A few short words on Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011.
No doubt Hitchens will chiefly be remembered, fondly and not so fondly, depending on one’s perspective, for his services to atheism. The non-believers will declare him greatly-missed, and those of the opposite persuasion will either bask in his imagined fate or express regret at a life wasted. Indeed, in the FFF my current signature is a quote from him:
To be an unbeliever is not merely to be “open-minded”. It is, rather, a decisive admission of uncertainty that is dialectically connected to the repudiation of the totalitarian principle, in the mind as well as politics.
But these words spell out succinctly what Hitchens should mean to all of us, and why his lack of belief in itself was incidental to a much bigger project.
I recall from days gone by Hitchens regularly appearing on polemical TV shows, as his much less talented brother does these days. I don’t recall too much of his views then, but we’re told that he was out there well on the left. My first real encounter came much later with his book Regime Change, now titled A Long Short War. Considering his left-wing credentials this was a remarkably brave but characteristically honest effort, supporting the invasion of Iraq on the issue of human rights. This was basically my stance, too.
In fact it became pointless trying to pigeon-hole Hitchens within the usual political spectrum. He had no time for those that, as he saw it, perverted humanity for their own purposes. His attacks on Henry Kissinger and Ronald Reagan would please the left while his disdain for Michael Moore, George Galloway and Bill Clinton would gain support from the right. Both sides would be missing the point. Hitchens was a fighter for humanity and its potential and against those who would devalue it, from whence ever they came.
I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, and didn’t even think that he did himself justice all the time. But he had a precision, a power and an eloquence with his language that very few can match. I saw him in person at Hay during a recording for a TV programme and of course he didn’t disappoint. He rarely did.