Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

Here is a quote of the day, as an ave atque vale to a contentious, smart, learned, moralistic, opinionated and unique man of letters.

My father, a Royal Navy commander, was on board H.M.S. Jamaica when it helped to deal the coup de grâce to the Nazi warship Scharnhorst on December 26, 1943–a more solid day’s work than any I have ever done.

From Benjamin Schwarz’s eulogy, which is very good. Hitchens’ essays for the Atlantic were always worth reading.

Hitchens had a good understanding of the concept of the Anglosphere:

[P]roperly circumscribed, the idea of an “Anglosphere” can constitute something meaningful. We should not commit the mistake of “thinking with the blood,” as D. H. Lawrence once put it, however, but instead emphasize a certain shared tradition, capacious enough to include a variety of peoples and ethnicities and expressed in a language—perhaps here I do betray a bias—uniquely hostile to euphemisms for tyranny. In his postwar essay “Towards European Unity,” George Orwell raised the possibility that the ideas of democracy and liberty might face extinction in a world polarized between superpowers but that they also might hope to survive in some form in “the English-speaking parts of it.” English is, of course, the language of the English and American revolutions, whose ideas and values continue to live after those of more recent revolutions have been discredited and died.

That is from his essay An Anglosphere Future. It is very much worth reading, or re-reading.

As a Catholic I regret Hitchens’ typically violent animosity against my religion and Christianity in general. He was usually unfair in this regard. But Hitchens was a slugger, who picked his enemies and went after them, and he was not interested in fighting fair, he was interested in winning. So be it. I ask the God he did not believe in to grant him abundantly the mercy we all rely on, and to impose only the gentlest of Divine admonishments upon this talented and tumultuous son of His. Judge not lest ye be judged, and I will be the last to judge Mr. Hitchens or anyone else in the court reserved for the Divine judge. Hitchens’ fellow English man of letters, and fellow literary debater, dirty fighter and hard-puncher, St. Thomas More, at the end, when the death sentence had been handed down, told the men who had unjustly condemned him that he hoped one day they would all be merry together in Heaven. I hope the same for Hitchens, and for Orwell — Hitchens’ literary hero and mine — and for many others. May that day be far off for many of us. But for Hitchens it is now.

Rest in peace.

6 thoughts on “Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011”

  1. This post is well worth tweeting, Lexington.

    Tim Mak of Politco told a wonderful story about Hitchens on Facebook today:

    “I was lucky enough to have a finger or two of whisky with Christopher Hitchens before he passed.

    “Before his cancer diagnosis, a friend introduced us, and we huddled out on a porch during a party. I recall that it was pretty cold.

    “He was the way you’d imagine – hunched over slightly, imposing but not loud, nursing a Johnny Walker Black.

    “The five or so of us were discussing the tactics that the FBI had used in a sting that netted some would-be terrorist out in Oregon. ‘Entrapment!’ someone had said, arguing that the authorities had infringed this or that right.

    “‘First they came for the terrorists,’ said Hitchens dryly, twisting the ever-present cigarette in hand. ‘And I didn’t speak out… because they were FUCKING TERRORISTS!’ “

  2. Early on I made a smart-sounding point, using a recondite historical analogy, which the audience–largely anti-interventionist–liked. But ten minutes later, although the argument had moved on, it dawned on me that I’d scored a cheap shot, and I said so, explaining why my facile analogy didn’t hold water. Christopher held me in his gaze, touched his right hand to his chest (one of his characteristic gestures), and gave me an almost imperceptible bow.

    That was it for us. I had passed the only test that mattered to him, one in which he touchingly, anachronistically conflated intellectual honesty with a decidedly masculine, martial sense of honor.

    Like his hero, Orwell, Christopher prized bravery above all other qualities–and in particular the bravery required for unflinching honesty.

    He was one of the few people I have come across that I would categorize as a true intellectual – one who of course, had strong views but could listen to other views and occasionally, modify his own views.

    He could disagree without being disagreeable.

    The world’s a bit poorer in his absence.

  3. RIP, Christopher Hitchens.

    No man was ever as easy to visit in hospital. He didn’t want flowers and grapes, he wanted conversation, and presence. All silences were useful. He liked to find you still there when he woke from his frequent morphine-induced dozes. He wasn’t interested in being ill, the way most ill people are. He didn’t want to talk about it.

    When I arrived from the airport on my last visit, he saw sticking out of my luggage a small book. He held out his hand for it – Peter Ackroyd’s London Under, a subterranean history of the city. Then we began a 10-minute celebration of its author. We had never spoken of him before, and Christopher seemed to have read everything. Only then did we say hello. He wanted the Ackroyd, he said, because it was small and didn’t hurt his wrist to hold. But soon he was making pencilled notes in its margins. By that evening he’d finished it.

    Beautiful piece.

    – Madhu

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