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Some thoughts on Hitchens

Some thoughts on Hitchens

I don’t care for the phrase “public intellectual,” particularly when paired with “political thinker.” It tends to reference the most polemic or controversial people, skeptics of common sense.

For instance, there are lots of great thinkers who have never ascended to notoriety the way Noam Chomsky has, probably because they are tasteful enough to avoid making excuses for terrorists.

But it isn’t just that I think some of them are wrong, it’s that the designation as “public intellectual” tends to reward dogmatic thinking or feeding into stereotypes. A good example of this is Francis Fukuyama, who has beaten the same drum since 1992 despite being disproven on several occasions.

My distaste for the dogma of most public intellectuals and political journalists is one of the reasons I will miss Christopher Hitchens. He engaged with his critics through his prose and had the uncanny ability to exude thoughtfulness on a variety of topics. I respect a lot of writers today, but rarely do I see one who is so willing to engage in public debate the way Hitch did. Even rarer is one who can switch their worldview and still retain respect from their peers, speaking with fluency on both sides of an issue. Who can get away with that? A damn good writer, if nothing else.

I had a long conversation with Hitch in April 2010, a few weeks before he was diagnosed with cancer. My friend Steven and I waited for him outside of the Kimmel Center at NYU after he participated on a panel. He came out armed with a double Johnnie Walker Black and a bottle of Evian. There were only four people waiting to talk to him and it was pretty late in the evening, but he stayed for about an hour to talk with us. He was just as polished in a casual conversation with college sophomores as he was on stage defending a wildly unpopular war or in his weekly column. Beyond that, though, he didn’t seem bothered by our conversation. In fact, he engaged with us; asking follow-up questions and clarifications. I rarely get that sense of genuine interest from anyone, including my professors.

Most people will probably attribute Hitch’s success to his intellect. That’s fair, but I think it’s also insufficient. There are plenty of people who are smarter than Hitchens but remain less devoted to their work. The element that drove Hitchens the top was his pursuit of the truth. Nothing else can explain his prodigious output, willingness to engage with his critics, political conversions, & his late-night conversations with college kids.

Even if you think his conclusions were wrong, you have to admire the vigor he put into crafting them. Hitchens saw that ideas matter and that their consequences were the source of a lot of good and bad in the world. To me, his work always made it seem like he was determined to have the right opinions. He didn’t have a tolerance for relativism or dogma. I think that’s why I’ll miss him so much.

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Comments

Hitchens was an interesting man but the arrogance to proclaim “there is no God” is mind literally incredible.

One might honestly doubt the existence or nature of God but to emphatically proclaim that there is no God is nothing short of indefensible arrogance.

Naturally, I am sorry for his relatively earlier demise. I wish he had had more time to consider the ultimate question rather than dismissing it categorically…

Hitchens held in contempt precisely those who categorically dismissed God.

I became intrigued with Hitch when reading his many Vanity Fair articles and his recent book Arguably. I truly loved his command of the English language and his undaunting ability to take on challengers to create his own valid viewpoint. I will miss him.

I was praying that Hitch would go kinking and screaming into the kingdom of Heaven just as C.S. Lewis did not so many years ago.

I consider his atheism a mute point right about now. God rest His soul.

    WarEagle82 in reply to Sally Paradise. | December 18, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Hitchens would almost certainly castigate you for your sentiments. And I assume you mean “moot point” rather than “mute” though when he met God, his atheism was the most singular point imaginable and most likely rendered him “mute.” And that being said, there was little to do for his soul at that precise moment.

    Hitchens has now discovered how wrong he was about God and there is precious little anyone can do about it now. Pray for the living, for whom there is still hope…

    I was praying that Hitch would go kinking and screaming into the kingdom of Heaven just as C.S. Lewis did not so many years ago.

    I consider his atheism a mute point right about now. God rest His soul.

Here’s a debate with Hitchens and Gingrich from 2002.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OET1UGhJIYI

I just love the way Hitch thinks. And I loved watching him debate and beat that creep Galloway.

