December 17, 2011

R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens died Thursday night at 62. Journalist, essayist, and one of England’s most celebrated, yet controversial  polemicists, he waged countless battles on behalf of causes left and right. The following excerpt from the full interview with him by Richard Dawkins in the New Statesman, that was trailed a few days ago, is  perhaps the most effective portrait of him—it is not yet online and I’m quoting from Norman Geras’ blog. And yes, along with Norm and many others, I will miss him.

I have one consistency, which is [being] against the totalitarian - on the left and on the right. The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy - the one that's absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquise the divine and tell us what to do.

That has secular forms, with gurus and dictators, of course, but it's essentially the same. There have been some thinkers - Orwell is pre-eminent - who understood that, unfortunately, there is innate in humans a strong tendency to worship, to become abject. So we're not just fighting the dictators. We're criticising our fellow humans for trying to short-cut, to make their lives simpler, by surrendering and saying, "[If] you offer me bliss, of course I'm going to give up some of my mental freedom for that." We say it's a false bargain: you'll get nothing. You're a fool.


  1. His death is a huge loss for the whole world. He was one of the world's most influential public intellectuals. According to his many detractors Christopher Hitchens was a turncoat of the worst type, and this because he, who had previously built an intellectual career steadfastly supporting Palestinian rights, civil liberties, and lambasting any semblance of anti-democratic tendencies of any sort, after the 9-11 attacks he became a supporter of Bush, Cheney and "the neo-cons' imperialistic wars on the Arab world."
    But, on the contrary, by doing so, he gave us a great lesson of intellectual integrity and courage. As his friend Salman Rushdie said, "A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops."

  2. I didn't agree with a lot of his positions, such as his view of religion as "a terrible fetter on the mind, and a maker of slaves" (Hitch was an avowed atheist, as is well known), but I loved the way he wrote. He was an outstanding writer, everything you'd want if you want to be an essayist.

  3. "Christopher Hitchens was a wit, a charmer and a troublemaker, and to those who knew him well, he was a gift from, dare I say, God."

    -Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair (where Hitchens was a contributing editor)... :-)