Saturday 17 December 2011

Christopher Hitchens Dies

Christopher Hitchens 13th of April 1949 - 15th of December 2011.

Background articles:

I’m sorry to announce that Christopher Hitchens has died. This follows months of battling against oesophageal cancer. He has faced his fate with all the hard-bitten wit, lack of self-pity and style that he always lived his life. I've never felt such strong emotions about the passing of a stranger. Rest in Peace, Hitch.

Christopher Hitchens was born in 1949 and graduated from Balliol Collage, Oxford in 1970. He spent many years as a Marxist, writing for various Leftist journals. His Left-wing sentiments cooled to Liberalism with maturity and he eventually became a columnist with Vanity Fair, the role for which he is best known. In later life he found a new niche for himself: as one of the world’s greatest polemicists and disputants; in fact some say he has virtually redefined what Schopenhauer called “the Art of Controversy” for all time. He has done a lot of his own lectures, but his favourite activity by far involved not so much talking to an audience as debating with somebody else on a dual platform in front of them. In this role he was absolutely unbeatable! He left opponent after opponent flummoxed and red-faced with his persuasive, poetic wit and razor-sharp intellect.

I’ve become enthralled by Hitchens in the last few years and watched hundreds of hours of his videos. I’ve read two of his books, including his autobiography Hitch 22. He’s somebody I’ve come to feel great affection for and have even started dividing other people up into two groups: Those who like him and those who don’t. I’ve found by doing this that all the most sensible people end up in the Like group and all the most foolish end up in the Dislike one, regardless of their personal opinions on the views Hitchens holds. Even if you totally disagree with him (and Hitchens himself has made sure that you will, but I’ll come to that point in a minute) it’s amazing to watch him and read his works. He’s so intellectual, so stylish, so knowledgeable and such a... yes!... a genius! He’s one of the most thought-provoking and entertaining characters I know of. He’s also the grandmaster and world champion of the most exciting spectator sport there is!

In Hitch 22, he describes how he can’t bear to lose a debate, and at the same time it’s obvious he loves debating. For this reason I must say I do question his sincerity. I wonder how much of what he preaches he really believes. He's also stated some very contradictory sentiments about the Military and what I call “The Military Religion” (See: At one moment praising a solider he knew in true Poppy-and-Flags fashion; the next he is scorning Scott Ritter’s own appeal to his status within Military Religion in their debate, see: Hitchens is a man who lives for the debate. Debate is an art form to him; a great game, one of which he is the virtually invincible. It’s not a means for him, but an ends in itself. His opinions seem tailor-made to ensure that he can get a wrangle out of anybody. He’s a Left-wing Liberal who supports the war and he’s an atheist who opposes abortion. All his positions are perfect to make him the universal contrarian.

As I said above, lot of people, even his most constant and dedicated opponents, will be dismayed at his death. There will of course be a few Bible-Belters who will be dancing on his grave, relishing him being impaled on the Devil’s toasting-fork. If this were to occur then Hitchens would no doubt face it as bravely as he’s faced everything else and think of some rip-roaring satirical joke to tell the Devil as he gets his muffins ready. For example, Hitchens was once asked: “What if you’re wrong and there really is a God?” He replied that when he stands before the Almighty at the end of his life he’ll say: “Sir, you provide no evidence of your existence and yet you criticize us when we don’t believe you exist? I hoped you would at least admire my honesty.”

CS Lewis has a quote that sums up Christopher Hitchens and his relationship to the people he deals with: "A noble friend is the best gift in the world; a noble enemy, the next best."

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