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.