Monday, December 19, 2011


When I heard Hitch was dead, I sketched out a post. Or started to--because then read a dozen tributes and obits, and decided I didn't have much to add. This is what I wrote before quitting, with some links to better writers following:

He was one of the best writers I ever read (and certainly the best I ever met--once, at Mickey Kaus's "moving back to California" party). Hitch was smart as hell, and loyal to those who deserved loyalty. But he could be just plain mean. And he also retained all the instincts of 20 years of Marxism, in his reflexive distrust of tradition and hatred of religion.

I probably despise Henry Kissinger as much as he did, but Hitch saw him as a war criminal, where I saw cowardice. Kissinger's d├ętente was a morally bankrupt side-step that prolonged the Soviet empire for two decades, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. (Realpolitik is always a consideration, but Kissinger couldn't tell when it was wrong.) Hitch, I think, got Kissinger exactly backwards--because of his instinctive opposition to anyone he would have classed, at age 17, as right-wing.

"Hitch-22" was the most self-centered autobiography I ever read. Yet, it also displayed his most praiseworthy trait: the man knew history and literature, revered Western Civ., and thought our most important task was to defend it (except for Judeo-Christianity). I only wish the book had devoted more than one sentence to his admirable willingness to tell the truth to the grand jury--that his one-time friend Sid Blumenthal was a liar. Fortunately, Hitch did that elsewhere.

But even more brave than that was Hitchens's support for the Iraq invasion--a position he never abandoned. This cost him friends -- which took more courage than voluntarily being waterboarded -- and gained him (wrongly in my view) comparisons with Whittaker Chambers.

All that doesn't make Hitch a conservative. But, as commenter KitWistar said:
I agreed with him, I violently disagreed with him, but he always made me think & re-think. Thank you, Hitch.
So, if history calls Hitch a liberal, he was among the best in my lifetime.

See Peter Hitchens, Christopher Buckley, John Podhoretz, Graydon Carter, David Corn, and Hitch himself about Iraq in the 2004 Wall Street Journal.

(via reader Warren, reader Doug)


OBloodyHell said...

It sounds as though he was more of a Classical Liberal than a Postmodern Liberal, which is what he did to gain any ire from the Left he had.

I still think liberals are wrong, but i respect a classical liberal in a way I most emphatically do not respect postmoderns.

KitWistar said...

Even though I wanted to, I never had the privilege of meeting Christopher Hitchens. I like your tribute, Carl, because its crisp and honest. Amongst all the tributes, I can hardly add anything except to say that I’ll miss his writing terribly.

"Summer" and "House of Mirth" are Wharton's best novels to my thinking. "In Morocco" is one of my favourite books of early 20th century travel writing.

re: politics and clothing. I came upon a wonderfully apt line as I began re-reading "Middlemarch" yesterday . Will share later.

Carl said...

OBH: He wasn't a classic liberal--he really was a Marxist who drifted to the right. But his best attribute was his genius for language.

KitWistar said...

And like all genius, it was tempered with grace. The sheer artistry of his writing made me want to read and think about subjects I normally wouldn't have ---- what a gift.