I disagreed with him most of the time. But he wrote with intelligence and clarity so I read everything he wrote. His assemblage of words was always as elegant as he was rumpled. Don’t preen and crow as you take Hitchens to task for his views. He’d expect your response to be standard behavior for any self-respecting thinker—and certainly nothing to preen about unless of course, you were offering a robust counter.
We are slowly losing our public intellectuals. Or perhaps we are placing them in locales that are lost to me because I be damned if I can find 'em. I used to watch Firing Line with William F. Buckley when I was a kid and I don’t know exactly why because I really couldn’t grasp fully what they were talking about. But I do remember wanting to watch it because I envied this man who seemed to pop-off the most remarkable words in an almost unintelligible, at least for a kid in South Carolina, square jawed accent. He made me want to learn. I wanted to learn those words and I wanted to get better at grasping ideas and developing opinions. Hitchens did the same for me. And if I'm limited to passing on but one trait-habit-proclivity to my child, I'd want it to be the thirst for knowledge and the openness to accept all viewpoints before settling on hers.
Unwavering. Yep. That’s a proper word for Hitchens. His brother Peter said this about him… “My brother possessed courage to the very end, and if I often disagreed with the purposes for which he used it, I never doubted the quality or ceased to admire it. I’ve mentioned here before C.S. Lewis’s statement that courage is the supreme virtue, making all the others possible. It should be praised and celebrated, and is the thing I‘d most wish to remember."
“The acquisition of knowledge is the unending business of the soul” and I’m in Hitchens’ debt for helping feed my intellect. I generally don’t cower, based on my few experiences, in the presence of famous or powerful people. My problem with authority is such that I think I’m genetically predisposed to become surly as opposed to nervous in such circumstances. I think I’ve told the story of approaching Hitchens at Washington National Airport years ago but indulge me again. I was scared to do so but couldn't...not. And I could barely utter a word. Here’s an email I sent the other day recounting it…
It’s 533am EST and NPR woke me up at 5 with the news. I don't generally get nervous in the midst of public figures but I think I wrote somewhere that when I met Hitchens one day years ago at National Airport, I could barely get "hello" out of my mouth. He gravitated to a little 3 year old LFG who was in my arms and asked me about her. As he walked away I said to LFG..."I hope there will always be a Christopher Hitchens." He turned around and simply said..."thank you."”
I’m already missing the hell out of Christopher Hitchens. I’ve never had a glass of Johnny Walker. And certainly have never had one cut with a splash of Perrier. But I’ll do so sometime this week and simply say…thank you.