Books by Hitchens, Peter

Hitchens, Peter. The Abolition of Britain. 2nd. ed. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002. ISBN 1-893554-39-2.
History records many examples of the collapse of once great and long-established cultures. Usually, such events are the consequence of military defeat, occupation or colonisation by a foreign power, violent revolution and its totalitarian aftermath, natural disasters, or other dramatic and destructive events. In this book, Peter Hitchens chronicles the collapse, within the span of a single human lifetime (bracketed by the funerals of Winston Churchill in 1965 and Princess Diana in 1997), of the culture which made Britain British, and maintained domestic peace in England and Wales since 1685 (and Scotland since Culloden in 1746) while the Continent was repeatedly convulsed by war and revolution. The collapse in Britain, however, occurred following victory in a global conflict in which, at the start, Britain stood alone against tyranny and barbarism, and although rooted in a time of postwar privation, demotion from great power status, and loss of empire, ran its course as the nation experienced unprecedented and broadly-based prosperity.

Hitchens argues that the British cultural collapse was almost entirely the result of well-intentioned “reform” and “modernisation” knocking out the highly evolved and subtly interconnected pillars which supported the culture, set in motion, perhaps, by immersion in American culture during World War II (see chapter 16—this argument seems rather dubious to me, since many of the postwar changes in Britain also occurred in the U.S., but afterward), and reinforced and accelerated by television broadcasting, the perils of which were prophetically sketched by T.S. Eliot in 1950 (p. 128). When the pillars of a culture: historical memory, national identity and pride, religion and morality, family, language, community, landscape and architecture, decency, and education are dislodged, even slightly, what ensues is much like the “controlled implosion” demolition of a building, with the Hobbesian forces of “every man for himself” taking the place of gravity in pulling down the structure and creating the essential preconditions for the replacement of bottom-up self-government by self-reliant citizens with authoritarian rule by Úlite such as Tony Blair's ambition of U.S.-style presidential power and, the leviathan where the road to serfdom leads, the emerging anti-democratic Continental super-state.

This U.S second edition includes notes which explain British terms and personalities unlikely to be familiar to readers abroad, a preface addressed to American readers, and an afterword discussing the 2001 general election and subsequent events.

November 2005 Permalink

Hitchens, Peter. The Abolition of Liberty. London: Atlantic Books, [2003] 2004. ISBN 1-84354-149-1.
This is a revised edition of the hardcover published in 2003 as A Brief History of Crime. Unlike the police of most other countries (including most of the U.S.), since the founding of the Metropolitan Police in 1829, police in England and Wales focused primarily on the prevention of crime through a regular, visible presence and constant contact with the community, as opposed to responding after the commission of a crime to investigate and apprehend those responsible. Certainly, detection was among the missions of the police, but crime was viewed as a failure of policing, not an inevitable circumstance to which one could only react. Hitchens argues that it is this approach which, for more than a century, made these lands among the safest, civil, and free on Earth, with police integrated in the society as uniformed citizens, not a privileged arm of the state set above the people. Starting in the 1960s, all of this began to change, motivated by a mix of utopian visions and the hope of cutting costs. The bobby on the beat was replaced by police in squad cars with sirens and flashing lights, inevitably arriving after a crime was committed and able to do little more than comfort the victims and report yet another crime unlikely to be solved. Predictably, crime in Britain exploded to the upside, with far more police and police spending per capita than before the “reforms” unable to even reduce its rate of growth. The response of the government elite has not been to return to preventive policing, but rather to progressively infringe the fundamental liberties of citizens, trending toward the third world model of a police state with high crime. None of this would have surprised Hayek, who foresaw it all The Road to Serfdom (May 2002). Theodore Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom (September 2002) provides a view from the streets surrendered to savagery, and the prisons and hospitals occupied by the perpetrators and their victims. In this edition, Hitchens deleted two chapters from the hardcover which questioned Britain's abolition of capital punishment and fanatic program of victim disarmament (“gun control”). He did so “with some sadness” because “the only way to affect politics in this country is to influence the left”, and these issues are “articles of faith with the modern left”. As “People do not like to be made to think about their faith”, he felt the case better put by their exclusion. I have cited these quotes from pp. xi–xii of the Preface without ellipses but, I believe, fairly.

May 2004 Permalink