Alexander Cockburn, the leftist journalist, has died. The 71-year-old had been living in Berlin and fighting cancer.
Cockburn was the co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the political newsletter Counterpunch. On the publication's blog, St. Clair writes, "Alex kept his illness a tightly guarded secret. Only a handful of us knew how terribly sick he truly was. He didn’t want the disease to define him. He didn’t want his friends and readers to shower him with sympathy." Cockburn was a dedicated leftist; St. Clair described him as "friend and comrade."
Cockburn was the son of writer Claud Cockburn. He was born in Ireland, studied at Oxford and came to America in the early 1970s. His writing soon appeared regularly in the Village Voice and the Nation. Searingly clever, sometimes funny, he soon became one of the primary voices of the intellectual left.
If that sounds something like Christopher Hitchens, it was. Political scientist Corey Robin writes, "[P]eople, inevitably, will want to make comparisons .... I think Cockburn was ultimately the superior writer."
Comparisons between the two are all the more tempting because both Hitchens and Cockburn died of cancer. But as their ideologies diverged, so did their final choices. "He didn’t want to blog his own death as Christopher Hitchens had done," St. Clair writes. "Alex wanted to keep living his life right to the end. He wanted to live on his terms."
Cockburn was the author of several books, including "Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press" (1998, with St. Clair), "Corruptions of Empire" (1988), "End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate" (2006, with St. Clair), and "A Short History of Fear" (2009). A number of his books are being reissued in August.
Like Hitchens, whose ideology shifted, Cockburn's strong opinions sometimes veered in directions that aroused anger in his leftist allies. His thoughts on global warming aligned with the far right; in 2007, he wrote of "our supposed human contribution to global warming."
And yet, Robin observes, "At his best, he got out of the way of his own story and allowed his readers to see things they never would have seen without him."