Christopher Hitchens: RIP

20 Dec

 

            I knew Christopher Hitchens casually, envied his rhetorical fluency, abhorred his interventionist cheerleading, and was offended by his arrogantly dismissive manner toward those he deemed his inferiors in debate or discussion. Perhaps, his sociopathic arrogance is epitomized by the kind of explanation he often gave of why he was such a heavy drinker, as for instance,  “..because it makes other people less boring. I have a great terror of being bored.” I confess that someone who needs to drink hard liquor to bear the company of others likely to be a bore, if not a boor!  Presumably as result of his profligate life style, Hitchens surprisingly graduated from Oxford with rather paltry third class honors.  If some non-academic institution of appraisal were available to offset Hitchens’ undeniable gifts of the mind with his deficiencies of character and heart, the Oxford grade would seem deserved even if Hitchens had been a dutiful student.

 

            I was particularly appalled one time when we were on a panel together by the way he insulted a member of the audience for putting a question awkwardly. There was something so chilling about this revelation of character as to cancel out for me his brilliance of expression reinforced by an astonishing erudition. It coheres with his willingness to forgo second thoughts about his advocacy of launching an unlawful aggressive war against Iraq, despite the false pretenses and bloody ordeal that the Iraqi people endured, and continue to endure.

 

            There is no doubt that Hitchens faced his own difficult death bravely, without succumbing to deathbed retreats, whether from stubbornness or authenticity it is hard to say.  He apparently made many people happy with his dogmatic embrace of atheism during a time of religious revival in this country and elsewhere. He had the courage to express his convictions, but not much empathy, and certainly no humility, for those among us who take religion and spirituality seriously.

 

            For reasons never made persuasive, Hitchens, as disappointed Trotskyites often do, lurched to the right in the early 1990s, and for a while even seemed to join the neoconservative dance. He resigned in 2002 as a columnist for The Nation on ideological grounds, and was clearly more comfortable in the slicker, sicker world of Vanity Fair, and also where his work was far more acclaimed.

 

            Hitchens is for me a hard case when it comes to deciding what to remember and what to forget. As indicated, I found his demeanor generally unpleasant in that Oxonian highbrow sense and his late politics reactionary and essentially mindless in the sense of indifference to the relevance of law, truth, and, most of all, the rights of others to shape their own destinies in the spirit of self-determination. At the same time, someone who unabashedly depicted the criminality of Kissinger’s embrace of Pinochet’s torture and crimes against humanity, deserves some sort of post-mortem salute.  As well, like Hitchens disillusioned by the American two party system, I voted for Ralph Nader in the 2000 elections, and although it did not contribute to the Bush victory, I came to reconsider my view that the choice between Bush and Gore was of no consequence. I do retain the view that Nader discussed issues that needed to be confronted, especially relating to the excesses of finance and globalized capitalism that neither party has yet to face, and only recently with the Occupy Movement have such questions started to light up the political sky. In the end it is Hitchens erudite and often illuminating essays and articles on political literature, past and present, which will continue to merit attentive reading and will likely be gratefully cherished for a long time to come. Yet even with respect to his intellectual virtuosity, Hitchens lack of a generosity of spirit darkens all horizons of expectation.

 

            In the end, we need to suspend moral and political judgment, and celebrate those rare human beings whose life and ideas exhibited memorable vividness. Hitchens was one of those: Christopher Hitchens RIP  (Requiescat in Pace)

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14 Responses to “Christopher Hitchens: RIP”

  1. Claudia December 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    You have hit the Hitch nail on the head!

    • Richard Falk December 21, 2011 at 10:38 am #

      Thanks, Claudia. Wishing you seasonal pleasures of your choosing along with happy holidays. Warmly, Richard

  2. Taline Voskeritchian December 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    Richard,

    …”undeniable gifts of the mind with his deficiencies of character and heart…” best summarizes, I think, the lethal mix that was C.H.

    These days it is not fashionable (among liberals, mainly) to talk about character; that topic, too, has been ambushed by the right. But H.C.’s flaws were those of character, primarily. He is being bandied around as a “great mind,” as though such a description (which is greatly exaggerated) excuses his flaws–of betrayal, opportunism, heartlessness.

