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Christopher Hitchens, RIP

Christopher Hitchens first came to my attention during the Clinton years when he was one of the president's chief critics. He was unusual in that most of Clinton's critics were conservatives, whereas Hitchens was a writer for the Nation and a self-proclaimed Trotskyist. He didn't just criticize. He testified at the Clinton impeachment hearings that his friend Sydney Blumenthal was the source of many of the smears against Monica Lewinsky.

This lost him a lot of friends besides Blumenthal. His old colleague Alexander Cockburn was especially hard on him. In his own defense, Hitchens said "I didn't squeal to the authorities, I squealed ON the authorities."

I've been an admirer ever since. It wasn't just because I agreed with his ripostes against Clinton. More importantly, he made these criticisms when nearly everyone in his social circles  had closed ranks in defense of Clinton. His stand showed great courage. And his words in defense of himself reveal his great eloquence.

Since the 90's, he has taken other very public controversial stands. One was in favor of the war in Iraq (again putting him at odds with his friends on the left), and most famously, against belief in God. I am an old right conservative and a Christian, so I disagree with him on both of these positions. But my admiration of Hitchens has not diminished much. I understand that even the most brilliant people can't be right about everything. More to the point, I understand that if I admire someone for their independent thinking it's to be expected that they're going to disagree sharply with me on some issues.

And then there is his writing. He was supremely literate, taking P.G. Wodehouse as his model for craft and George Orwell as his model for polemic. He learned well from these masters, always making his points beautifully and clearly. I present as evidence this sentence from a recent piece he wrote  chronicling his civil disobedience to New York Mayor Bloomberg's nanny state:

It didn’t take me long to pick a seat, to put my bag next to me, to prop my leg up and ease the pins and needles, to pause on the steps and adjust my shoe, and in general to undermine civilization as we know it


He practiced great industry and productivity. Editor June Wood of Slate wrote "He never filed late—in fact, he was usually early, even when he was clearly very sick—and he managed to make his work seem like a great lark".  By contrast, Hitchens died 4 days ago and I am just now writing about it.

I'd mentioned earlier, I often disagreed with Hitchens. On the two points I mentioned,  I am more in agreement with his brother Peter than I am with him. 

Like Hitchens, I have a brother I often disagree with on political and other  issues. But in spite of our divergent views on everything else, both of us are huge fans of Christopher Hitchens, even when he tortures and slaughters our own sacred cows.