One of the earliest articles I wrote on this site was a tribute to the memory of the Brittish-American author and journalist Christoper Hitchens. In that article I expressed a lot of sympathy for the general message, if you will, of Hitchens’ collected works, in the sense that I often (but not always) agreed with what he said and wrote. But there is also something to be said for the “packaging” of said message. I have for a while thought about writing a few words on the language of the Hitch, the wit and the way in which he obviously went to some lengths to express himself in an artful manner.
Hitchens was always very big on defending freedom of expression. He also had a certain love of confrontation, and both of these characteristics could be seen on display when gave a lecture on freedom of speech in Canada in 2006. It was, I would dare say, one of the most important speeches of the previous decade, and you can find it in it’s entirety here. It contained many eloquently made points, but the crowning sound-byte, quoted bellow, was perhaps intended to be more colorful than diplomatic.
“My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass.”
Here we see a slight touch of Ayn Rand in Hitchens’ work. He would reject the notion, of course, as would a lot of people, Ayn Rand isn’t getting much traction these days. But I maintain that there was a certain similarity in the way they defended the individual’s right to make up his or her own mind. Anyway, the speech above, while taking a confrontational tone, was directed at no-one in particular and anyone in general. Hitchens didn’t necessarily hold back when being confronted directly by an individual either.
In 2008, in Grand Rapids, USA, Christopher debated his brother Peter on several issues, the foremost being religion. You can watch the entire debate in this clip. When a member of the audience claimed that secularism was comparable with fascism or communism, Christopher retorted with a long series of counterexamples showing that in reality this wasn’t the case. His response ended with the following, brilliantly worded condemnation of the works of nationalist militias in the war in former Yugoslavia in the early nineties:
“…grinding a whole part of civilized Europe into nothingness and bloodshed for their filthy , stupid medieval quarrels. How dare you say that any secularists, we who have opposed this kind of barbaric stuff are on all four with these creeps? No, you should take it back, you owe me an apology.”
The tone used to be somewhat less vitriolic in many of Hitchens’ earlier works, which at times come of as having been more elegant. Consider for example his book on the Clinton presidency, No one left to lie to, published in 1999. After a few chapters listing various misdeeds of Bill Clinton, there was a wrap-up chapter named A question of character. It ended with the following scorching but, like I said above, artful segment.
“The draft dodger has mutated into a serf of the pentagon, the pot smoker into the chief inquisitor in the ‘war on drugs’ and the womanizer into a boss who uses subordinates as masturbatory dolls. But the liar and the sonofabitch remain and who will say that these qualities played no part in the mutation.”
At certain times it became a bit obvious that Hitchens explicitly tried to chose his words in a unique manner, to stand out. This it not surprising, coming from the author of a book titled Letters to young contrarian, and the results were in any case enjoyable. A good example could be made from the way Hitchens responded when asked to formulate ten commandments to replace the ones from ancient religion, which he found to be lacking. All ten of them can be found here.
The fourth commandment simply stated:
“Hide your face and weep, if you should ever dare to harm a child.”
Now as far as amendments go, this is a good one. But obviously it was written by someone trying to show off, at least just a little. A more direct approach would be something like “Don’t harm a child”, technically speaking this commandment isn’t strict enough. But a good point should be formulated in a way worthy of remembering, and this one certainly was.
One of the last books the Hitchslap ever wrote was his auto-biography, entitled Hitch-22. There is no one particular quote I could pick to reproduce here that does the totality of this book justice, so I shall have to chose one that makes a good point. To anyone among my readers who has perhaps seen the Hitch on Youtube or some other streaming media and thinks that this guy might be on to something, I recommend reading the entire book. It is, I believe, his best one.
Several of Hitchens’ closer friends have a chapter each dedicated to them in his autobiography, the most interesting one is perhaps the chapter dedicated to Salman Rushdie. The chapter about Rushdie ends with a rather gloomy transition from what happened to him and how he and Hitchens met decades ago, to various troubles in the world now, war, oppression, terrorism, how the Rushdie affair was perhaps the harbinger of some of it and how this is not something the reader should take lightly. The last paragraph of that chapter mixes Hitchens’ own words with a few borrowed ones, after listing the some of the coming troubles of the modern word it ends like bellow:
“Of all of this we were warned, and Salman was the messenger. ‘Mutato nomine et de te fabula narratur.’ Change only the name and this story is about you.”