Jump to content






Photo
- - - - -

Christopher Hitchens Remembered


  • Please log in to reply
16 replies to this topic

#1 Ed Hudgins

Ed Hudgins

    $$$$$$

  • VIP
  • 757 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 17 December 2011 - 01:24 PM

Christopher Hitchens Remembered
By Edward Hudgins

December 16, 2011 – I first met Christopher Hitchens in the early 2000s at the Americans for Tax Reform’s weekly meeting of conservative and limited-government activists, which Hillary Clinton deemed the “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Sitting next to him, I introduced myself as with the Objectivist Center (as our organization was then known). “Oh yes, that’s the good one,” he replied, or words to that effect, showing that he knew the difference between our group and another one that took the thinking of Ayn Rand more like religious dogma than rational philosophy.

Hitchens was at the meeting to talk about the case of Orlando Letelier, who had been the ambassador to the U.S. for Chilean Marxist President Salvador Allende. Allende died in a coup d’état in 1973 and Letelier was assassinated, along with an American assistant, in Washington, D.C., in 1976, no doubt by the Chilean right-wing military government’s secret police. Hitchens believed that conservatives should be concerned about such unlawful acts, committed at the behest of a foreign government on American soil. But it was more than this narrow issue that brought him into the halls of the ideological right.

Moving from the left

Hitchens, who passed away December 15 after a year-and-a-half battle with cancer, was an author, intellectual, polymath, and journalist who traveled to the worst war zones and trouble spots of the world to see things for himself. The subjects of his books spanned the spectrum from Thomas Jefferson to George Orwell to Henry Kissinger to Mother Teresa to the Clintons to the fallacies of religion.

He started as a Marxist but later abandoned dialectical materialism as the key for understanding the world and spurring revolution. He was too honest to treat Marxism as dogma: “There came a time when I could not protect myself, and indeed did not wish to protect myself, from the onslaught of reality.”

Following the September 11, 2001, attacks on America as well as later attacks in London, Madrid, Bombay, and elsewhere, Hitchens expected his colleagues to see the dangers that Islamists posed to the values of liberty and an open society. But many on the left, rather than defending those values, offered knee-jerk denunciations of the West, epitomized by the malicious rantings of Noam Chomsky. Hitchens found himself being welcomed in right-wing circles.

In 2004 Hitchens accepted an invitation to speak at our Objectivist Center Capitol Hill conference on “What Are Western Values and Should We Return to Them?” While never glossing over the errors and crimes of any government or of imperialism, Hitchens spoke of the benefits of the British Raj in India, bringing railroads and technology to the subcontinent, for example, and abolishing wife-burning and other morally abhorrent practices. He didn’t ask for a speaking fee, only cab fare to return home.

David Kelley, our organization’s founder, asked Hitchens what he considered himself politically since he was now alienated from much of the left. A libertarian? Sort of, he replied. But his uncertainty was not simply a matter of not embracing laissez-faire capitalism. Hitchens was always seeking truth and perhaps he thought that labels might tie him to beliefs that he did not accept
.

Moral sentiments

Hitchens is perhaps best known as one of the New Atheists. Indeed, he famously took on religious icon Mother Teresa. In his book The Missionary Position he showed that her goal was not to alleviate the suffering of the poor; rather, she saw suffering as something to be welcomed and wallowed in as part of God’s will.

The title of Hitchens’s book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything certainly summarized his thinking, but it does not say it all. Hitchens argued that even without religion one can have fundamental moral values that are not simply a matter of your whim versus mine.

He was not a systematic moral theorist, falling instead into what might be called the “moral sentiments” school. He argued, for example, that the Children of Israel knew very well before God supposedly gave them the Ten Commandments that killing and stealing were wrong.

Evolutionary psychology today suggests that individuals indeed have hardwired “sentiments” or propensities. But these vary from one individual to another. So are all equally right? Aren’t such differences the root of conflicts?

Hitchens was not an Ayn Rand fan, yet he would have benefited from better understanding her fundamental insights. Hitchens argued that we need not urge individuals to be “selfish” à la Rand since most individuals are inclined to such behavior anyway. But Rand understood that the path that will best lead to one’s survival and flourishing must be discovered by rational inquiry and reflection, which were both favored by Hitchens.

