Remembering Christopher Hitchens, 1949 - 2011

Christopher Hitchens died on this date two years ago. Hitchens was the model of a public intellectual. He was certainly public in his positions and arguments, which allows for anyone interested to assess a person's arguments. And he was intellectually honest in a way that is uncommon, with many (most?) thinkers curtailing their views if they threaten a broader ideological identity. Though definitely a man of the left, Hitchens was never orthodox and ran into trouble given his positions on issues such as abortion (he was against it), foreign interventionism (he was for it), free speech deemed offensive to certain groups (he was for it), and more. While he rarely missed opportunities to offend right-wing sensibilities (he once joked about Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's clearly having started with the president was still in office), he didn't hold back against the left, either. He had few kind words about Martin Luther King, Jr. and he dismissed Gandhi as a "poverty pimp."

He admitted to Reason in a wide-ranging  2001 Reason interview conducted a few months before the 9/11 attacks that his connection to the left was fraying (he would break definitively with The Nation magazine shortly after the attacks). Part of the reason stemmed from his realization that the forces of creative destruction unleashed by capitalism were remaking the world in a way that he - along with Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto - could appreciate:

The thing I’ve often tried to point out to people from the early days of the Thatcher revolution in Britain was that the political consensus had been broken, and from the right. The revolutionary, radical forces in British life were being led by the conservatives. That was something that almost nobody, with the very slight exception of myself, had foreseen.

I’d realized in 1979, the year she won, that though I was a member of the Labour Party, I wasn’t going to vote for it. I couldn’t bring myself to vote conservative. That’s purely visceral. It was nothing to do with my mind, really. I just couldn’t physically do it. I’ll never get over that, but that’s my private problem.

But I did realize that by subtracting my vote from the Labour Party, I was effectively voting for Thatcher to win.

Hitchens was a good friend and ally to Reason over the years, though we disagreed with him on many, many topics (indeed, on most topics). He graciously penned a foreword to our 2004 anthology Choice: The Best of Reason, remarking

It is useful and encouraging to have a magazine that approaches matters with an additional dash of hedonism. Freedom might be more efficient, but it also might possibly be more enjoyable....I find that Reason keeps my own arteries from hardening or from flooding with adrenaline out of sheer irritation, because in the face of arbitrary power and flock-like conformism it continues to ask, in a polite but firm tone of voice, not only "why?" but "why not?"

The world of ideas needs more people like Hitchens: People who speak up for their beliefs, debate them openly and honestly, and have the courage to change their positions when they come to new understandings. Hitchens was an admirer of Thomas Jefferson because Jefferson, for all his limitations as a flesh-and-blood being, was commited to an Enlightenment ideal that we might struggle in the general direction of truth and understanding if we vet all of our arguments in public debate and discourse. That's the model that Hitchens embodied in a manner that will always inspire his audience.

Reason on Hitchens, Reason articles by Hitchens, and more.

In 2007, Hitchens headlined Reason's "Very Secular Xmas Party," leading the crowd in a rendition of Tom Lehrer's "Christmas Song" after riffing on the the holiday season, the Bush presidency, and North Korea. Take a look:

 

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  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Pope francis tells Italian newspaper he's not a Marxist, but he knows good people who are. People like Hitchens, perhaps?

    (CNN report from local TV Web site)

    http://goo.gl/K6obLo

  • Marshall Gill||

    Hillary Clinton Pope francis tells Italian newspaper he's not a Marxist, but he knows good people who are.

    It is just as convincing my way.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Or since you had to mention the Pope in a thread about a guy who was no fan:

    Walter Duranty Pope francis tells Italian newspaper he's not a Marxist, but he knows good people who are.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    "Walter Duranty Pope francis tells Italian newspaper he's not a Marxist, but he knows good people who are."

    HE'S GOT A MILLION OF 'EM, HA-CHA-CHA!


    . . . oh, wait.

  • Marshall Gill||

    He was truly a unique individual. The world is a smaller place without Hitch. RIP

  • John C. Randolph||

    I will always appreciate his takedown of Bill Clinton.

    -jcr

  • Archduke von Pantsfan||

    Did he die again?

  • Cdr Lytton||

    Always in threes. First Lou Reed, then Mandela, now Hitchens.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Wtf??? When did Lou Reed die? Bummed out...

  • Cdr Lytton||

    It's ok. He had a good life. Saving Europe from the Nazis and all that.

  • Epi1317||

    You guys need to read the article again if you think he died recently.

  • ||

    Please submit your sarcometer for calibration.

  • PapayaSF||

    The recent three were Eleanor Parker, Audrey Totter, and Peter O'Toole.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I disagreed with a lot of what Hitchens wrote and said, but I've never learned much from people who agree with me.

    Dealing with Hitchens made me smarter, that way.