Hitchens was a sad case. I could never understand his vicious contempt for Mother Teresa. It was more than blindness on his part. In India you have the contrast of the Hindu cult that leaves a person in the ditch to wallow in his “karma,” and an old lady who takes the poor, filthy and sick man from the ditch and gives him care. And Hitchens despised the old lady! It is very sad to see a man who knows that his conscience is burning, yet prefers to spit fire rather than quench his own flames. To my mind, he was of weak character and intellectually dishonest.

    logos in reply to JerryB. | December 18, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    JerryB:

    That’s quite an opinion piece you’ve posted. None of it supported with more than opinion, of course. That would be one of many ways in which you and Hitchens differ.

    What have you read that Hitchens has written?

    I have not read The Missionary Position; I have read his essays in which Hitchens makes passing references to Saint Fraud; that title would be my opinion.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Missionary_Position_(book)

    My opinion was formed in the 90s when the lame stream media was sanctifying her and what I saw in the television news reports was an old woman who took credit for prosletityzing starving children in exchange for crusts of bread. If she really wanted to improve conditions in India, she would have been freely distributing the means of birth control, instead of swelling the ranks of the Catholic Church. And for this she was promoted as a saint?

    Hitchens supported his contentions in his book – as the Wikipedia Cliff Notes will summarize, if you care to “understand” his reasons a bit better – just click the link above. Publishing a book on the subject exemplifies how intellectually dishonest Hitchens demonstrated himself to be.

      JerryB in reply to logos. | December 18, 2011 at 10:55 pm

      (Thanks to TD, below, for the reference.) Birth control! What a hoot. Talk about opinion pieces!

      Hitchens didn’t like her work. Opinion. He wrote a book about it and provided great detail to support his opinion. Big deal. An atheist spouting opinions on good and evil differs little from a food critic opining on sweet vs sour. Kind of like blogging, eh?

      A little old lady and her Sisters help the poor, the media picks up on it, and you and Hitchens get bent. She proselytized as she fed, bathed, and clothed them. “Feed the hungry, do good to those who persecute you.” And that makes her a fraud? No. It exposes a sad soul in Hitchens.

    CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Mother Teresa is a very important figure, it seemed to me, to expose as what she was: a fanatic, a fundamentalist and a fraud. She was someone whose net effect was to make more people more poor and more miserable and more wretched.

    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/tim-graham/2011/12/18/npr-honors-hitchens-scabrous-nun-basher-international-sensation-atheism#ixzz1gwjVlTfm

    Sad when one is reduced to attacking those who care for the poor and oppressed more than one does oneself. I feel sorry for Hitchens.

I thought he was great. Yes, he made me angry. But he also actually struggled, I thought, with deciphering truth in a complicated and dense society. Ravi Zacharias discussed Dawkins and Hitchens. The video can be seen here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqbFxZ-3XA4

There are plenty of people who are smarter than Hitchens but remain less devoted to their work.

True. There are also plenty of people who are smarter than Hitchens and just as devoted to their work, but don’t write for a living. Physicists, mathematicians, and neuscientists come to mind. I’m not denigrating Hitchens’s intellect. He was a very smart man. He shone all the brighter, though, because so few other writers are smart.

Just can’t go along with this (thinking of how it would apply to other people such as Hitler): “Even if you think his conclusions were wrong, you have to admire the vigor he put into crafting them.”

    Kathleen McCaffrey in reply to lgstarr. | December 18, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Hitler did not surround himself with critics and, last I checked, participate in public debates. I dont think you understood what I meant.

I never met Hitchens, so what I know about his comes primarily from his own writings and what others have said about him. Hitchens could be a gadfly (even a “shock jock”) at times, but it seemed to me that he tended to be someone who could not easily be fitted into a pre-determined political category.

    Henry Hawkins in reply to rec_lutheran. | December 18, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Hitchens was a skeptic who followed wherever the evidence, data, history, etc., led. He was more objective than most and this more than anything defies any ideological consistency, rigidity, or dogmaticism.

      Actually, no. Hitchens was a devout believer in nanny government, despite the fact that time and time again it has proven to be a failure. That is not exactly objectively following the evidence.

