Hitchens, Your Hitchens: Christopher Hitchens Dead at 62
Christopher Eric Hitchens, journalist, polemicist, intellectual, part-time professor and prolific author, is dead after his struggle with esophageal cancer. He was 62.
Hitchens was a focal literary critic, vital commentator on current affairs, and most notably a tireless campaigner against any form of totalitarianism that led him to create acerbic, but nevertheless diligent and clinical attacks on figures from Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger to Mother Theresa; to show the stupidity of the babyish, fickle idea that political opinions should be divided left/right; and to become one of the fiercest critics of the corrosive influence of religion to orate.
He was, as David Free said recently, “the key writer of the post 9/11 age”. He pissed a lot of people off after his support for the removal of Saddam Hussein by military means in 2003. But whom he pisses off vindicates that no-one summed the world-view post 9/11 better than Hitch. Few come close to the clarity and consistency on the topic that come from, to borrow a phrase from Orwell that almost became the title of one of Hitchens’ books, a “power of facing” horrific facts.
Chomsky and others talk about trying to make the world a better place and talk of American governmental atrocities, but this doesn’t justify leaving people like Hussein in power. Hitch recognized this. He criticized evil actions, such as the Iran/Contra affair possibly more than those like Chomsky, and made probably the most compelling case that Henry Kissinger should currently be rotting behind bars, but he didn’t let it make him conclude that all actions should be seen as imperialistic, or to use this as an excuse to ignore a situation. As the only writer who had visited Iraq, Iran and North Korea, along with so many other places, he really understood the horror of such regimes. If you want to really deal with the topic, begin by listening to this one of many by Hitch on the subject.
Hitch published no magnum opus, as traditionally conceived, yet he was quite possibly the greatest mind on this planet of the past four decades. He was born in Portsmouth and fell in love with books at boarding school. To me, the most moving article in his last collection of essays, Arguably, is “Prisoner of Shelves”, describing the effects on his everyday life of his bibliomania. He went to Oxford and soon got into self-publishing with students and protesting vigorously against anything he saw as wrong. He moved to London after university and began writing for publications such as New Statesman and the Times Literary Supplement. He was a brilliant young journalist highlighting topics like the dissection of Cyprus. His 70s and 80s work isn’t read as much these days, but works like his on the Elgin Marbles are just as significant as when they were written.Continued on the next page