The Null Device

RIP Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, incandescent polemicist, serially promiscuous believer (lapsed Marxist turned neoconservative warhawk, adherent of various religions turned outspoken atheist) and bon vivant, has died. He was 62.

Hitchens was known for his broadsides against various public figures, from villains like Henry Kissinger to alleged paragons of virtue like Mother Teresa (whom Hitchens described as a ghoulish political opportunist, feeding off and perpetuating the misery of the poor) and the Dalai Lama.

The Independent's Oliver Duggan has written a tribute to Hitchens:

For Hitch, it seems to those of us who truly admired him, was not simply an atheist, a polemicist, and least of all a contrarian. Nor was he a poster boy the left, a banner boy for Iraq, or the harbinger of the apocalypse. He was, in a small part, the 21st century’s answer to the enlightenment. He stood, first and foremost, for thought. Thought that would always – by definition – question inherited truth and inherited experts.Thought that could break the chain and cull the living flower. In fact, he can be - and often is – mentioned alongside Dostoyevsky, Voltaire, Orwell and Trotsky not for what he thought, but for how he thought.
And other eulogies from Ana Marie Cox (you may remember her from suck.com), his close friend the writer Ian McEwan, and Christopher Buckley (the son of arch-conservative William F. Buckley). And here is a counterpoint:
Christopher Hitchens was a pompous buffoon, fueled by booze and cigarettes, and an advocate of an often-despicable worldview. You can dislike him for his repellant views. You can hate his loathsome behavior. You cannot pretend the world didn't just lose a one-of-a-kind voice in our culture. There's nobody left like Christopher Hitchens.
I disagreed with a lot of Hitchens' points of view (his support for the Bush administration's war in Iraq, for example, not to mention his somewhat chauvinistic contention that women are incapable of being funny; anyone who has read one of Zoe Williams' columns in the Guardian will have seen disproof of this); his righteous eviscerations of all manner of nonsense, however, were a wonder to behold. Over and above this, he had integrity, and was willing to revise his views when faced with new evidence rather than sticking to an ossified dogma. When challenged on his assertion that waterboarding isn't torture, he had himself subjected to it, and then publicly recanted his previous conviction, which is something it takes a real mensch to do.

Hitchens now rests forever in the noodly embrace of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; he will be missed (it is perhaps a great tragedy that we won't see his eulogy for Henry Kissinger). For what it's worth, longform.org has a selection of his essays.

There are 2 comments on "RIP Christopher Hitchens":

Posted by: Mon Dec 19 02:58:09 2011

I think that ability to revise his views and be informed by the past is what led me to respect him. His support for the war in Iraq did not come from the same place as the neocons - it was driven by his personal experience of the oppression of the Kurds, and a Trotskyite belief in solidarity with local progressives demanding the overthrow of their fascist government. Unfortunately, in his enthusiasm, he failed differentiate himself and see through the neocon bullshit (with his petulant cries of "You just wait!" when evidence of WMDs appeared lacking) and ended up with that bullshit all over him.

Posted by: alecmuffett Thu Dec 22 17:33:24 2011

To the best of my knowledge Hitchens never said it was not torture.

Hitchens had himself waterboarded and wrote about it:

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/08/hitchens200808

...but the guy who supported it and then recanted is

But the guy who supported it, did it, and recanted was Mancow:

http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/archive/Mancow-Takes-on-Waterboarding-and-Loses.html

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