Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, RIP

The essayist and contrarian Christopher Hitchens died yesterday, as he had expected that he would, from esophageal cancer.

Hitchens was a remarkable figure, a sharp and often dazzling writer, and -- although we never met him -- we are told that his conversation was sharper and yet more dazzling, even (or perhaps especially) after a few drinks. We regret that we will never have the opportunity to find out for ourselves.

Here, for the record, is a taste of Hitchens on George W. Bush:
He's unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.
We wish we'd said that. And yet despite this, Hitchens was a vocal supporter of the Iraq invasion, a position which cost him some friends:
It led to him being accused of betrayal: one former friend called him "a lying, opportunistic, cynical contrarian", another "a drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay".
Surely it is unfair to call him cynical or opportunistic. Hitchens had come so see "Islamofascism" -- his coinage, if we recall correctly -- as the great challenge of the day, comparable to the struggle against Hitler and Mussolini. In this, we disagree not about the challenge but only about how best and most effectively to meet it.

We also disagreed, of course, about the matter of God. Even so, one has to admire lines like this one, from his bestseller on the subject:
I have been called arrogant in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator — that's beyond my conceit.
The irony, of course, is that in the end he published more on the subject of God than we ever have, and spoke with no less conviction. Make of that what you will.

Needless to say, we disagreed with Hitchens on any number of topics, but then so did everybody else. He was professionally disagreeable; that was his vocation. He was a gadfly by trade, and a nearly unswattable one.

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