Hitchens, by the way, did like Rand’s essay “Requiem for Man,” which denounced Pope Paul VI’s stand on birth control. Hitchens wanted to include it in one of his compilations and complained to me that the Estate of Ayn Rand would not give him permission to republish the piece.

Free inquiry

In spite of a lack of philosophical rigor, Hitchens did offer and defend positive values. He argued that what atheists, agnostics, and humanists “respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.” That, he would argue, is how we attune ourselves to moral sentiments and, indeed, to all that is good in life. He stated that we “find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books. Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and—since there is no other metaphor—also the soul.”

Hitchens fought against religious ideas that fostered so much war and bloodshed throughout human history: “To … the plain horror of killing civilians in the name of some sacred wall or cave or rock, we can counterpose a leisurely or urgent walk from one side of the library or the gallery to another, or to lunch with an agreeable friend, in pursuit of truth and beauty.”

Hitchens also denounced mindless desecration of those things of beauty produced by the religious, for example, the blowing up by the Taliban in Afghanistan “of one the world’s greatest cultural artifacts—the twin Buddha statues at Bamiyan.” When I saw Hitchens the week before he was diagonosed with cancer—he did not look well—he was discussing his autobiography Hitch 22 in the historic 6th Street synagogue in Washington, D.C.

And one-to-one, in keeping with his own values, Hitchens could be civil with those he disagreed with but whom he considered on some level to be honest and decent; I’ve seen him in such conversations at parties with members of the religious right.

The continual conversation

When I told my wife, who was reading Hitchens’s last book, Arguably, of his passing, she said it felt like she had lost a friend. No doubt part of this sentiment was because she had read many of Hitchens’s books, heard him speak on a number of occasions, and chatted with him at events.

And no doubt part of this sentiment was because when one reads a book, especially by an interesting and engaging writer like Hitchens, one is in a kind of conversation with a friend. One is attending to the writer’s thoughts and insights and has a dialogue in one’s own mind about the ideas expressed in those pages. And Hitchens expressed himself beautifully.

Machiavelli wrote of going to his study to read in the evening: “At the threshold, I take off my work-day clothes, filled with dust and mud, and don royal and curial garments. Worthily dressed, I enter into the ancient courts of the men of antiquity, where, warmly received, I feed on that which is my only food and which was meant for me.”

Hitchens loved inquiry, learning, and an intellectual exchange. He was a man of the mind. He continued to produce his weekly columns until shortly before his passing. In his final piece for Vanity Fair he stated that “writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life.” His life is over and we’ll have no new writings on politics and cultural trends to come. I will truly miss these. But he left us with thoughts and reflections that can continue to give us joy and enlighten us.

#2 PDS

PDS

    $$$$$$

  • Members
  • 1,601 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 17 December 2011 - 02:49 PM

What a nice way of putting it--and thanks for that Machiavelli quote.

Hitchens' life was Rand-novel worthy, somewhat along the lines of a real-life Gail Wynand. He took life by the throat and shook it, his face marred by dust and sweat and blood. There is a huge lesson in this for those of us left standing, especially those referred to by Teddy Roosevelt, who know neither victory nor defeat.

I was trying a 3 week case a few months back and each night I read some Hitchens to help me get my mind off the trial and in the direction of sleep. Like your wife, I too feel like I have lost a friend, and drank an additional pint in his honor last night.

This world full of timid souls could use a lot more people like Christopher Hitchens.

#3 whYNOT

whYNOT

    tony garland

  • Members
  • 3,420 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Republic of South Africa

Posted 17 December 2011 - 03:37 PM

This world full of timid souls could use a lot more people like Christopher Hitchens.


I'm going to have a drink to that, right now.
"To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge". Nicolaus Copernicus (An original objectivist) 1473-1543 ***No man may be smaller than his philosophy...***

#4 Philip Coates

Philip Coates

    $$$$$$

  • Members
  • 3,560 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Interests:--Playing Sports (running, basketball, body surfing)
    --Literature and History
    --Art Museums
    --Rock 'n Roll, Classical, Country and Western
    --Epistemology
    --Travel
    --Classic Old Movies

Posted 17 December 2011 - 05:14 PM

Thanks, Ed, for the nice sketch. I had been curious about Hitchens in recent years, but didn't know much and haven't read him.

