I have no talents to speak of; all I can do is read and write. Thus, it would make eminent sense for me to admire those that read a great deal, and write really well. Christopher Hitchens evidently read a lot, and he wielded his pen and keyboard with great flair. He was also a stylish rhetorical pugilist, and I would not have wanted to have ever had him in an audience after I had given a talk whose central points he disputed. But sadly for my desire to admire the well-read epistolary genius as a human archetype, Hitchens botched his record, and in spectacular style. Amongst other things, he aggressively and unapologetically cheered on an illegal war and the gruesome troika of mass-murdering criminals–George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld–who prosecuted it, and later, descended into unvarnished bigotry directed at Muslims under the guise of keeping the world free from ‘Islamofascism.’
Once Hitchens had placed himself in the company of those that could be fawned over by the unspeakably vile Michelle Malkin and her ilk, I knew I was done with my incipient admiration. Hitchens was keen, as many newly-minted Americans are, to show his allegiance to his newly-found country and political faith, and he thought he would do this best, I think, by throwing his not-inconsiderable physical and intellectual weight behind what he thought were its considered responses to the violent external assault of the World Trade Center catastrophe. But he did so by cheering on those who did their best to eviscerate this nation’s Constitution and the rule of law it entailed. In doing so, he seemed not to have figured out that those whose side he had gone over to were doing their best to make the America he thought he was signing on to unrecognizable.
If Hitchens had ever attained a self-consciousness of the irony implicit in the self-proclaimed resister of religious fundamentalism turning into a fundamentalist of sorts himself, he never revealed it publicly. Did he never hold his nose when he received praise from the same bigots who he might have fancied himself eviscerating in his older days? Did he ever realize that his older self would have chuckled with delight at the easy target that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld presented for his poison pen? It does not seem so. He seemed so caught up in his desire to place himself on what he thought would be a position vindicated by history–the lone, courageous voice of reason urging a insufficiently muscular polity and culture to defend itself against external threat–that he never stopped to consider that he might be undermining that very culture’s proudest achievements.
I own more than one book by Hitchens and I don’t intend to get rid of them. But their status in my library has morphed into being exhibits of how a great talent can be diverted to the wrong ends. I still aspire to the kind of ravenous appetite he showed for the printed word and its production. But I also hope never, ever, in a fit of sustained insanity, to join the company of those whose principles stand in such direct contradiction to my own.