R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens


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I hesitate to join the already Mormon Tabernacle-scale chorus of tributes to Christopher Hitchens.  For one thing, to my great regret, I never knew him, although we had many mutual friends.  (One of whom sent me, a couple of years ago, shortly before I was to visit Washington, D.C., an e-mail saying that Hitchens had expressed the desire to meet me; alas, I somehow didn’t notice the e-mail until after I’d returned home.)  But while I didn’t know Hitchens, he was too important a part of the landscape of my life for me not to say a few words about him now that he is gone.  And in this time of sadness I want to focus on one thing that cheers me – namely, the knowledge that there were more than a few young people who felt his influence.

For this influence there is ample evidence. On You Tube, you can see videos of his talks and debates at institutions of higher education ranging from Oxford and UCLA to the University of Waterloo and the College of New Jersey.  Seeing such videos always gave me a good feeling, as did the occasional glimpse of a young person reading one of his books.  It was encouraging to know that students were being exposed to him.  And since his death I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how many young people have gone to the trouble of uploading You Tube tributes to him.  He did indeed have an impact on the young.

And that’s a good thing – for many reasons.  First of all, he was a fearless champion of individual liberty and human dignity – a man who, in the wake of 9/11, saw through the moral vacancy and hypocrisy of the left and broke with his sometime leftist comrades to stand up for freedom and against totalitarian tyranny.  In a time when when American teenagers borrow exorbitant sums of money (or bankrupt their parents) to attend colleges and universities where they’re taught contempt for everything their country stands for, Hitchens offered a salutary model of rebellion against leftist orthodoxy, of having a mind of one’s own and insisting on using it.

For such young people, “educated” by faculty-lounge foot soldiers who offer up bold-sounding battle cries but who are always desperately, timidly careful about toeing the lines of academic orthodoxy, Hitchens provided an admirable example of intellectual honesty, integrity, and courage, a first-rate lesson in independently observing the world, reflecting upon it, and developing and presenting arguments about it, orthodoxies be damned.  You didn’t have to agree with everything he said – who did? – to admire his constant readiness to say it as he saw it.  No lesson could be more important to a generation of students instructed by the spineless careerists and lockstep lemmings of the academy, whose mind-numbing, reality-immune ideological claptrap is enough to crush the intellectual ambitions of even the most gifted students – enough to make them cynical about the very idea of ideas.  (Either that, or enough to turn them into so many little copies of their teachers, churning out papers, essays, and eventually books saying the approved things about the approved topics in the approved kind of prose.)

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  • tarleton

    Hitch was an Englishman in the great iconclast and contrarian tradition , a disturber of the peace par excellence … …he walked off the beaten path and did it his way …he was a kind of' ' Borat '' of the written word , a Thomas Paine of our times ….we will miss him greatly
    I didn't agree with his over the top hatred of all religion or his anti zionism , but that's what made him such a contrarian , his unpredictability and his determination not to be categorised…..R.I.P. HITCH

    PS ….I bet the fundamentalists are enjoying their shadenfreude that ''God'' has finally shut down the blasphemer haha !

    • intrcptr2

      I consider myself a Fundamentalist, in the true and proper sense (Iconoclast in the proper sense as well), and do not relish our loss in his death (Nor indeed his loss).

      I will point out that such a broad brush-stroke does not coincide with his approach to matters mental or personal, either.

      • tarleton

        show me a fundamentalist who doesn't consider himself ''in the proper sense ''

        that's the problem with ''true believers '' whether secular or religious..it's the certainty of their beliefs

        • intrcptr2

          You really have no idea what The Fundamentals were, do you?

          And I suppose the fact that I do not share your putative "fundamentalist's" schadenfreude is irrelevant, yes?

          Which would make your distaste for "fundamentalists" a rather fundamental stance, hmm?

          • Advocatus

            intrcptr2, yes, that's a common charge against people who oppose literalist Christians and crazed Islamist fanatics: you are a "fundamentalist" yourself. In fact, Noam Chomsky recently just dismissed Hitchens and other outspoken atheists as "religious fanatics." A misnomer if ever there was one. Of course, Chomsky is a self-righteous doddering old fool, but you should know better.

          • GKC

            If there weren't any fundamentalists, you'd have to invent them. Oooo, literalist Christians and crazed IFers. So unlike each other in practical consequence,

          • intrcptr2

            Well, yes, that is the point, init?
            Or are you suggesting that the Copts really are responsible for upsetting the 70+ million muslims in Egypt? http://www.persecution.com/

            Funny how this works, hmm?
            And don't bother throwing either the Inquisition or John Calvin in my face. Neither is example of Christianity.

