r.i.p.

Hitchens On Hacks

Christopher Hitchens is dead. His essays were feisty and elegant, well within the great tradition of combative English pamphleteering. He was usually provocative, often dazzling in his historical and literary allusions, and rarely boring. He only became a bore, really, in his final decade. His ironic and playful mind became (at times) monomaniacal, first about the war against the Islamo Iron Guard or whatever the term was in 2003, and then about vicious dictator “God.” Your book-reviewer met him once, and the man couldn’t have been more of a gent.

Good Hitchens books: his essay collections Prepared for the Worst and For the Sake of Argument, and his actually-quite-scholarly book about Henry Kissinger’s numerous crimes.

VERY good Hitchens books: his collection of literary essays Unacknowledged Legislation (few, maybe none, have written better about Oscar Wilde’s odd version of socialism) and the book on George Orwell.

For whatever reason, some of his best essays haven’t been collected into book form yet. Your reviewer remembers two in particular that were excellent but remain uncollected: a travel piece about Indonesia and its politics, and a piece comparing U.S. anti-smoking laws to the fox-hunting ban in the U.K. (both Vanity Fair pieces). WHERE ARE THEY NOW, BOOK PUBLISHERS?

Here’s Hitchens in 1983, writing about American “neoliberals” and “neoconservatives” (you can find this in Prepared for the Worst):

Cynics have compared the neoliberal tendency to the neoconservative one. I think that comparison must be counted as unfair. For one thing, neoconservatives are much more rigorous. For another, they are much more interesting. Neoconservatives believe in original sin, while neoliberals believe in the enervating effect of public spending programs. Neoconservatives are keenly interested in foreign policy, with its emphasis on tough choices, while neoliberals are oddly diffident about it. Neoconservatives have a sense of class struggle and know which side they are on. Neoliberals wish the word “class” had never been discovered and agree not to use it at all, ever, except when attacking radicals for being out of touch with what “ordinary people” want. Neoconservatism could occur in any country. Neoliberalism could, really, only occur in a country like America, which combines abundance with angst and has a vast population of overqualified graduate students, some of whom wish they had, after all, served in Vietnam.

It’s like, things can be written in one decade and, like, be true in another, man.

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76 comments

    1. ChernobylSoup

      You know what happens when matter meets anti-matter? Well I don't either but I reckon the consequences would have been similar.

    2. OneYieldRegular

      Perhaps you're thinking of Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy. Understandable, what with the drugs and all.

  1. hollywooddood

    Christopher Hitchens on professors seducing female students: "It's not worth it. Afterward, you have to read their short stories."

    My heart is broken.

    1. bagofmice

      Doing an orbital drop of his viscera into an area a few hundred miles east of Antalya would be the equivalent of a Viking funeral no?

  2. Baconzgood

    "Neoliberals wish the word “class” had never been discovered"

    As a Neoliberal I have to throw the flag on this one. I know the word "Class" and think that liberals should jump on it hard. We are losing the class and culture war and need to start getting focused on an agenda for this country. We'll lose at politics through our indifference.

    (this comment is 100% snark free)

    1. HempDogbane

      or lose at politics by getting distracted by the assholes who use the "Look over there! War!!!" tactic, which people keep falling for. By coincidence, did anyone fall for it harder than Hitch?

      1. Lascauxcaveman

        By coincidence, did anyone fall for it harder than Hitch?

        Oy, Hillary Clinton? And practically all our senators and reps. I can't believe how many supposedly smart people dove head first into that fetid crock o' shit. Sure, a lot of it was pure political cowardice, going along to get along, but still.

      1. bagofmice

        Sure, you have your public classes and your private classes, but upon reflection they are simply symbologic expressions of abstraction, are they not? Mere attributes of authorship in a binary bit space. It all depends on your interpretation.

        /programmer

  3. ChernobylSoup

    I think Hitch explained the whole damn cosmos with this:

    “My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilization, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either.”

    1. Beowoof

      A quote I had not seen before, but must admit everything about our lives on this planet makes sense after reading it. RIP, Hitch used to love seeing you and reading you. I will have to get that copy of God is Not Great on books to read pile.

    1. Lascauxcaveman

      The mormons have undoubtedly staked a claim on his immortal soul by now. If so, I wanna afterlife party on the Planet Hitch.

    2. Dashboard Buddha

      I made the mistake of reading some Yahoo comments (ie – mental illness) and the fundies are too busy taking delight in thinking of Hitch in Hell.

    1. ThundercatHo

      I truly hope he wasn't watching, that would be a terrible thing to take to the afterlife. But, on the other hand, it would give you some really good questions to ask if you were to actually meet your maker. Or, comparative analysis, as in, "WTF? These assholes! Don't even bring up the time I _____________ with________________."

  4. Fawkdifiknow

    Won't someone please comment on his date of death coinciding with the official end of the war he supported, beyond all reason?

  5. ttommyunger

    "Neoconservatives" also possess an unreasonable and un-named fear which motivates their opinions on every subject every moment of their miserable fucking lives.

      1. user-of-owls

        Gah! That's the second time in 12 hours I've seen "Venu-zula! Throw poor Tio Hugo an "e" already, unless you believe we're being menaced by those sanity-shattering South African horn thingies.

          1. user-of-owls

            See, it's ignorance of such things that kept me from following my dream of becoming a professional homo.

    1. Rosie_Scenario

      At least we have his books, articles, etc. And videos of him debating, on TV, etc. I'm reading "Arguably" now and happened to be reading "Hitch-22" when he announced his cancer diagnosis. RIP, Hitch.

  6. SudsMcKenzie

    I remember years ago when some idiot jumped the fence and ran towards the Pope -(mobile) , trying to throw something, and some chair on morning Joe said "hey, its Christopher Hitchens" .

