The Hitchens Post

Christopher Hitchens, British American writer, has died at age 62. Hitchens was a regular columnist for Vanity Fair magazine, wrote for many periodicals, and published several non-fiction books. Known as a polemicist – a writer of screeds, to some of those who disagreed with his viewpoints – he had a superior command of the language and was always an interesting read. An outspoken leftist throughout his early and middle career, his later writings cut across the ideological spectrum on a number of issues. He was an admirer of George Orwell’s works and wrote a book-length biographical essay Why Orwell Matters in 2002. It seems that 9/11 was a defining moment in his life – probably somewhat akin to Orwell’s epiphany in the Spanish Civil War that Communism was not all it was cracked up to be. He saw militant Islam as a threat to humanity, and endorsed President Bush’s aggressive foreign policy and military action against al Qaeda, while expounding and promulgating his atheism in the 2007 book God is not Great.
Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in June 2010, which was no doubt partially a result of his prodigious half-century of consumption of cigarettes and Scots whisky. His – apparently last – essay published in the January 2012 issue of Vanity Fair seeks to refute the Nietzschean (allegedly) adage that adversity that doesn’t kill us makes us stronger when describing the ordeals of the various treatments for his cancer. All the while, he maintained his atheism in the foxhole.  While militant atheists like Richard Dawkins tend to be even more obnoxious than televangelists, Hitchens was more amusing than insulting, except toward Islamists. He only bemoaned the prospect of leaving the party earlier than he had expected. I have never been sure why atheism implies there is no immortality of the soul or some kind of life after physical death, or why the existence of God necessarily implies there is. I suppose the former is irrelevant to nonbelievers. In any event, Mr. Hitchens now knows he was wrong, or doesn’t know anything at all.
Here are a few quotes from Hitchens:
On identity politics:
“People who think with their epidermis or their genitalia or their clan are the problem to begin with. One does not banish this specter by invoking it. If I would not vote against someone on the grounds of “race” or “gender” alone, then by the exact same token I would not cast a vote in his or her favor for the identical reason. Yet see how this obvious question makes fairly intelligent people say the most alarmingly stupid things.”
On the pleasures of the senses (which may have been his early undoing):
“I was met by immaculate specimens of young American womanhood, holding silver trays and flashing perfect dentition,” he wrote. “What would I like? I thought a gin and tonic would meet the case. ‘Sir, that would be inappropriate.’ In what respect? ‘At this altitude [a ski resort in the Rockies] gin would be very much more toxic than at ground level.’ In that case, I said, make it a double.”
On Howard Dean’s 2004 candidacy for President:
“I have now several times seen Mr. Dean saying that there is Islamic terrorism in Iraq now, but that there wasn’t any before last March. If this means anything, it means that the activities of the bin Ladenist mercenaries in that country are the fault of George Bush. You can, I suppose, believe that if you care to. But watching, I realized something even more depressing: It’s not just that Mr. Dean doesn’t know anything at all about Iraq, it’s that he doesn’t care. His bored shrug at, first, the overthrow and, second, the capture of Saddam Hussein was a shrug of indifference as well as ignorance. And how can a man who flirts with moral equivalence between Washington and bin Laden expect to be listened to when he talks about a “distraction” from the hunt for the latter? He clearly thinks that the main enemy is at home.”
Anyone with such a flair for prose, even if you disagree with their viewpoint some of all of the time, makes us all richer.
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