      It is true that Hitchens warned of the deadly dangers posed by radical Islam, which was a courageous position considering the left-wing circles he lived in. However, Hitchens also endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. On radical Islam, Obama’s views were the antithesis of Hitchen’s. I found Hitchens’ explanation for this glaring contradiction rather lame and unconvincing (see http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2008/10/vote_for_obama.html). I didn’t expect Hitchens, given his generally leftist views, to endorse McCain. But after endorsing Obama I had no real reason to believe that he was still concerned about the dangers of radical Islam. Actions speak louder than numerous speeches and columns.

      As I mentioned, Hitchens did not always fit neatly into pre-labeled political categories. But he was absolutely a true believer in the authoritarianism of the welfare state. I also found him to be a clever writer who could be both cutting and witty, but not a very deep or original thinker.

        “But he was absolutely a true believer in the authoritarianism of the Welfare state”

        Not according to a quotation carried by Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Hitchens

        “In 2001, he told Rhys Southan of Reason magazine that he could no longer say “I am a socialist.” Socialists, he claimed, had ceased to offer a positive alternative to the capitalist system. Capitalism had become the more revolutionary economic system, and he welcomed globalisation as “innovative and internationalist”, but added, “I don’t think that the contradictions, as we used to say, of the system, are by any means all resolved.” He stated that he had a renewed interest in the freedom of the individual from the state”

BannedbytheGuardian | December 18, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Hitchens had great fun in life.

Lighten up Wareagle & Jerry. You will get your turn & send us an Email back.

    If I’m allowed I’ll send you an email should I get to the other side first. But now, I’ll just point you to the Bible and ask you to read with an open mind…

I remember listening to a NYC radio interview with Hitchens where a caller identified himself as a Christian, called Hitchens a godless bastard, and informed him that he was not an atheist, but an agnostic, because an atheist cannot prove for certain there is no God, while an agnostic simply admits he doesn’t know either way. Hitchens replied (paraphrased from memory), “Unless you are prepared to provide proof of the existence of your God, you are, by your own logic, also an agnostic, and by dint of your demonstrated hypocrisy in the matter, thrice the bastard I undoubtedly am.” There followed several seconds of dead silence and then a *click*.

Hitch was a Thinker.

One cannot dispute that-

However, he lacked the one thing-

The ONE thing…..

LOVE.

Such a waste……such….ugh.

A soul is a terrible thing to waste-

But, his mind….we will always cherish.

But, God makes them every day–lest the libs slaughter them.

God Bless the next Hitch-

    “However, he lacked the one thing-

    The ONE thing…..

    LOVE.”

    What an asinine set of statements. What maudlin claptrap. How would you know and on what basis do you claim such insight? Are you his wife or children?

Further, logos, I expect everyone that comes to this blog, and comments on this blog, to treat each other with respect.

Though you may not agree, your disagreement should, and is, treated with respect.

Do likewise.

Weeds…

Wallow….swallow..

I’m not angry.

Mr. Hitchens denied the Love inside of him-

Sayeth ME.

Who the hell are any of you to tell me I’m wrong?

Why, in your discourse, would I tell you likewise?

I admire Hitchens because he never stopped seeking truth. He could have rested on his conclusions years ago and made plenty of cash repeating them. But he didn’t. He went out on a limb more than once, contradicted himself, and sometimes made himself a fool–all in the public eye. That took a lot more guts than most of us have. He took us along on his wild roller-coaster ride, and we enjoyed it.

good lord ! poor hitch…after all that he wrote and said on nearly every subject imaginable, all that most folks want to talk about upon his passing is god-this/god-that. it’s this zombie cultishness, the chanting of “one of us…one of us…” that is so disturbing about ‘believers’. the guy wasn’t into your trip but you will not stop trying to force it upon him even after he is gone.

Hitchens never tried to sugar coat any issue. He told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and let the chips fall where they may. That is VERY unusual in a member of the media today. In fact, he told the truth in some places that could have gotten him killed and almost did. I did not like his politics or lack of religion but I respected the man’s adherence to hisown code.

Well, I’ll amend that to the truth according the Hitch.

[…] one more Hitchens story—this one is from William Jacobson: I had a long conversation with Hitch in April 2010, a few weeks before he was diagnosed with […]

God won’t need to judge Hitchens. His believers are doing it for him.

Katha Pollitt has an interesting take on Hitchens, possibly of interest to the women: http://www.thenation.com/blog/165222/regarding-christopher

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