about North Korea under Kim Jong Il was not so the
so-called communism of its regime, but rather its racist and nationalist
bigotry. Hitchens noted that this was entirely consistent with the
totalitarian mentality of Kim Jong Il, because, in Hitchens’s words,
“nothing is more ‘total’ than racist nationalism.” Hitchens rightly
pointed out that “race arrogance and nationalist hysteria are powerful
cements for the most odious systems”—no matter what they call
For all his theoretical flaws, Karl Marx was an internationalist; he
wanted an international socialism that transcended national or
ethnic allegiances—hence the slogan, “Workers of the world, unite!” Marx
even opposed the emerging welfare-statism of Otto von Bismarck and
Benjamin Disraeli on the grounds that it would appease too many people
through superficial wealth redistribution, while hindering the true
international workers’ revolution that Marx and Friedrich Engels saw as
the wave of the future.
But the mentality of top-down central planning—that of the “dictatorship
of the proletariat”—infected Marxist thought in the early 20th
century, particularly through the ideology of Lenin and Stalin. The path
down which North Korea has gone is a logical conclusion of that
central-planning mindset; it is utter desolation combined with
xenophobic ultra-nationalism. There can be no internationalism, no
cosmopolitanism, no progress for all human beings under central
planning. Those who try to homogenize and dictate the economy will
inevitably come to homogenize and dictate the culture—and will have no
tolerance for dissent or substantive difference in either realm.
Furthermore, Hitchens’s observations confirm that the central-planning
mentality cannot produce the prodigious “new socialist man” conceived by
Trotsky; it can only create stunted bigots.