          • tarleton

            not like us REAL CHRISTIANS ….I can well understand how you folks could have religious wars

          • intrcptr2

            Which is why I put it in quotes.
            The lie that "fundamentalists" come in different flavors is a minor issue, but Americans' ignorance of the real ones; http://user.xmission.com/~fidelis/index.php
            really is inexcusable; understandable, given the educational philosophies we've been following since right about when they were written, but it is utterly despicable that such a large piece of 20th Century history has been negated through simple ignorance.

            I agree that ole Noam is a fool, but he's been doddering likely since he was an undergrad. Of course using tarleton's depiction of "fundamentalist", I think Noam himself qualifies. Although I also do think that Dawkins' and Harris' type of atheism qualifies as "religious".

            These days a fundamentalist is considered one who is poorly educated, disintellectual, inflexible in thought and morality, yes? Naturally enough, I fail to meet such expectations, on some points. At the same time, because of the way we all have been taught to read, for the last two or thre generations, it matters little what I write; once I identify myself, explicitly or implicitly, as a literalist (Just whatever that means to a non-christian), most people begin reading their expectations into my words. It is most frustrating,and disturbing, really.

            I tossed the epithet back in tarelton's face because his knee-jerk assumption that I, or so many of my friends, were enjoying Hitch's death because he was an enemy of the Gospel, indicates that his thinking, in this case anyway, is no less inflexible and poorly educated than those he grandiosely slanders. The fact that he abjectly refused my own words on the matter goes even beyond my first response.

          • GKC

            Good points all. Hopefully it is apparent that I was NOT attacking you. We seem to be of one mind so far as I can tell.

  • theleastthreat

    He was exciting to watch. I can't say I agreed with him on much politically but he was the real deal and found in myself an admiration for him. I doubt there is anyone with as much talent or personality to fill the gap made by his passing. Such people should live longer.

    • Asher

      I don't think he was a believer and I didn't agree with him on some things, but he was talented and made good points in many areas of policies and fairness. Hope he went to a better place.

    • Questions

      A "Borat of the written word" — I like that.

  • Sandra

    Take a look at this before telling us how sad it is that Christopher Hitchens is gone:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6RJfw2GZnI
    and http://www.jewishideasdaily.com/content/module/20

    • stern

      Thank you Sandra.
      Another one to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIU96N7ciXM&fe

      Here, Hitchens tells his audience that he was "proud" to defend David Irving. yes, PROUD!

      His rationale is that if someone disagrees with a common consensus, you MUST pay attention to that person because he may have uncovered a seed of truth. So irving, who denies all documentary evidence, including that gathered by the Nazis themselves, is suddenly a hero of free speech?

      Thanks, but no thanks. I think my prefer my Hitchens where he is now, wherever that may be.

      • Advocatus

        stern, he defended Irving on the grounds that views, however obnoxious, should be defeated in open debate, not just silenced. Here's the rub: if Holocaust denial is deemed illegal, where do you draw the line on other controversial forms of free expression? You may have noticed that Muslim countries and pressure groups are busy campaigning to have criticism of Islam outlawed as "Islamophobia." They constantly cite the ban on Holocaust denial as an example that should be followed in "defending" Muslims against alleged prejudice. Now what is your answer to that?

        • stern

          I understand where Hitchens was coming from. What I take exception to is the vehemence with which he defended Irving – telling the world he was "proud" to do so.

          Yes, I agree with you that the way to defeat views like Irving's is in open debate – and I agree that making them illegal is not only wrong, but pretty pointless too. However, I would understand Hitchens more easily if he had claimed to be proudly defending Irving's right to speak. But that's not what he did. He told his audience that he was proud to defend IRVING!

      • tarleton

        Holocaust denial is only illegal in Austria …and I agree it should be , after all the very worst nazis came from that mountainous redneck retreat …it should be illegal there ,as otherwise they would ALL DENY IT

        • Advocatus

          tarleton, Holocaust denial is illegal not just in Austria but in many European countries: Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Spain etc. Please check your facts before you comment.

          • Advocatus

            tarleton, but otherwise I applaud you for your spirited defense of Hitchens against commenters who now accuse him of being everything from a spineless self-promoter (he may have been a self-promoter but he was certainly not spineless) to an anti-Semite (despite the fact that he gladly declared himself a Jew for cultural reasons when he learned as an adult that his late mother had been Jewish).

          • tarleton

            Holocaust denial should be illegal in Hungary too , and Rumania and Poland and Latvia , Lithuania and Estonia …in those type of countries it's not safe to be a jew , even today

            In traditional Catholic countries like Poland , I wonder if their religion was a barrier to anti semitism or an incitement ?

