Special Report

Dinesh D’Souza Meets His Critics: Debating Christopher Hitchens


Dinesh D’Souza Meets His Critics (full interview)
The Critics | Fascism and Progressivism | Convincing the Middle
The Left’s False Narratives | In the Reagan White House
Debating Christopher Hitchens | Current Work

Summary: CRC president Scott Walter recently interviewed Dinesh D’Souza on Zoom. In their wide-ranging talk they discussed D’Souza’s current projects, the ideological legacy of Fascism and Nazism, white nationalism, and Christopher Hitchens.

 

Debating Christopher Hitchens

WALTER: Interesting. Well, let’s go all the way back to that same mid-80s era. After you left the White House, you came to AEI with Chris DeMuth, a great man. And you also became the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine, which is still published. And one of your early things you did involved that mutual friend of ours Christopher Hitchens. You did an interview with him, and you outed him in a way that may surprise some people. Can you tell us just a little bit about that?

D’SOUZA: This was an interview I published in Crisis with Hitchens about the issue of abortion or the so-called pro-life issue, and it was an article in which Hitchens sort of came out on the pro-life side. This had emerged in a somewhat casual conversation I had with Hitchens where he had confessed to having moral anxieties about abortion. I had asked him at the time to reconcile those with his atheist position because in general one would expect that an atheist wouldn’t care that much about the abortion issue or would be by and large on the pro-choice side.

And Hitchens responded in a very interesting way. He said that precisely because he was an atheist and because this life was as far as he was concerned the only life, he thought it made it a special crime, a special horror that that life would be terminated at the outset. In other words, if you think of this life as one second in a large expanse of eternity and then if you take an unborn child and let’s say terminate its life, but it goes let’s say from a Christian point of view straight to heaven, then arguably the child has a destiny, an eternal destiny that redeems the horror of abortion in the present. But for Hitchens, he said there is no such redemption. There’s only this life. This is the one chance that you get. And I thought, “Wow, I’ve never quite heard anyone argue from this position.”

So I convinced him to do a sort of dialog about it. And in the dialog, I expected him to wimp out on the issue of laws against abortion. In other words, to express a moral concern for the unborn, but then to say well nevertheless I don’t want to impose my views on others, or I don’t support legislation that would actually make people abide by all this. But he didn’t. He actually said, “No, I agree that at the end of the day we need to have laws that would regulate abortion.” He didn’t come out for an outright ban, but he came out for regulation. And he also came out for regulation at the federal level.

In other words, the idea is that if this is a life, it makes no sense—just as it made no sense under popular sovereignty for the Democrats in the 1850s to talk about “Let each community decide for itself if it wants slavery.” The reason that made no sense, as Lincoln pointed out, is because you cannot exercise choice to deny choice. You cannot invoke the right of choice to suppress the choices of others. And so similarly here, what Hitchens was saying is that you can’t make it a decentralized decision. You need to have a federal law that starts with the premise that life deserves protection, constitutional protection and federal protection.

So all of this was in the Crisis article, and it landed as a bit of a bombshell for the Left because they weren’t expecting this. They’re used to a high degree of ideological conformity on this issue because it is such an important issue for them. I was very proud of publishing that article. I think it speaks well to Hitchens that he was brave enough to do it. And by the way, he never backed away from it, even though many people pressed him to disavow the article. He never did later. So Hitchens was a man that even from some distance we would have to admire and for whom I always had genuine affection

WALTER: Yes, and I can’t help noticing that this would be a case where it’s worth comparing him to Richard Spencer, who is quite fond of abortion for understandable reasons given his gruesome racial ideology.

Well, one last question on good old Hitchens. You and he definitely had some disagreeing moments in debates over the general question of atheism and theism. What do you think are one or two of his best arguments against you and one or two of your favorite rejoinders to him?

D’SOUZA: Hitchens was a very tricky guy to debate because you couldn’t debate him in the normal way.

I remember watching a debate. I think it was between Hitchens and William Lane Craig, the very capable Christian apologist. Craig would outline the five reasons for this and the four reasons for that, and Hitchens would not address those but would rely on slingshots and jibes and guffaws, and he did it all in the Oxford style, you know: “Mr. President, Mr. Chairman, may I interject” and so on.

I realized that he was having such a jovial time of it that if I were in the audience, if I were a student watching these two men and I were to ask the question, not who has the better argument, but which guy would I like to meet after this debate for a drink or for dinner? The choice would go overwhelmingly to Hitchens, and I realized from that that debate is ultimately not merely an intellectual exchange because ultimately when someone is watching—a Christian debate an atheist—they’re asking themselves, would I rather be a Christian or an atheist? Would I rather be more like Dinesh or would I rather be more like Hitchens?

