The world is a poorer place today, a less erudite, insightful, interesting, thoughtful, reflective, and outrageous place today. Christopher Hitchens passed away after losing his long twilight battle with cancer.
Hitchens was one of the most brilliant minds and greatest rhetoricians of his time. Volumes could be filled with his greatest insights and deadliest retorts. I, like many, stood in awe of that intellect and of his strength in facing and annotating the step by step inevitability of his own death while never letting go of his will to write in the face of it all.
As a writer, I know that one of the great ones has left us. Hitchens’ greatness as a writer was not simply a product of his intellect, erudition, or his absolute fearlessness in taking on any topic or anybody at any time. His greatness came in his embrace of the necessity for him to say, and do, and write the things he did. In his own words, he said it best, as always:
“I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life.”
Hitchens was engaging even when he was being outrageous. Even when he went around skewering Mother Teresa I couldn’t dislike him. He was at times most likable when being his most frivolous self, in his embrace of his own vices, and in his flouting the laws and platitudes of over-serious micromanaging authority. As he once said,
“The essence of tyranny is not iron law. It is capricious law.”
As a man of faith myself, I could not share in his atheism, nor applaud the anger he often expressed toward modern religion. But you had to respect both his humanism and his humanity. I will remember him most for his love of democracy, his high regard for words and their power, his loathing of militant Islam and the courage he showed speaking out against it, and for his respect for the First Principles of the enlightened men who came up with the audacious idea of America itself, Christopher’s adopted country.
I know Christopher Hitchens ferociously denied himself the possibility of an afterlife. In this, I hope he has been proven spectacularly wrong. And so I can only wonder in wonder at what Christopher might be saying to Thomas Paine tonight.