    "Part of the reason stemmed from his realization that the forces of creative destruction unleashed by capitalism were remaking the world in a way that he - along with Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto - could appreciate"

    I suspect most of my fellow libertarians didn't know that creative destruction was a Marxist thing.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_destruction

    I'm sure the opposition on the left doesn't know it was a Marxist thing. They don't seem to know anything about Marxist observations in regards to the Business Cycle, either. Marxists and Austrian economists agree on certain things, and a lot of what they agree on flies in the face of what people like Obama are trying to do.

    Some of you may remember I'm a big fan of using the Bible against social conservatives. If we knew Marx better, we could use Marx against the authoritarians on the left, too. Hitchens' hero, Orwell, did a great job of that, and, just like with Orwell's work, I found a lot of what Hitchens had to say inspiring from a libertarian perspective.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    The problem with that analogy is that SoCons embrace the bible, even though they do not following many precepts in it; while progressive disavow any connection to Marx even as they embrace his central themes.

  • Dweebston||

    I don't think Marx would have countenanced the shameless kleptocratic cronyism the left today embodies. Taxes for thee, proceeds for me. They're less about the redistribution and more about skimming off the top.

  • John C. Randolph||

    I don't think Marx would have countenanced the shameless kleptocratic cronyism the left today embodies.

    Not unless he was benefitting from it. You vastly underestimate his sleaziness.

    -jcr

  • Irish||

    Not unless he was benefitting from it. You vastly underestimate his sleaziness.

    Yeah, Marx had no problem bragging about his connection to the aristocracy that he had through his wife.

    Quite a man of the people, that guy was.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Yeah, Marx had no problem bragging about his connection to the aristocracy

    ...or of mooching off of Engels' fortune.

  • wadair||

    Yeah, Engels the reluctant capitalist.

  • Dweebston||

    S'true. I wasn't making a defense of Marx, though. I just think it's untrue that liberals are Marxist or even socialist, or informed by any variety of philosophy beyond political opportunism.

  • Ken Shultz||

    And isn't that a vulnerability?

    I want to hear the left have to denounce Marx.

    Let's make 'em do it!

  • Dweebston||

    I linked this in another thread. It's not quite a lefty giving the boot to ol' Marx, but a repentant Marxist taking his ilk to task for failing to recognize the evils perpetuated in the name of Communism.

  • James Taggart||

    You might get liberals to renounce Marxism. You might even get the pope to do it.

    But, you won't get them to stop trying to take other people's stuff. It's in their DNA.

  • Irish||

    Hitchens' hero, Orwell, did a great job of that, and, just like with Orwell's work, I found a lot of what Hitchens had to say inspiring from a libertarian perspective.

    That's because Hitchens and Orwell actually were liberals when it came to things like free speech, free thought, and other sorts of rights. Since the left doesn't actually believe in any of those things anymore, Hitchens and Orwell are actually libertarian when it comes to social issues.

    Here's a line from Hitchens' article he wrote after the Virginia Tech shooting:

    Everyone in the country seems to have taken this non-event as an excuse to talk the starkest nonsense. And why not? Since the slaughter raised no real issues, it was a blank slate on which anyone could doodle.

    Can you imagine an actual leftist writing anything like this? A leftist would have been shrieking at Hitchens for daring to say it raised no real issues when clearly it proves the need for gun control.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Reminds me of my favorite Orwell quote:

    "The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians."

    ---George Orwell

    http://www.goodreads.com/quote.....naries-but

    I suspect Hitchens may have become more of an honest liberal after the criticism from his friend Amis by way of "Koba the Dread", too.

    "Amis effectively accuses Hitchens, a youthful Trotskyite (who will still call himself a Trotskyite, if asked), of covering up the truth about communism and links him to the socialist fellow-travelers of the past: H.G. Wells, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, George Bernard Shaw. In the final pages of the book, Amis addresses his friend as "Comrade Hitchens," and solemnly lectures him about the "formula of dead freedom, lies and violence" with which the Bolsheviks ran revolutionary Russia."

    http://www.slate.com/articles/.....mento.html

    Not that I always knew everything I know now either.

  • PapayaSF||

    Irish: Correct.

  • ||

    I found some of Hitchens's positions infuriating, but hearing him make those cases was never a waste of time.

    When he was right, he was righter than anyone else.

    His death was a great loss to us all.

  • Libertarius||

    I still don't understand the big fuss about Hitchens. As an Objectivist, I agree with his atheism; but beyond atheism, Hitchens had nothing to offer. He was famous for being an atheist, but I regard atheism as an anteroom to valid metaphysics. "Yes, you have discarded (avowed) mysticism; congratulations. Now what to replace it with?"

    I don't know if Hitchens was a materialist, but in being a left-atheist it is practically unavoidable. His advocacy of political collectivism is certainly consistent with the rest of the materialist tradition, and with the groups he ran with.

    I'm just saying that I regard atheism as obvious and elementary. Atheism is not, as the mainstream left-atheists present it, a philosophical system entailing metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics as-such; it is simply a rejection of supernaturalism, a rejection which too many atheists limit simply to god, but then go on to project equally mystic fantasies onto nature, "the collective", etc.

