Interview: Christopher Hitchens

How is your campaign to have the Pope arrested progressing?

It's outrageous that people like myself, Richard Dawkins and Geoffrey Robertson are taking this on. What are law officers, and police departments, for? But we will do it if they won't.

Do Europeans overestimate how religious the US is?

Yes. The number of people who identify as "none of the above" has doubled in the last few years. And it might well double again soon.

Are there any good arguments for religion?

The best ones argue that there can't be an uncaused cause. But even if it was valid, this wouldn't get you further than deism.

What can we expect from the book that you are currently writing on the Ten Commandments?

One of the great questions of philosophy is, do we innately have morality, or do we get it from celestial dictation? A study of the Ten Commandments is a very good way of getting into and resolving that issue.

What about your most recent book, Hitch-22 - why did you decide to write a memoir now?

First of all, I was asked to. And I was just approaching 60, which does make you retrospective. So I was probably in the right mood.

Which memoirs did you turn to for inspiration?

Arthur Koestler's Arrow in the Blue, along with the memoirs of Claud Cockburn and James Cameron's Point of Departure. And then of my "lot", so to speak, Martin Amis's Experience is the one to beat.

You recall your feuds with Gore Vidal and Edward Said. When does a political disagreement turn personal?

With me, it doesn't. I don't make these things personal, but if someone else does then I'm willing to say "alright". No one could have annoyed me more by their political misreading than Martin, in Koba the Dread. He doesn't know all that much about the history of Marxism, so I could have done without that.

Several chapters are devoted to your Trotskyist youth. What attracted you to the left?

The name. It was the left opposition to Stalinism, capitalism, imperialism - and war, of course. The intellectuals associated with the International Socialists seemed to grasp that point.

Would you say you're a neo-conservative now?

I'm not a conservative of any kind. A faction willing to take the risks of making war on the ossified status quo in the Middle East can be described as many things, but not as conservative.

When you were at the Nation, Ed Miliband was your intern. What are your memories of him?

We talked a lot about the old left and his father's distinguished role in it. His brother's middle name is Wright after the socialist C. Wright Mills, a great friend of Ralph's.

What do you make of David Cameron?

He seems content-free to me. Never had a job, except in PR, and it shows. People ask, "What do you think of him?" My answer is: he doesn't make me think.

How scared should we be of Sarah Palin?

Not very. She's a straightforward cynic and an opportunist. She's made a fortune, she'll make another, but she's not actually going to do the hard work of trying to build a movement.

And what do you make of Obama's presidency?

It's quite clean. The people working for him are relatively straight and honest. But what he's finding out is that the power of the presidency is very slight. There are all kinds of things that are just not under his control.

If you hadn't been a writer what would you have done?

I'd have been someone else. It's what I am, rather than what I do.

Do you ever wish you'd gone into politics?

I did want to run for Parliament. Tavistock Labour Party could have had me if it wanted.

Is there anything you regret?

In the 1970s, I wrote a lot about Zimbabwe for the New Statesman, opposing the Smith government and the British indulgence of it. I met Mugabe a couple of times in the course of that. I could tell there was a dark side to him and I ought to have said more about that than I did.

Do you vote?

Of course. I vote and I do jury duty.

Was there a plan?

There wasn't a plan but I had two very strong yearnings. One was to write and the other was to move to the United States.

Is there anything you miss about Britain?

There are things I like, such as the Wye Valley.

Are we all doomed?

If we don't start thinking as if we are a permanently endangered species with no supernatural protecter, then yes, we are doomed.