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While Christopher Hitchens’ rhetoric can be bombastic and pompous at times, I appreciate the challenging and empowering ideas of this big thinker. His Vanity Fair article addressing his battle with cancer is quite moving, if not only for its firm grounding and keen sense of humor as he wrestles with his circumstances.

Reading again this oft-quoted passage from his 2001 book, Letters to a Young Contrarian, I’m reminded of the writer and polemicist’s strength and resolve, his ability to give good advice and challenge civility and social norms — for the better and for the worse:

“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”

(via Against All Caligulas)


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4 Comments

Interesting -- I read that passage and see much of myself in it, but it also makes me wince.

A journalist, author, critic and debater, Hitchens is one of those distinctly British intellectuals who seems to have read everything and forgotten nothing.

In his columns, essays and books, in his speeches and impromptu public appearances, he is incapable of uttering or writing a boring sentence.

Reading and listening to Christopher Hitchens has helped me emancipate myself from a geographically inherited virus of the mind, known more widely as Christianity.

I lament the bitterness and loneliness felt here. I wish Hitchens would really know love.

Much as I respect what I know of his intelligence, I dismiss his arrogance and brusqueness. Beware the intellect with a bad attitude. Would they know grace instead.