(As an aside, it's horrifying that an influential mind like Christopher Hitchens can't get permission to reprint an important essay like Requiem for Man.

Here's a thought: Let's have her Estate keep all her essays a SECRET, shall we, except from those already interested enough to buy one of her books?)

#5 blackhorse

blackhorse

    $$$$

  • Members
  • 411 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 17 December 2011 - 06:26 PM

I like Hitchens a lot. He knew his facts and history when he was speaking to a particular subject and didn't give a rats ass about political correctness. Although I disagree with him on spirituality, he is spot on 8 times out of 10 on his subject matter

#6 studiodekadent

studiodekadent

    $$$$$$

  • Members
  • 1,192 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Brisbane, Australia
  • Interests:Austrian and Evolutionary Economics, Objectivism, Electro-Industrial Music (Listening/Composing/ Producing), Synthesizers, Goth/Industrial/ Cyberpunk/Formal Fashion, Makeup (more than my mother), Drinking, Blackjack, Debauchery of Assorted Varieties.

Posted 18 December 2011 - 02:19 AM


This world full of timid souls could use a lot more people like Christopher Hitchens.


I'm going to have a drink to that, right now.


Am currently guzzling margaritas to that precise sentiment!

That said, I think the article slightly exaggerates Hitchens' "departure" from the left. He always considered himself a man of the left, and always called himself a Marxist. However he was clearly a very unorthodox Marxist. "Marxist-inspired" would probably be the better term.

Still, great article.
www.myspace.com/studiodekadent

#7 BaalChatzaf

BaalChatzaf

    $$$$$$

  • Members
  • 11,502 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Currently residing in New Jersey, the Bad-a-Bing State.
  • Interests:mathematics, physics, alternative energy sources.

    I am also involved in preparing recorded books for blind and dyslexic folks.

Posted 18 December 2011 - 09:31 AM


That said, I think the article slightly exaggerates Hitchens' "departure" from the left. He always considered himself a man of the left, and always called himself a Marxist. However he was clearly a very unorthodox Marxist. "Marxist-inspired" would probably be the better term.

......


Even so, Christopher was a man of truth. All of us err, but, unfortunately, many of us err is pursuing falsehood. Christoper was not such a man.

Ba'al Chatzaf
אויב מיין באָבע האט בייצים זי וואָלט זיין מיין זיידע

#8 Ed Hudgins

Ed Hudgins

    $$$$$$

  • VIP
  • 757 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 18 December 2011 - 11:36 AM

Thanks, Ed, for the nice sketch. I had been curious about Hitchens in recent years, but didn't know much and haven't read him.

(As an aside, it's horrifying that an influential mind like Christopher Hitchens can't get permission to reprint an important essay like Requiem for Man.

Here's a thought: Let's have her Estate keep all her essays a SECRET, shall we, except from those already interested enough to buy one of her books?)


Phil - The Estate might argue that they don't want one of Rand's pieces to appear in a collection by someone who's very critical of Rand. On the other hand, inclusion in a collection by Hitchens would have exposed her to a different audience, one that I've argued is finding more in common with aspects of Objectivism. And inclusion by Hitchens would, in effect, be him saying to the new atheists that Rand is someone to take seriously.

Posted Image

#9 Ninth Doctor

Ninth Doctor

    $$$$$$

  • Members
  • 4,010 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Interests:Fiction authors: Umberto Eco, P.G. Wodehouse, Thomas Pynchon, Douglas Adams, Robert Heinlein

Posted 18 December 2011 - 11:42 AM

Hi Ed, hope you don't mind that I shared your photos with the folks over at OO:

http://forum.objecti...=0

Is there a recording of CH's presentation? Q&A?
Prandium gratis non est

#10 Ed Hudgins

Ed Hudgins

    $$$$$$

  • VIP
  • 757 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 18 December 2011 - 11:58 AM

We might have a recording. I'll check our archives on Monday.

P.S. Feel free to post my piece and photos!

