Friday, December 16, 2011

On Hitchens: Oh how wrong he was... and how much we have lost for his departure

I've noticed something about a lot of the Hitchens tributes today. A great number of them contain a digression along the lines of, "I disagreed strongly with Hitchens in regards to this or that issue, but..." Indeed, it is probably safe to say that Hitchens is unusual in that even among those of us who had the deepest admiration for him and his opinions and his impossibly sharp prose, virtually all of us had more than one point on which we thought he was not just wrong, but badly wrong, shockingly wrong, dangerously wrong. The Iraq war is the obvious example, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Scan a few of the obituaries and blog posts and you'll see what I mean. Here is a man who inspired even his dearest friends and most dedicated supporters to voice their differences in a damn eulogy!

And in a way, this is the best tribute we could pay to a man who so relished an argument, who convincingly defended (whether right or wrong) the most seemingly untenable positions, with a quickness and wit the potency of which was rivaled only by the contents of his ever-present rocks glass. For fuck's sake, by the time Hitchens unleashed his savage takedown of Mother Theresa, the woman was so venerated in our culture that she had become an idiom for unimpeachable goodness ("He's no Mother Theresa, but..."). It helps that in this case Hitchens' criticisms appear to have been largely right on the money, but my god -- who else could possibly possess both the audacity and erudition to have launched such an iconoclastic attack? One cannot separate his rightness in this case from his wrongness on so many other issues. The entire world telling him he was full of shit? A mere trifle to the Hitch.

We have lost not only one of the most astonishing orators and scintillating essayists of our time, we have also lost a man with a unique ability to be gloriously unflappably wrong in the eyes of everyone he respected (and everyone he didn't respect, too). "Conventional wisdom" will sleep easy tonight, I fear.


  1. Just about everyone familiar with Hitchens' writings (to which I have had only minimal exposure) seems to love and hate his views simultaneously and equally -- while admiring his prose without reserve.

    And as you say, saying openly "He was horribly WRONG about that!" is perhaps the most fitting tribute. Recall how he went after Falwell right after the bastard snuffed it? Hitchens could hardly complain -- indeed, it seems like he would have it no other way -- if his critics declined to remain silent, out of some sense of delicacy.

  2. Yeah, he went on his merry (or not) way regardless.