Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens

From Letters to a Young Contrarian:

Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.

I have read and been inspired by Christopher Hitchens for some decades now.   I first read him in the New Statesman when I was still in high school.   This was a man one could call an iconoclast or a gadfly

I find his writing compelling, I wanted to read on and on and it really did not matter what he was writing about.  Granta had some good pieces of reportage by him the the late 1980s.  I remember this one about Romania very shortly after the 1989 revolution.  I loved reading his cutting attacks on people, something that I could never do because I have too thin a skin and really do not like confrontation on a personal level.  One could fill pages with his brilliant quotes.

His essays can only be called brilliant but they were also very relevant and cutting to the world around us.   So much of fiction in the English speaking first world world is all about irrelevant mid life crisis of some sort upper middle class over educated person.   It is very bland and boring.   Hitchens essays told the real stories of the life around us.

I also identify with Christopher Hitchens' political path to some extent.   When I was young I was a fairly hardcore lefty, but after years of evidence of the errors of orthodox left wing economics and the general underlying authoritarian nature of so many on the left I have ended up on the right by default.   Much in the same sort of way Hitchens ended up on the right but was not right wing.

He was clearly on the side of freedom and liberty in his life and was not willing to be an apologist for bad ideas.   Yes he did not have the full courage of his convictions in his 20s, but it is still there.  In politics it is very easy to become an apologist for the politics you follow, to excuse the mistakes.  It takes courage to speak out about the mistakes of your own side because most times you will be excommunicated from the faith.

When one looks at politics using the analogy of faith is a good way to see what happened to Hitchens.   He went from being an unwavering believer in the orthodox left to becoming a political agnostic.  There was no political conversion from one faith to another.  As far as I can tell the underlying values of Christopher Hitchens did not change.   This is the sort of path that George Orwell went through in his life.

Some good essays today on Hitchens
David Frum
Graydon Carter
From Harry's Place

What the hell - some quotes:


  • “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay.”
  • “The noble title of "dissident" must be earned rather than claimed; it connotes sacrifice and risk rather than mere disagreement.”
  • “Why do humans exist? A major part of the answer: because Pikaia Gracilens survived the Burgess decimation.”
  • “The Postmodernists' tyranny wears people down by boredom and semi-literate prose.”
  • "The only real radicalism in our time will come as it always has — from people who insist on thinking for themselves and who reject party-mindedness."
  • "Principles have a way of enduring, as do the few irreducible individuals who maintain allegiance to them."
  • "My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass."
  • "Only a complete moral idiot can believe for an instant that we are fighting against the wretched of the earth." "We are fighting, as I said before, against the scum of the earth"
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