Preview: Richard Dawkins interviews Christopher Hitchens

Exclusive extracts from the writer's final interview.

Exclusive extracts from the writer's final interview.{C}

Update: Christopher Hitchens has died of oesophageal cancer at the age of 62. This was his final interview.

As we revealed earlier this week, this year's New Statesman Christmas special is guest-edited by Richard Dawkins (copies can be purchased here). Among the many highlights is Dawkins's interview with his fellow anti-theist Christopher Hitchens, who began his Fleet Street career at the NS in 1973.

The great polemicist is currently undergoing treatment for stage IV oesophageal cancer ("there is no stage V," he notes) and now rarely makes public appearances but he was in Texas to receive the Freethinker of the Year Award from Dawkins in October. Before the event, the pair met in private to discuss God, religion and US politics. The resulting conversation can now be read exclusively in the New Statesman.

I'd recommend pouring yourself a glass of Johnnie Walker Black Label and reading all 5,264 words but, here, to whet your appetite, are some short extracts. As they show, though physically frail, Hitchens retains his remarkable mental agility.

"Never be afraid of stridency"

Richard Dawkins One of my main beefs with religion is the way they label children as a "Catholic child" or a "Muslim child". I've become a bit of a bore about it.
Christopher Hitchens You must never be afraid of that charge, any more than stridency.
RD I will remember that.
CH If I was strident, it doesn't matter - I was a jobbing hack, I bang my drum. You have a discipline in which you are very distinguished. You've educated a lot of people; nobody denies that, not even your worst enemies. You see your discipline being attacked and defamed and attempts made to drive it out.
Stridency is the least you should muster . . . It's the shame of your colleagues that they don't form ranks and say, "Listen, we're going to defend our colleagues from these appalling and obfuscating elements."

Fascism and the Catholic Church

RD The people who did Hitler's dirty work were almost all religious.
CH I'm afraid the SS's relationship with the Catholic Church is something the Church still has to deal with and does not deny.
RD Can you talk a bit about that - the relationship of Nazism with the Catholic Church?
CH The way I put it is this: if you're writing about the history of the 1930s and the rise of totalitarianism, you can take out the word "fascist", if you want, for Italy, Portugal, Spain, Czechoslovakia and Austria and replace it with "extreme-right Catholic party".
Almost all of those regimes were in place with the help of the Vatican and with understandings from the Holy See. It's not denied. These understandings quite often persisted after the Second World War was over and extended to comparable regimes in Argentina and elsewhere.

Hitchens on the left-right spectrum

RD I've always been very suspicious of the left-right dimension in politics.
CH Yes; it's broken down with me.
RD It's astonishing how much traction the left-right continuum [has] . . . If you know what someone thinks about the death penalty or abortion, then you generally know what they think about everything else. But you clearly break that rule.
CH I have one consistency, which is [being] against the totalitarian - on the left and on the right. The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy - the one that's absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquise the divine and tell us what to do.

A

To subscribe to the New Statesman or purchase this special issue, click here

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

How Brexit will send flight prices soaring higher

Ever heard of the Open Skies agreement? 

Ah, taking back control. Isn’t it marvellous? Only a week to go before Theresa May storms up to our soon-to-be ex’s lawyer and thrusts notice of divorce proceedings (demanding we keep the house, money, car, Costa del Sol holiday home, kids and dog) in the pocket of his shiny, European slim-fit suit. All sorted, yes?

Probably not, but panicking won’t help now - so why not take a moment to savour this blossoming (Great) British spring, enjoy some fresh air and take a few moments gazing to the heavens. Why not? Because the skies above us are a never-ending reflection of the Brexit nightmare we face on the ground.

Since the early 1990s air travel around Europe has become more simple and less expensive - the direct result of deregulation by the EU, which abolished rafts of bilateral deals between individual nations and instead merged them all into one agreement between member states. That movement removed numerous passenger and service restrictions, increasing competition and thus driving down prices. Low-cost airlines flourished, and Europe became more open than ever before. Damn that EU red tape, right?

Now the UK has chosen to veer off course, there are three main options for aviation deals with the EU - all of which are essentially mile-high versions of every other trade agreement now up for grabs.

Firstly, the UK can continue with its membership of the European Common Aviation Area, which would provide continued access to the European Single Aviation Market. Secondly, the UK can negotiate a bespoke deal with the EU, similar to the Open Skies agreement we are currently part of between Europe and the US. Like the deregulation of two decades ago, this resulted in pushing competition up and fares down, but post-Brexit the UK could end up on the outside of this deal.

Finally, there’s aviation’s own "nuclear option" - leaving the EU with no deal and starting the long process of individually-negotiated deals country by country. 

Option one, retaining membership of the ECAA, also requires acceptance of all EU aviation law and the European courts - something Theresa May has already proclaimed to be a "red line".

Therefore option two would seem the next best deal, but would still leave us out the loop when it came to trans-Atlantic flights - we may have to wave goodbye to Ryanair’s budget flights to New York before we even got the chance to say céad míle fáilte (the fact they are in partnership with Norwegian Air could further complicate matters depending on the exit deal).

So what does it really mean for the industry? In the short-term, the best case scenario is to maintain existing arrangements until a new deal or deals are reached. But if opting for individual bilateral agreements in the long-term, the industry will not only have to undergo the costly and laborious process of negotiating deals with individual nations inside the EU and out, it will also have no influence on EU aviation regulations, which it will still have to comply with when flying into and out of the bloc.

And for holiday-makers? Like many scenarios post-Brexit the impact will not be immediately obvious, but rising fares are one unwelcome result, and a return to 1980s bilateral restrictions and regulations is surely bad for all concerned. Having said that, if the laptop and tablet ban spreads it might give air travel something of a vintage feel anyway. What’s showing on that big drop-down TV in the aisle?

PS - European aviation law is one of the strongest obstacles to airport expansion. Hillingdon, home to Heathrow airport, was one of the few London boroughs to vote leave. Just saying.