    I will always have a laugh about that.

  7. LettucePrey

    Hitchens on the Tea Party:
    "I think one of the great latent causes of anxiety in American society at the moment is the realization among white people that they will no longer be the majority. And there are various forms that this anxiety takes, the silliest of which is the Tea Party, and in some ways the nastiest. Americans have to get used to the idea of being one power among many, something the Tea Party has nothing to say about. They don't have a foreign policy. They don't discuss defense or foreign affairs because they don't know much about it, or seem to care. They're another incarnation of the old know-nothing isolationist tradition. And that shows also in their domestic attitudes. Whatever tone of voice we're going to have to come up with to discuss the ethnic balance of the future America… we know what tones of voice you can't discuss it in. Calling the president a 'secret Muslim' or 'closet Kenyan'. Or the unacknowledged love child of Malcom X. Try anything once. Any old smear will do. It makes me very angry. I've seldom seen in my longish life grown-ups behaving as stupidly and immaturely in an election as in the last cycle."

    1. OneYieldRegular

      "I've seldom seen in my longish life grown-ups behaving as stupidly and immaturely in an election as in the last cycle."

      Maybe there is a god after all, since at least Hitch has been spared from having to see what's coming up during the next election cycle.

        1. Negropolis

          I'm just glad they'll be getting the rest of this out of their system in 2012, you know, in a year were everybody comes to the polls instead of a midterm, where your most bitter and motivated show up at the polls (i.e. usually Republicans). Let them get this shit out, and be defeated in the process. Let them get used to the fact that this Muslin, Indo=Kenyan Socialist Usurper is here to stay for another term. Let them get to the final of the five stages of grief.

          Let them get used to a maddeningly go-along-to-get-along, painfully middle-of-the-road, business-as-usual black guy leading them so they can see the stupidity in their worldview. And, if they still refuse to get it, tough shit. If we win back the House, their personal journey won't mean shit to me.

          1. Biel_ze_Bubba

            "…so they can see the stupidity in their worldview."

            That's funny.

            Seriously, the most we can hope for is that they skulk back to their caves, stop cavorting in front of the TV cameras, and stay home on election days.

  8. Lionel[redacted]Esq

    This pundit is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e
    rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to his chair 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the
    bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PUNDIT!!

  9. Numbat_Dundee

    One should never speak ill of the expired. Just as Hitchens himself wrote in praise of cluster bombs just after the poor things had exploded.
    This is my favourite assessment of him, from back in 2005:
    "Picture a necrotic, sinister, burned-out wasteland — a vast, dull mound of rubble punctuated by moments of bleak emptiness and, occasionally, smoking. Those of you whose imaginations alighted instantly on the Late Christopher Hitchens have only yourselves to blame, for I was referring to Fallujah. "
    The rest of it's here: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2005/seymour26110

    1. LetUsBray

      I agree that it's in poor taste to slam the newly deceased. However, I certainly did enjoy the linked article, written when was still among us and advocating for Shrub and Dick's excellent adventure in Iraq.

  10. Schmannnity

    Well, at least we have Steve Doocy, Savannah Guthrie, Erin Burnett, and Michael Savage to fill his intellectual shoes.

  11. neiltheblaze

    I have to say, though – his final-decade long cottage industry of smacking down "vicious dictator, God" – are my all-time favorite Hitch moments. He recognized the sheer, unalloyed evil of Religion, and was willing to walk into the lion's den and debate these God-bothering charlatans – usually leaving them with big gashes out of their jugulars. And doing it all with such a gentlemanly, urbane delivery too. Awesome.

    I spent a good part of the day yesterday watching some of his greatest hits on You Tube – and remembered all over again what a fearless and amazingly skilled debater he was. He was almost frighteningly erudite.

    His swallowing whole of the Iraq quagmire? Well, yeah, that galled me. But all in all – an impressive intellect, and a rapier wit, and a unique voice.

    1. Biel_ze_Bubba

      When it came to Islam, and the true beliefs and attitudes of over a billion people, Hitch was inexplicably detached from the facts. Why that should have been the case is a mystery we may never solve.

      1. neiltheblaze

        I chalk it up to the death threats.

        Islam – the true beliefs and attitudes of the billion plus people you mention notwithstanding – is the one major religion of the present day that issues public death threats to their critics. I don't think that was a fact Hitchens was particularly detached from.

        They were threatening him with death since he defended Salman Rushdie when most of the other "public intellectuals" were hiding under the covers. Say what you will about Hitch – the guy had big, hairy cojones.

        1. Biel_ze_Bubba

          Might be a few abortion providers who disagree with that assessment. But yeah, the fatwas (from a couple of the more wacked-out mullahs) probably did piss him off tremendously… the worst crime you could commit, in his eyes.

  12. MiniMencken

    Since about age fifty, he was essentially Bill O'Reilly with a bigger vocabulary. And much worse taste in clothes.

    1. Biel_ze_Bubba

      Not just vocabulary … Hitch could quote at length from scores of writers that BillO never heard of.

  13. Negropolis

    Neoliberalism could, really, only occur in a country like America, which combines abundance with angst and has a vast population of overqualified graduate students

    Surely he means neoconservatism. Honestly, neoliberalism doesn't really exist, try as academics may want it to, and it's usually used by neocons as a perjorative to try and rebrand a movement that really never changed all that much. Only the shit that is neoconservatism be born out of this nation.

  14. freakishlywrong

    And this…Neoliberals wish the word “class” had never been discovered and agree not to use it at all, ever, except when attacking radicals for being out of touch with what “ordinary people” want.

  15. hagajim

    The neocons may be afraid of everyone – but the fucking Dems are afraid to have an opinion – which is worse really. Hitchens was an asshole – but he was our asshole – sort of.

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