Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

I will miss Christopher Hitchens. Perhaps no other name on a link so speedily bid me click, giddy with the anticipation of an idiosyncratic and literate delight – no matter what subject might be his current fancy. While Hitchens lived, I was very pleased not to be Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, Mother Theresa, or God.

In each of these cases, and so many more, he practiced rhetorical shock and awe – and he achieved devastation (with the exception, of course, of his one nemesis who did not, in his view, actually exist, and about whom, therefore, he borrowed entirely from other people’s biographies, and with whom, I would love to believe, he is currently arguing). In all of this polemical writing, Hitchens drew stark lines – rationally-grounded moral lines, and the verve, the chutzpah, and the integrity with which he did so was a profound 21st century repudiation of relativism and universal tolerance. He had no time for these.

Perhaps it appears on odd attraction – what with my frequent exhortations to civility and courtesy in political discourse. Hitchens could be uncivil, which makes me chuckle as I write it. Indeed, many of today’s left and right self-appointed pit bulls look like vaguely rabid poodles next to a fully-engaged Hitchens.

But that’s because so very few of these poodles have anywhere near the erudition, precision with language, and finally, ideological autonomy as Hitchens did. All of the guidelines I have suggested regarding civility still apply, unless you are Christopher Hitchens or a tiny handful of others who wield words with his grace. Perhaps the civility rules now apply more than ever because we must carefully re-learn the art of fiery polemics without the inspiration of its best practitioner.

I suppose many of the people targeted in Hitchens’ debates and polemical writings felt “bullied,” and we crave the secular certainty that “bullying” is bad. And of course it is, except when it’s really good. As when the bullies get bullied. Or the pretentious get popped. Or the powerful – whether despots or successful peddlers of very bad ideas – get surgically whacked. Which isn’t really bullying at all. Hitchens hated unchecked and brutal concentrations of power – but he also choked on the failure of power to do good, and scoffed at the craven sentimentality that saw no possibility of good in power. That is one reason this British-born brilliance loved America.

I never met Christopher Hitchens, never heard him speak, and never was in the same room with him. I simply became a voracious consumer of anything he wrote. The many tributes from the many who knew him count for so much more – but I have this personal gratitude to Christopher Hitchens, the public intellectual.

9-11 was a defining moment, a paradigm shift for Hitchens, as for me. Something clicked about the call to arms, the urgency of challenging a poisonous and murderous narrative, the obligation of the West, and particularly America with its wherewithal, to take the battle that had been horrifically exploded on our soil to its origins in theretofore much-too-comfortable violent despotism in the larger Middle East.

I supported the Afghanistan war and the more difficult (politically) Iraq war from the beginning, and Christopher Hitchens made a vastly better case for both, especially the Iraq war, than the Bush administration ever managed. If you wish a spoken taste for his eloquence on the subject, see here his debate with George Galloway in 2005.

I would deeply wish to examine and celebrate every moment of his eloquence, but my point is a narrower one. Hitchens tackled a public-relations nightmare that exceeded the talents of the Bush administration, and he did so with a passion and precision befitting the stakes. I’d have supported the Iraq war without Hitchens, but I am eternally grateful that he lent his enormity to the justice of deposing the butcher of Baghdad.

Christopher Hitchens used words artfully and drew lines brilliantly and always conveyed the importance of both. I will miss every column he might have written because I will lose a personal pleasure, and I will miss the tremendous public service of an honest master of words and lines.

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11 Responses to Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

  1. lbwoodgate says:

    Somehow I knew you would have a fond appreciation of Hitchens. Hitchens was the type that though you may not have agreed with him you had to admire how his mind worked. He was a master cynic and I think that is what I liked about him most.

    • Terrance H. says:

      I kinda figured Hitchens’ way would have turned Kendrick off. LOL. But he explained his reasons.

  2. lobotero says:

    An excellent mind, silenced way before its time….he will be missed.

  3. Thank you Kenrdick for the post.

    Extremism has man forms and penetrates our daily life. There are many variants to the word extreme—extremist and extremism are the two most popular usages. The word is quite often concatenated with Muslim, as in Muslim extremist or Muslim extremism. What is really the reality?