#11 Ninth Doctor

Ninth Doctor

    $$$$$$

  • Members
  • 4,010 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Interests:Fiction authors: Umberto Eco, P.G. Wodehouse, Thomas Pynchon, Douglas Adams, Robert Heinlein

Posted 18 December 2011 - 12:16 PM

The Estate might argue that they don't want one of Rand's pieces to appear in a collection by someone who's very critical of Rand.

Here's the book preview on Amazon, you can see the table of contents. To have Rand alongside Lucretius, Hobbes, Spinoza, Hume...it's hard to imagine why not. But, Hitchens provides a few paragraphs introduction to each piece, the preview lets you see his comments on Lucretius. Maybe the Estate objected, or imposed inappropriate restricitions? I seem to remember you reporting that there was more too it than a simple refusal, but I don't know where I read that.

http://www.amazon.co...ader_0306816083
Prandium gratis non est

#12 Ed Hudgins

Ed Hudgins

    $$$$$$

  • VIP
  • 757 posts
  • Gender:Male

Posted 18 December 2011 - 01:34 PM

I don't recall him giving me details other than the fact of the refusal and his clear annoyance at same. But having Hitch include Rand in the company of those historic thinkers would only have elevated her status in the eyes of the book's readers, not that she needed elevating in our eyes.

#13 Philip Coates

Philip Coates

    $$$$$$

  • Members
  • 3,560 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Interests:--Playing Sports (running, basketball, body surfing)
    --Literature and History
    --Art Museums
    --Rock 'n Roll, Classical, Country and Western
    --Epistemology
    --Travel
    --Classic Old Movies

Posted 18 December 2011 - 01:54 PM

> The Estate might argue that they don't want one of Rand's pieces to appear in a collection by someone who's very critical of Rand. On the other hand, inclusion in a collection by Hitchens would have exposed her to a different audience, one that I've argued is finding more in common with aspects of Objectivism.

Ed, I'm sure you agree that it's so incredibly short-sighted they would take that view. Obviously if one is preaching to the choir, one will not find critics. But those not yet exposed to Rand and thinking they know the ideas and not having absorbed the arguments are going to be critical. So you are left with not being able to have your ideas seen except by those -already- quasi-sympathetic.

In many respects a potential Objectivist or at least sympathizer who doesn't already agree is likely to start out being -strongly- critical. Not wishy-washy or temporizing. He is someone who forms strong views and commits to them. And, in a way, when views are not erected on sand it can make them easier to change: fight you to the death and seem your deadliest enemy until the very day you break through and change his mind.

As for the liberal, somewhat free-thinking, I perhaps even go further than you and would argue that ultimately they are better candidates than average conservatives --- when they swing, they swing all the way. They kept their critical judgment intact into adulthood. They are not hung up on deep-seated and permanent - and a fundamentally emotionalistic or non-rational or socially metaphysical religious or revelatory/intuitive worldview or cognitive pattern.

I guess what I'm saying in that last sentence is that a supernatural metaphysics and a mystical or revelatory talking-to-ghosts-and-angels epistemology goes much deeper than a collectivist/altruist ethics or politics. And is therefore much less likely to change.

#14 Philip Coates

Philip Coates

    $$$$$$

  • Members
  • 3,560 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Interests:--Playing Sports (running, basketball, body surfing)
    --Literature and History
    --Art Museums
    --Rock 'n Roll, Classical, Country and Western
    --Epistemology
    --Travel
    --Classic Old Movies

Posted 18 December 2011 - 01:57 PM

> having Hitch include Rand in the company of those historic thinkers would only have elevated her status in the eyes of the book's readers, not that she needed elevating in our eyes. [Ed]

Also, Rand has been getting painted into the right-wing ghetto corner a bit in recent years - which didn't happen so much when she was writing essays about abortion, the pope, civil liberties, and talking about an intellectual obituary for conservatism and distancing her ideas from 'the right'.

#15 studiodekadent

studiodekadent

    $$$$$$

  • Members
  • 1,192 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Brisbane, Australia
  • Interests:Austrian and Evolutionary Economics, Objectivism, Electro-Industrial Music (Listening/Composing/ Producing), Synthesizers, Goth/Industrial/ Cyberpunk/Formal Fashion, Makeup (more than my mother), Drinking, Blackjack, Debauchery of Assorted Varieties.