    When Tony Judt, a great mind indeed, died, I felt I had lost someone I knew well though I had met him only through his writings. C.H.’s death left me indifferent. In the end, that’s the real measure of a person’s work and life.

    Thanks for your apt commentary.

    Taline Voskeritchian

    • Richard Falk December 21, 2011 at 10:39 am #

      Thanks for this supportive and thoughtful comment, much appreciated.

    • Douglas Presler December 28, 2011 at 6:46 am #

      Ironically, Hitchens would’ve agreed that talk of character has been ambushed by the right, to our collective detriment. To paraphrase Hitchens, ours is the age which judges people’s action on their reputations and he left no doubt mainstream liberals bore the brunt of the complicity in this. I agree with him in this.

      I’m glad this piece takes Hitchens to task for his noxious personality. A desultorily large number of detractors seem to feel his responsibility for the Iraq quagmire equals that of Bush, Cheny and Rumsfeld. This lot would’ve applaude that disdainful Oxonian style if it were aimed David Horowitz. They liked it when he aimed it at Jerry Falwell. They would also have had little to say if Florida had gone the other way in 2000 and Prsident Al Gore had continued his predecessor’s bombing of Iraq.

      • Richard Falk December 28, 2011 at 8:25 am #

        Thanks for this perceptive and clarifying comment. I think you right that responses varied depending on the shift of targets on CH’s part from mainly those on the right in phase 1 to those on the liberal left in phase 2. I did feel although he was not involved in the Iraq War on the policy side, he was an irresponsible cheerleader who never seemed to care about those Iraqis who paid the price for his pro-interventionary posture.

  3. Jan Nederveen Pieterse December 20, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    Let’s note the Oxford debating club has given us many luminaries, such as Tony Blair, equally enamoured with interventionist wars, especially in Iraq. Let’s note the bullying manner and tone that prevails in the Westminster lower house, a masculinist display, a bulldog style that runs deep in Britain, legacy of a waning aristocracy and a declining warrior culture, now transmuted on intellectual planes. Sing for your supper, as Hitchens eventually learned, also meant singing the right song. Disdain as style, also for the lesser breeds, is part of this culture. Noted are his gifts, but noted, too, are the wider legacy of which he is part.
    Here is to the “special relationship” and British exports to the US!

    • Richard Falk December 21, 2011 at 10:37 am #

      Jan, very nicely put..The Oxford Union mentality is about all that is left of the empire legacy, and should be embarrassing, but isn’t..happy holidays, Richard

  4. Nora Gallagher December 21, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    So well put, Richard, and what great readers you have!
    Thank you, Taline, for your words about Tony Judt v. Hitchens. I felt the same way.
    As one who “takes religion and spirituality seriously,” Hitchens’s grim and fundamentalist critique of religion was only about right wing Christianity and Islam, without nuance, understanding or education. He was a member of the Church of Atheism. And when the New York Times obituary compared him to George Orwell, one of my saints (with all his faults; saints tend to have many), I really cringed.
    Nora

    • Richard Falk December 21, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

      Thanks, Nora, you are so right, as is Taline for suggesting the contrast between Tony Judt’s generosity of spirit and Hitchens’ essential poverty of spirit. We look forward to reunion! Love, Richard

  5. faithfulskeptic December 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    Do you know whether Mr Hitchens ever provided any written or spoken reflection on his sometime pursuit of Henry Kissinger?

  6. deepaktripathi December 28, 2011 at 2:10 am #

    Thanks, Richard, for sharing your thoughts about CH with us. I was late coming to this. Such a post-mortem of his brilliant, but in my view somewhat disappointing career overall, was much needed. So much has been written about CH, undoubtedly a notable figure of our times, in recent months, with so little depth. And yet true appreciation is much needed, for he represented certain trends in the world we live in.

    • Richard Falk December 28, 2011 at 6:15 am #

      Thanks, Deepak, for your comments on CH, who as you say for better or worse was a sort of ‘hero of our times’ sometimes for better, more often for worse. Wishing you a satisfying year in 2012. Warm greetings, Richard

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  1. TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Christopher Hitchens: RIP - December 20, 2011

    [...] Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).Go to Original – richardfalk.comClick to share this article: facebook | twitter | email. Click here to download this article as a [...]

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