So Hitchens’s arguments were in that sort of bohemian mode. This is the type of thing. He would say, “Well, Dinesh, I just got back from North Korea. I’ve met God. His name is Kim Jong-il. He’s a lot like your God. But to be honest, I would much rather live under Kim Jong-il than I would under your God because at some point Kim Jong-il will die and the tyranny will come to an end. But Dinesh, in your scheme, it last forever. Your God is a far worse tyrant than Kim Jong-il.”

Now this is not intended as an argument. But it’s kind of whimsical. It’s witty. It tells the audience that Hitchens is a man about town. He’s cosmopolitan. He just got back from North Korea. He’s speaking from experience. He’s expressing this kind of bold revolt against anyone tyrannizing over him in any way. This is a kind of radical expression of freedom.

And so I always I had to think to myself now. How do you refute that? What do you say in response to that? And so with Hitchens, it was always a matter—not merely meeting the argument but ultimately speaking a language that was itself, you may say, Hitchensian, that engaged him at his own level and in his own terms, and flustered him on his own terms. And he would definitely be flustered that way.

So I’ll give you what I think is one of my best arguments, where I literally could see him look very disconcerted. Later to me, he goes, “I’m gonna have to go back to the drawing board on that one.” He was invoking the Freudian argument that religion is wishful thinking. This comes from Freud’s book on religion The Future of an Illusion. The idea here is very simple that Christians cannot bear the actual sufferings of life. They get diabetes. They get old. They get sick, and because they cannot cope with suffering in the world, they manufacture in their mind another world called heaven, which liberates them from having to face the world as it is.

So this you can see is a very Hitchensian. It’s sort of Hitchens striking the pose of bravery. He’s morally tough and facing the world as it is. We Christians are sort of living in the sort of la-la land. And he loved this kind of argument.

My rebuttal to it was: “Well, Hitchens, there appears to be a grain of truth in what you say. And if it were true the Christians wanted to live in a sort of better world than the one we actually inhabit, I can totally see why Christianity and other religions too fabricate the idea of heaven because heaven is much better than anything that we face in this life. Heaven is no suffering, no hardship, no pain. But you have to admit that Christianity like Judaism and Islam also has another concept, which is much harder to square with this Freudian analysis. And that is the idea of hell. Now hell is a lot worse than diabetes. It’s a lot worse than suffering. It’s a lot worse than the ordinary pains of life. And in fact, it’s eternal. So why would a group of people looking to fabricate this kind of happy? Is to avoid facing the hardships of life come up with something that is actually far worse than anything that life has to offer. Why would they do that?”

And Hitchens could not answer. I think he had never thought of it. It hit him straight between the eyes, and he realized I’ve got to come up with a theory that doesn’t merely account for heaven but also accounts for hell, and so we had a lot of this going on back and forth. Sometimes he would say things, and I would go “Wow, I have to think of a better way to come back on that one.”

I think one of my best points against Hitchens had to do life after death. Hitchens said in effect, “You know, Dinesh is an intelligent man. And normally he lives his life by rational calculations. If somebody were to tell Dinesh, you know, your wife is cheating on you. Dinesh would say well what’s the evidence? So he lives his life by the normal rules of empirical inquiry he goes, but when it comes to Christianity, Dinesh throws his brains out the window and so Dinesh will say things like I believe in life after death. And Hitchens goes that’s ridiculous. Has Dinesh been to the other side of the curtain? Has he seen what comes after death? Does he have one ounce of empirical evidence that there’s life after death. Of course not. So he’s talking complete nonsense. Ultimately, what he’s saying is a statement of pure faith based upon no evidence whatsoever.”

And in my rebuttal, I said to Hitchens: Well, you have explained my belief in life after death as purely the product of faith. So let me ask you do you believe there’s life after death?

He goes, “No.”

I said, “Oh, well, have you been to the other side of the curtain? Have you seen what comes after that?

“No.

“In other words, what information do you have that I don’t about what comes after. None. So the real difference between you and me is not that you know and I don’t know, that you’re using evidence and I’m not. The truth of it is, we’re both making a leap of faith. We both are asserting a belief in something for which neither of us can provide any definitive empirical evidence. The real difference between you and me is not that you know and I don’t or that I know and you don’t. It is that I will openly and honestly admit that my position is based on faith. Whereas you poor deluded atheists somehow think that your position is based on evidence, even though in fact you have none.”

So this is just to give a feeling of what those debates sounded like we did about 10 of them. Frankly, I don’t think we did a single one in a church. We did one in the museum of St. Louis. We did one at the University of Colorado in Boulder. We did several on campuses, and so they were debates in front of a secular audience and that made them particularly engaging and challenging and fun.

WALTER: Well, I want to thank you again for giving us all this time and for your support for Capital Research’s own work, since you have a lot of fans who will be reading or listening to these words. Is there anything that you have coming up that you think your admirers will especially enjoy?

 

In the next installment of “Dinesh D’Souza Meets His Critics,” hear about his current projects.

Scott Walter

Walter is president of the Capital Research Center. He served in the George W. Bush administration as Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and was vice president for…
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