On Christopher Hitchens

8 posts


Here is one of life's poetic ironies. Hitchens, who gloated over Mother Theresa's death, smeared the late John Paul II as an "elderly and querulous celibate", and in a lapse of self-awareness managed to label Edward Said as thin-skinned and self-pitying in a recent obituary, is now in the same position as the other posthumous personalities whose memories he has defiled: six feet under. Like Theresa, John Paul II, and Said, his corpse is at the mercy of journalists armed with caustic ink. How will he be remembered? If Alexander Cockburn , James Kirkpatrick , Kevin Drum or Steve Sailer -- among others -- are any indication, not terribly fondly. Karma might be real after all.

Unfortunately, these reasonable voices are currently drowned out by the chorus of eulogies swelling over the opinion pages of every mainstream publication from Slate to WSJ and everything in between. You see, Hitchens had a strong preservation instinct which allowed him to anticipate political trends and cuddle up to them like a nursing babe; while never straying from his Trotskyite roots, he was always able to stake out a position on the spectrum which would maximize his respectability with the media while letting him strike his favorite pose, that of the rakish iconoclast. He hated Reagan back when it was still trendy; in the 90s he covered his bases by bashing Clinton for his personal proclivities while enthusiastically supporting his wars in Somalia and Bosnia; and then, sensing the climate changing post-911, he pulled a Dennis Miller and became a cheerleader for the neocons. Nothing he did or said was considered truly 'contrarian' in the eyes of the fawning elite, which is now returning the favor by extending to him exactly that courtesy -- honor and praise of the dead -- which Hitchens denied his late opponents.

Those who have commented on Hitchen's passing, even his critics, have conceded the superiority of his prose, calling him 'acerbic', 'incisive', 'witty', and the like. I won't do the same. His columns are tediously predictable, often following this format: Hitchens tosses a few barbs at a well-known figure, peppers his invective with pretentious allusions, loses the plot after an anecdote or two, and ends on an anti-climatic banality. And his heralded style? I hope it doesn't give away my distaste for the man if I say that the overall tenor of his writing resembles Maureen Dowd with an Oxford degree. It has that same prissy, gossipy quality, that same mix of the captious and facile, all topped off with an unbearable literary arrogance. In other words, it has a female quality, perhaps because of his early identification with his mother.

When he attempts introspection, as he has with the columns leading up to his (richly deserved) death, the results are nothing short of cringe-worthy. Hitchens has lived with such a high estimation of his own talents and personality, and for so long, that every effort at self-reflection seems forced and artificial. Even the specter of death has not managed to cure his outrageous egotism. While most people faced with the prospect of oblivion would think of settling accounts, either with God or other people, Hitchens can only toss out smug nips of garlic like " ...I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. "

See? This cunt thinks he's too good for death. Well, death is too good for him. I would rather see him live into his 80s, dwindling into senile obscurity, than be ennobled in the public eye through his trial with cancer. But oh well. At least I won't have to read his columns anymore.


While I concur with the ideas expounded in the OP, I shall note that its tone is similar to that of Hitchens, venomously gloating over the death of an ideological foe. I do not resent Hitchens: he seems to have led a miserable existence, constantly numbing his suffering with alcohol. He irked me, so I rarely read his stuff at all. Why waste your time with a culture destroyer?

Niccolo and Donkey

Counterpunch's Alexander Cockburn takes a swing at Hitchens;

Farewell to C.H.

Here's a sample:


The Cockburn article is spot on. I semi seriously referred to myself as a Hitch Fanboy in the past, but since his actual passing it's hard for me to see him as anything but a consistent opportunist. He was basically just a court intellectual who was appreciated for his dry English wit. His targets were often obvious even if they were deserving, the vile Clintons come to mind and referring to Reagan as a "cruel and stupid lizard" showed creativity. But outside of a few witticisms, was was his legacy? Supporting a few pet national liberation movements, New Atheism, "muscular liberalism", drunkenly yelling at a pacifist priest after 9/11?

The greatest evidence for his lack of principles is from his own biography Hitch 22 . Born into a petit bourgeois family, his social climbing and fondness (hinted at but never explicitly stated) for the Englishness of the Empire pretty much cemented the fact that would end up as a reactionary pub bore. On top of this, his leftism was more a righteous tourism . He would find some issue or cause or group to get embroiled in, the perfect subject for his bombastic prose. But then he would drop it, never mention it again and move on to another subject to get haughty about.

Hitchens was a great prose stylist but he wasn't a profound thinker. His essays and books are full of pretentious reference-dropping. You can't get more than two sentences on any page in his books without encountering "George Orwell said...", "Saul Bellow said...", "Albert Camus was heard to remark..." His reputation as an intellectual isn't based on some technical contribution he made or original philosophical treatise, but to writing a lot of books with tons of literary references and big words. He was an "intellectual" like William F Buckley.

So Christopher Hitchens has kicked the bucket...cry me a river. That this hack is held up as some sort of intellectual giant is quite telling about the sorry state of the current intelligentsia. He can spout his vacuous "witticisms" in hell, where he is doubtlessly being tormented at this very moment.


Hitchens' most burning desire was to be regarded as an English 'man of letters' like his superiors Waugh and Carlyle; to this end he adopted the costume of an intellectual, pantomiming the pretensions and manners of a bygone class of literati. Much of this hunger for intellectual acceptance was kindled by his mother, a social striver who despised the cultural unsophistication of her small town surroundings and once remarked, "if there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it."

What links him to Buckley, besides his unforgivable arrogance, is that his agility with words compensated an intelligence which was smooth and shallow as a glacial pond. He contributed nothing but hysterical vitriol to our understanding of religion, and in politics he will be remembered mostly for his absurd (yet in some ways consistent) embrace of neoconservatism. He held to an unexceptional (and boring) empiricism shared by swathes of the English upper classes. In short, nothing he did or said was remarkable in itself; only his prose separated him from Englishmen of a similar social orientation. He thirsted after the praise of the high-bred and well-read, but in a sardonic twist his most enduring literary legacy will likely take the form of oneliners memorized and parroted by his legion of nerd groupies, among the lowest denizens of the intellectual food chain.

Agreed, and it's sad that 'believers' like Douthat ( http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/18/opinion/sunday/douthat-the-believers-atheist.html?_r=1 ) refrain from the stating the truth about Hitchens -- he was an irredeemable asshole -- for fear of losing respect with media liberals and getting uninvited to their dinner parties.