    What is the most dangerous extreme in the world: rationalist extremism? Where do we place the brash intellectual thug of England: Christopher Hitchens with his reason-based assertions that there is no God, literally or metaphorically? Has this man ever prayed in true supplication? I seriously doubt it. If God is an inner to outer experience then why do we even listen to people like Hitchens?

    Modern North American conservatives, like George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich and Palin, claim to be bringing political morality (sometimes spelled as F R E E D O M, and freeing people from oppressors) to our lives, but many conservatives are the source of immorality and extremist intolerance. We should be very concerned with religious conservative bigots, more so than atheists.

    Asserting that Christopher Hitchens has some intellectual integrity and substance is like succeeding in being one great big blob.

    Bury your anger and pain under the fertile soil of love. Governments and ideologies appear and disappear. The One is infinite and eternal. It has always been the way.

    Yilmaz Alimoglu

  4. 10111010 says:

    Hitchens’ attacks on Kissinger are noteworthy. For one, they demonstrate that CH was not merely the apologist for Israel (or..jews) that some take him to be. When an intelligent person dismisses the idea of a monotheistic God he doesn’t just mean the Christian’s sunday school figure, but all the variations of Abrahamic religions–christian, jewish and Islamic. Fairly obvious but some of the right-wing neo con types are convinced Hitchens was “on their side” when that is not evident.

    I think Hitchens was mostly in error, post-9-11, politically speaking, or at least naive. Taking on muslim extremism is understandable to a degree but rallying for the Bush Admin. was too much (and he mostly ignored the problems with the WMDs,etc). However he did pen an anti-Kissinger essay fairly recently, and took on the torture polices of Cheney etc to a degree—05-06 or so. His recent Slate essay contra the Mormon racket was also noteworthy. Some of the Orwellian Hitch. remained, though unlike Orwell’s tight prose CH’s writing was replete with a sort of Oxfordian arrogance.

    • We disagree on where CH erred (and it is a credit to him that so many admire him and virtually none views him as error-free), and we have a different gauge of naivete, but you quite nicely summarize areas I opted not to explore for a short tribute. Thanks for the elaboration.

    • Thank you Kendrick for the response.

      There is something dark about Hitchens.
      His writings are a thin veil for a cesspool of ignorance and hatred. I could easily” “feel” his agitation when discussing certain topics. His defensiveness and arrogance at simple questions bear unmistakable witness to his ignorance and hatred. Some of the information (not knowledge) simply hurts our heads and pains hearts. He craved for fame and money. He lacked strong intellectual ethics and integrity.

      When you do not see One then there is no presence of love or any true sense .

      The soul hides the inner beauty in the absence of real love.

      Here is a quote from someone wiser than myself.
      “Sarcasm: the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the PRIVACY of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.”
      — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

  5. 01010101 says:

    Most neo-atheists are rather unaware of the reality presented by Dostoyevsky’s tales are they not. Raskalnikov’s story itself worth a few hundred dozen Hitchens’ rants. CH fancied himself a literary type and probably read a bit of FD– unlike the nerdy bottlewasher sorts– Dawkins, Harris, Dennett et al. –though you wouldn’t know it reading CH’s arrogant essays. That said, Hitchens at his best was a Swift compared to the usual ‘Merican yahoos in the journalism biz or blathering away in blogville..

    • Great comments, “01”. Thank you.

      Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are too highbrow for such people as Dawkins and CH.

  6. 01010101 says:

    No problemo.

    Note that the Hitchens’ apologists have barely mentioned his rabid “islamophobia” ,and his flagwaving for Bush in ’03-’04 (or his ugly essay on Mother Theresa). As with the freaks on “Sifting Reality”. I don’t deny that Hitchens was a talented writer but often with a nearly nihilist POV–not unlike the pro-eugenics, racist Churchill . Sort of the British scribe’s MO: eloquent nihilism.

    • Excellent comments. Calling such people nihilists would be more appropriate. It is not easy to find intelligent people with sensible hearts.

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