  • David Wall||

    Right.

    Since Comte secularists like Hitchens rejected the mysticism of Christianity, but accepted and actively promoted its altruist morality. Society or the collective was simply substituted for God. I tried to admire Hitchens for his atheism, because he had such a piercing wit. I would have liked to have shared a drink with the guy, but in the end he really did not have anything new to say.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The purpose of libertarianism isn't necessarily philosophical.

    Feel free to be an Objectivist, but not everyone is. ...or is even interested.

    I'm not an Objectivist, mostly because I don't care about what you care about.

    If Hitchens doesn't interest you because he didn't find philosophy very interesting, then the rest of the world must not interest you very much either.

    And that's fine! It's just that other people do find other things interesting.

    Seriously.

  • David Wall||

    Let me take this one, Libertarius.

    You are wrong Mr. Shultz, Christopher did take philosophy and morality seriously. In his Acknowledgements of God is Not Great he gave tribute to his moral teachers Dr. Israel Shahak, Salman Rusdie, Ibn Warraq and Irfan Khawaja, and Dr. Michael Shermer. He obviously wanted a place with these well known philosophers and moralists. What are you talking about?

    You don't care about philosophy? You should.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "You don't care about philosophy? You should."

    I'm too busy being a capitalist and enjoying my money.

    Start a business. Get a girlfriend...or two.

    You won't care about or have any time for philosophy either.

  • David Wall||

    Good for you! Enjoy your life!

    But don't try to defend capitalism without philosophy. It won't work.

  • Libertarius||

    I know you're trying to be a dick, but you fail so badly, even at that. Your statements are transparently rationalistic and arbitrary. If you are not an Objectivist "mostly because you don't care what I care about", then you have already assigned far greater value to my judgment than I could ever ascribe to yours.

    Without philosophy, you have no way of knowing how you know anything, how to discern the valid from the false and the arbitrary. You have no understanding of the fundamental relationship between your mind and reality, no rational and deliberate means of integrating what knowledge you might happen to haphazardly acquire, somehow.

  • David Wall||

    Wham, bam.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Without philosophy, you have no way of knowing how you know anything, how to discern the valid from the false and the arbitrary. You have no understanding of the fundamental relationship between your mind and reality, no rational and deliberate means of integrating what knowledge you might happen to haphazardly acquire, somehow.

    "Apes don't read philosophy." "Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it."

  • Ken Shultz||

    "If you are not an Objectivist "mostly because you don't care what I care about", then you have already assigned far greater value to my judgment than I could ever ascribe to yours."

    Is this the part where you tell me I'm anti-reality, anti-reason, and, therefore, anti-life?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIk5C2qsRH8

    'cause if it is? I really, truly, seriously don't care about what you care about--like down in my bones, I don't give a shit.

  • David Wall||

    Mr. Shultz--

    Re: Your post above. Go enjoy your life, as you should.

    But don't denigrate what you don't care about or don't understand. You are stepping into the evil of nihilism.

    I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, though and just assume you are ignorant.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    he dismissed Gandhi as a "poverty pimp."

    Hardly a revelation Gandhi was a poverty pimp, and so was his friend Adolph Hitler.

  • LIFE.time.opertunity||

  • ||

    Hitchens' atheist apologetics were about as sophisticated as shreek's, consisting more or less entirely of schoolyard antagonizing of the religious and selling pomposity to the pompous. Fine enough if you happen to belong to the choir to which he preached. But there's no real reason for libertarians to have any special affection for him by nature of their being libertarians. He wasn't real hot on any of our ideas.

  • Habeas Dorkus||

    Bingo. If Reason wants to continue to fellate this man even in his death, the staff may as well just hand over the keys to Huffington.

  • DblEagle||

    I give Hitchens credit for several things but the most recent is that he absolutely refused to be cowed by the death cult of Islam, even after 9/11. His take downs of Gandhi and Mother Theresa still cause me to smile. He was not always correct in his view IMHO but he used the English language with a skill seldom seen today.

  • Habeas Dorkus||

    Reason's love affair with this angry, dismissive nabob has astounded me for a decade.
    Hitchens was a state-loving socialist right up to the moment he died, which was regrettably not much, much sooner.

  • ibcbet||

    The world is a smaller place without Hitch

  • Habeas Dorkus||

    Seriously, Reason magazine? Go fuck yourself.
    I'm glad you have Hitchens and his drunken idiocy. I'm happy you find so much value in this dead idiot.
    I'm glad you've made this moron's death, apparently, an annual rite of mourning for your edification.
    Reason now, officially, has nothing to do with "reason."
    I cancel my subscription and will never again visit your site.
    Happy cunting holidays.
    BTW, Gillespie. You are even lamer than that fuck jacket you wear.

  • Edward M||

    Actually, he respected Martin Luther King, Jr very much.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh5OzOrkAUU

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