Posted 18 December 2011 - 11:37 PM

Phil is quite correct.

We shouldn't be letting Objectivism be classified as "on the right."

Libertarians are neither right nor left-wing.
www.myspace.com/studiodekadent

#16 Jerry Biggers

Jerry Biggers

    $$$$$$

  • Members
  • 1,359 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Maryland
  • Interests:Interested in Objectivism and libertarianism since the mid-1960's.; Other philosophy, science, history, Siamese (and other) cats. .

Posted 20 December 2011 - 09:32 PM

An encounter with Hitch at the 2004 conference co-sponsored by The Atlas Society. This was an extremely interesting and provocative conference on the values of Western civilization. Hitchens, of course, met up with expectations, delivering a thoughtful talk, punctuated with his wit.

When the conference concluded, I went up to the dais and asked him if he would sign some of his books that I had with me. His face lit up with a grin, "Ah! A fan! I'd be delighted!" I told him that I enoyed his essay (in Vanity Fair, I think) about Alan Greenspan, some years before. In that essay, he briefly discussed Greenspan's association with Rand and others in her close circle. As an aside, he quipped that he found it curious that most of the Objectivists he had met were "Canadian." This, of course, is a reference to the Brandens, Blumenthals, etc. and their relatives and friends who had clustered around Rand in New York city. Practically all were from western Canada and Russian, Jewish, or both (this is descriptive, not a criticism of their ethnic/religious orientation).

If I recall correctly, I told Hitch that I had read somewhere that some of these Canadians were distant relatives (from Russia) of Rand, but that I could not find other independent verification of that relationship. He found that quite interesting. I assumed that he would want to move on to talk with the other conference goers who were clustering around his table, so I started to move away, but Hitch kept looking directly at me and continued conversing, so this went on for some time.

On Hitchens' views on Rand, there is a video on Youtube of him addressing that inquiry at some conference. I don't recall his exact words, but I believe he made some mildly disparaging comments about Atlas Shrugged, along the lines that its plot line was "silly." Exactly what you would expect from any Marxist. But then he added that he found Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness to be quite a good book, with some provocative points (not what you would expect a Marxist to say). Some of Hitchen's comments on Rand can be found in the recently issued book, The Quotable Hitchens - From Alcohol to Zionism - The Very Best of Christopher Hitchens, edited by Winsor Mann. As far as I know, Hitchens never wrote an essay on Rand or Objectivism or addressed her arguments in any detail. What there is, are asides and responses that he made to audience questions But here is my point: even though trashing Rand was a favorite sport among many journalists, and increasingly since the rise of the Tea Party movement for which they blame the influence of Rand, Hitchens did not join in. He had many opportunities and surely he could have easily got an essay by himself on Rand published in one of the many journals eager for his contributions, he did not do so.

#17 daunce lynam

daunce lynam

    $$$$$$

  • Members
  • 8,077 posts
  • Gender:Female
  • Interests:Hockey, what else is there?

Posted 20 December 2011 - 10:43 PM

..., he quipped that he found it curious that most of the Objectivists he had met were "Canadian." This, of course, is a reference to the Brandens, Blumenthals, etc. and their relatives and friends who had clustered around Rand in New York city. Practically all were from western Canada and Russian, Jewish, or both (this is descriptive, not a criticism of their ethnic/religious orientation.


Jerry, really! You hasten to reassure us that your describing people at Russian or Jewish is not a criticism of their ethnic/religious orientation? I didn't know you were Canadian too! Haha, we're everywhere...

I think that the Brandens etal were from Winnipeg. In strict geography, that is not western Canada. It is dead centre, but it would certainly be western to Hitchens, who would probably only know the east from his touring.

The Jewish community of Winnipeg in the 50s and 60s was a cultural powerhouse which produced many of our most influential writers and media dominators, not unlike the Oxford U culture which shaped and remained with Hitchens.

Winnipeg earlier was the centre of prairie socialism and blood-soaked labour struggles such as the General Strike. The intellectual atmosphere was strongly left-wing. It isn't too far-fetched, I think, to draw a parallel between Rand's leaving Russia and the Brandens leaving the place which was soon to make a hero of the man who brought universal free health care to Canada.




0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users