          • Advocatus

            As matters stand, Holocaust denial is also illegal in Hungary, Romania and Poland. Yet I maintain that banning various forms of speech short of the kind in which one calls for the murder of others on racial or religious grounds sets dangerous precedents — dangerous, that is, to freedom of speech and so to reason.

    • Advocatus

      Wonderful, Sandra. You applaud a video comparing Richard Dawkins to Hitler because of his stance against religious indoctrination of children by their parents, an idea which we learn is on a par with "fascism." Bravo!

      Now, presumably you agree with Islamists across the Middle East drilling into their children a murderous hatred of Jews and infidels, part of which wonderful parental guidance includes some Palestinian parents dressing up their children as suicide bombers and "martyrs" ready to die for Allah. Good on you.

    • tarleton

      Female fundamentalists are the worst …all witch burners

  • mrbean

    He was an intellect of some substance and a interesting guy at times but a bloviating conceited A$$ at other times.

    • Questions

      Hitchens probably would agree with you. Self-effacement was part of his charm. Yes, I often disagreed with him, too. But deep down he was a free thinker, not a slave. And he hated slave thinking, which he saw, properly, as not thinking at all. R.I.P.

      • stern

        And I think he would shave agreed with everything you said except the R.I.P.!

        Unless I misunderstood the man, he's not "resting" anyway. He is simply …. gone.

  • 080

    Something disturbing has come up. Hitchens is accused of anti-Semitism in an article by Caroline Glick- an analyst that I consider to be far superior to Hitchens. She cites a long article by someone named Kerstein. I haven't read it yet but as people always say "check it out".

    • tarleton

      well why didn't she accuse him of it when he was still alive to defend himself ?…typical female modus operandus

    • tarleton

      you haven't read it yourself , but you'd like us to read some silly woman's post mortem accusation of ''anti semitism ''…Hitch was part jewish himself , so he must have been another of those self hating jews

  • JasonPappas

    Bruce, looking forward to you new book "The New Quislings". Keep up the good work.

  • Western Spirit

    I think Hitchin's mother was a Jew. So any antisemitism would be against himself.

    Also as an Evangelical Christian I simply hope he accedes to no life after death since he didn't believe in it anyway.

    • Advocatus

      Western Spirit, the "loving kindness" of Evangelicals such as yourself towards people they disagree with never ceases to amaze me. But not to worry: I am sad to inform you but the concept of heaven and hell (or an afterlife in general) is on pretty shaky grounds despite what your preachers may tell you with all those hallelujahs. So I wouldn't be looking forward to my demise if I were you. We'll all end up right where Hitchens is, even if the propect may not cheer us.

      • Stephen_Brady

        As an evangelical Christian, I take no pleasure in seeing anyone die, atheist or theist. My understanding of Hitchens is that his real problem with Christianity … and other religions, for that matter … were the institutions, the doctrines, the rituals, the history – all of these are things. Christianity's true purpose SHOULD be to bring people to a Person, rather than a thing.

        Jesus walked up to a man who was considered a traitor to the Jewish people. He was a tax collector for the Romans, and was also considered to be a person of loose morals. As a tax collector, he made his living by collecting what Rome wanted, with a little extra for himself.

        Jesus looked at this man, and didn't condemn him. He said, "Follow me." And the author of the first Gospel, the Apostle Matthew, did just that.

        The Christian faith is not about things. It is about a Person, and a pilgrimage through life with that Person. When one believes he has found all there is to know, he has stopped following Christ, and is "stuck".

        It's a pilgrimage, following Christ.

        I find no pleasure in seeing the broad-ranging intellect and curiosity of Chistopher Hitchens ended. A Christian simply would not do so.

      • tarleton

        That's the problem with us atheists, we have to face the existential despair of a Godless universe manfully …but it's rather annoying to witness the optimism and joy of religious believers even IF they are sadly deluded ……..MISERY LOVES COMPANY …haha

  • Glennd1

    Thanks for a proper memorialization of Hitchens. Compared the rude, disrespectful memorial Horowitz published, it is a gleaming example of how to note what is great about a great man when he dies.

    Sadly, as usual on any right-wing site, so much of the babbling commentators focus on Hitche's atheism, which of course is a very small part of who he was. I actually found him most compelling when he discussed morality and political philosophy, holding absolute scoundrels like Henry Kissinger to account. He possessed an understanding of the great ideas that moved society so deeply and broadly that most of his critiques were also lesson in the history political philosophy.

    A "man of ideas indeed". Thanks again for giving Hitch a proper-sendoff.