Sometimes a person leaves the scene who was such an articulate contrarian, such an elegant arguer, that their death leaves a hole. Such is the case with Christopher Hitchens. He was a provocateur who used his wit to inflame, but most of all to challenge. He made part of his living by gleefully appearing in hostile forums, whether it be on Fox News or religious radio, and spouting off one-liners in the face of unshakable opinions. This was mere theater. Nothing serious can come out of arguing with Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. In those arenas, it’s all about the soundbite. Fox loved him because he would willingly throw bombs on their shows. The hosts loved him because they had someone to yell at. I imagine Hitchens loved it because he loved to argue, and the only way that could be better was by getting paid for the privilege.
Hitchens was at his best as a speaker and a writer. In long form, with the floor to himself, or with the space afforded by his columns and his books, over a lifetime he stitched together a philosophy that could convince, but also be maddening to those who thought Hitchens agreed with them.
Is a reader an atheist? That reader will find a ready companion in Hitchens.
Anti-war? Look elsewhere. There hasn’t been a war this century that Hitchens didn’t support.
Liberal? After Ronald Reagan’s death Hitchens wrote an article for Slate in which he referred to Reagan as a “cruel and stupid lizard.” This year, he followed that up with a wonderful article arguing that the country would have been better off had Reagan never taken the oath of office. But before a liberal could get comfortable, Hitchens would point out how mistaken the left had been in putting all of its hopes into Barack Obama.
The genius of Hitchens was that he didn’t pigeonhole his beliefs into one political ideology or another. He found no contradiction at all in having beliefs which straddled a wide range, because he came to his beliefs by using reason. In his mind, that was the first condition which had to be met. Not whether view A was a commonly held belief among people who subscribed to view B. Such simplicity in forming beliefs would be in direct contradiction to reason. Hitchens could not, would not, allow his intellect to descend into such laziness, and he was intolerant of people and institutions that took such an easy route to thinking.
It was this dedication to reason that led Hitchens to form what will probably be his most lasting legacy, his opposition to organized religion and to the idea of God itself. Since his book God Is Not Great was published, Hitchens spent an ever-increasing amount of his public life in defense of his stand against religion, and in attacking the ignorance of people and ideologies that rely on the sureties of faith over questioning and then investigating the world around us.
He found no greater enemy in this world than ignorance, be it willful or imposed. The world would be better off if he were still alive.