Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens 1949-2011: He Definitely Came Here for an Argument

Numerous sites have run obituaries and/or assessments of Christopher Hitchens, who succumbed to cancer yesterday. Herewith my modest contribution.

Hitchens had an enormous and apparently effortless talent that he often wasted in picked fights with real or imagined enemies. In this I saw, and was put off by, the kind of debate for debate's sake outlook of a veteran of competitive debating. His greatest mistake was advocating for the invasion of Iraq, and this failure to be on the right side of history will deny him his most cherished goal of being his generation's Orwell. Eloquence in the defense of extremism is, in fact, a vice.

On the other hand he also put his talent to use in highly readable lit-crit essays for Atlantic Monthly as well as a very clear-eyed appraisal of his own impending demise.

I welcome your own assessments of Hitchens' legacy in comments; I am especially interested to hear from JJV on this. Before you write, though, please consider this.

Some of the observations and comments attached to other sites' pieces on Hitchens are quite nasty, and so far all have not seen fit to mention that as of yesterday, there is a woman missing her husband and a young girl missing her father. Kindly keep that in mind.

Resquiascat in pace.


Anonymous said...

I met him a few times and was invited to a wake for him Friday night but could not go. Obviously, he was right about Saddam Hussein and North Korea and wrong about Vietnam and Britain. I also think his detestation of Nanny rules on drinking and smoking was bracing. Also, since I do not dislike vituperation his most grating qualities did not grate on me. His atheism of the aggressive sort was kind of childish and he is finding now, self-defeating.

Overall, Vaclav Havel's death today leaves me sadder.

jjv said...

You realize your end statement he would find highly offensive.

Dave S. said...

At the risk of putting words in the mouth of the dead, to which Hitchens would certainly object, there is nothing necessarily religious implied in the wish to rest in peace.

JCC said...

I very much enjoyed the anonymous comment at the head of this section, if for no other reason that it pointed up the weakness of some of Hitchens's detractors. I think that we can all stipulate that of course Hitchens was wrong [where I personally disagreed with him] and right [where I personally agreed with him]. I was most amused by the assessment of Hitchens's "atheism of the aggressive sort' to be childish and self-defeating." While not endorsing atheism (aggressive or passive) my experience with aggressive religion/spirituality (whether involving a cross, a crescent, a pentagram or other identifier)to be at least as childish and off-putting as atheism.

But I do appreciate Dave's pointing out that there is a family grieving for Hitchens, so those reflecting on Hitchens and the afterlife would be well served to consider that for every religious tradition there are other religious traditions (whether the Westboro Baptist Church or others) that view their religious views to be childish and self-defeating. It's the sort of circular firing squad that gives humanity a bad name.