Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 15 December 2011) was an English-American author and journalist whose books, essays and journalistic career spanned more than four decades. He was a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation and Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the Hoover Institution in September 2008. He was a staple of talk shows and lecture circuits. In 2005, he was voted the world's fifth top public intellectual in a Prospect/Foreign Policy poll. He was the older brother of fellow journalist and author Peter Hitchens.
He was best known in recent times for his strong and vocal opposition to religion. Demonstrated, among other places, in his 2007 book god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everythingnote , and he is considered to be a founder of the "New Atheism" movement.
Although admired for his speaking and writing, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who could always agree with him. Hitchens began his political career as a socialist, but broke with the left in the 1990s. He began to moderate his views on economic policy and promote interventionist foreign policy, which sometimes led to him being called a neoconservative, even though he was hardly a political conservative. He supported the Iraq War and never regretted it (although he would later criticize the way it was conducted), but in contrast to the neoconservative camp, he was critical of Israel, though he also made no secret of his disdain of Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran, Israel's main rivals/enemies. Many of his stances came as a result of his opposition to religion.
He died in a Houston hospital on December 15, 2011 from complications relating to esophageal cancer.
His work provides examples of:
- Accentuate the Negative: Unsurprisingly, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything focuses on the negative aspects of religion.
- The Alcoholic Rarely was he seen without a drink and he quite frequently commented on how much he enjoyed it. The fact that one of the top contributing factors to esophageal cancer is drinking does not help either. This video shows his denialism.
- An Offer You Can't Refuse: Hitchens felt the Christian idea of redemption (through accepting Christ's sacrifice on your behalf) amounted to this, since if it is refused, the person goes to hell..
- The Anti-Nihilist: He was always very outspoken about the inbuilt morality of human beings, and did not fear death at all, even when confident that he would experience Cessation of Existence (of course, as far as he was concerned, he would not exist and thus be unable to understand or regret the end of his life)."It will happen to all of us. That at some point you'll be tapped on the shoulder and told not just that the party is over, but slightly worse: the party's going on but you have to leave."
- Boarding School: He said this on the subject-"Don't believe everything you hear about our boarding schools. (Beat) Don't dis-believe everything you hear either."
- Deadpan Snarker: He was quite fond of a bit of snark.
- Devil's Advocate: Literally. When the matter of raising Mother Teresa to sainthood was raised, Hitchens was brought in to argue against it (he described the experience as "working for the Devil pro bono"), although the Church had by then abolished the former "Devil's Advocate" role.
- Fake Ultimate Hero: How Hitch saw and described in his writings many revered figures, most notably Mother Teresa, widely viewed as a saint."[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction."
- For Science!: He agreed to be subjected to waterboarding for a Vanity Fair article. It did not take long for him to activate the dead-man's switch and have it stop.
- The Gadfly: He was so good at being a contrarian of prevailing notions, some began to suspect that some of his stated opinions were actually his attempts to wind-up the reader.
- Gallows Humor: Very much so toward the end of his life. His last book (written in hospital while already dying), titled "Mortality", is one of the best things ever written on the subject.
- The Grinch: Hitchens did not care for Christmas, which he regarded as a "moral and aesthetic nightmare". See this essay, or this one. He wasn't too wild about Hanukkah, either.
- Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Invoked. Christopher Hitchens was a member of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism, a group of four anti-religious intellectuals and scientists that also included Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. Parodied by the webcomic Subnormality, where Hitchens is portrayed as the embodiment of Equality.
- Insult to Rocks: From his scathing review of Michael Moore's Bush-bashing documentary Fahrenheit 9/11:"To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of dissenting bravery."
- I Take Offence to That Last One: When George Galloway said to Hitchens "You're a drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay", he replied "Only some of which is true". He later explained that he was very definitely an ex-Trotskyist, was quite probably a popinjay (meaning either a cocky person or, archaically, a frequent target) but was an expert at holding his liquor.
- The Necrocracy: He variously referred to North Korea as probably the world's first "necrocracy", "mausolocracy", or "thanatocracy", because its head of state, Eternal President Kim Il-Sung, was a dead man. He was also fond of saying it was "just one short of a trinity". Hitchens died before Kim Jong Il, who was of course succeeded by his son.
- Never Speak Ill of the Dead: He most emphatically did not believe this was a good idea. His post-mortem broadsides at Mother Theresa and Kim Il-Sung have already been mentioned, but his crowning glory was probably being asked to comment on the death of Jerry Falwell:"He woke up every morning, pinching his chubby little flanks, thinking Ive got away with it again... If you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox."
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: He claimed in his books and lectures that religion in general is ultimately a dangerous and destructive organization, referring to religious belief as "sinister and infantile", and believed that a religion-free world would be much better.
- Pun-Based Title: His treatise on Mother Teresa, "The Missionary Position".
- Reality Is Unrealistic: He claimed to hate clichés in writing, so when he visited Communist-era Czechoslovakia, he promised himself that he wouldn't make references to Franz Kafka in his reports. When he was arrested while visiting a group of political activists and told by the police that he didn't need to know the charge, he realized that reality is sometimes indistinguishable from parody. Similarly, he didn't want to mention Nineteen Eighty-Four before he visited North Korea, but found it to be such a perfect rendition of the dystopian state in the novel that he almost suspected it to be the regime's unofficial source of inspiration.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: With his younger brother Peter, a convert to Christianity and opponent of the Iraq war. This caused them to be estranged for a time but they eventually reconciled and engaged in a number of public debates on religion (in fact, according to Peter Hitchens they'd also been estranged before this when both of them were atheists and socialists, oddly enough).
- Sophisticated as Hell: As a master of polemic, it's hardly surprising. When giving a speech or lecture, he was not afraid to use a juicy expression.