When discussing Christopher Hitchens, nearly everybody feels the need to use more than one word (“Author, journalist, thinker, and polemicist…”).
He himself struggled to find one word for the theme in all of his work but found “contrarian,” “malcontent,”radical” and the like to be condescending, and others like “dissident” and “freethinker” to be undignified if self-appointed.
I humbly suggest that “demystifier” fits the bill.
His problems with Bill Clinton and with The British Monarchy, and with the modern Left’s anti-interventionism foreign policy, and with religion and superstition in general was that they clouded the truth (or, rather, excused untruth through duplicitous over-complication). The same explanation justifies his lionization of figures like Emile Zola and Thomas Paine and Bertrand Russell and George Orwell.
Thus we can see that the fundamental motivating factor for Christopher Hitchens, and the reason that we have seen him so often vindicated, is that he never lost his sense of contempt for mystery, much less his tolerance for the complacency behind intentional mystification. Not being content to live in a fog, he mustered all of his formidable breath to try to clear it away.
While his style cannot and will not ever be imitated, his drive is perfectly replicable and actionable universally. To follow Hitch in his Big Idea, one must simply detest vagary, insist on explanation and proof, and maintain a healthy mistrust for authority.
It is a compelling definition of genius that he who is a genius is he who shatters even his own aspirations. Christopher Hitchens’s closing quotation in his methodological manual of dissent Letters to a Young Contrarian (the last word of which title he did not pick, by the way) is this passage from the writings of George Konrad:
“Have a life lived instead of a career. Put yourself in the safekeeping of good taste. Lived freedom will compensate you for a few losses… If you don’t like the style of others, cultivate your own. Get to know the tricks of reproduction, be a self-publisher even in conversation, and then the joy of working can fill your days.”
Hitch managed to follow this advice, rather beyond expectation, because his lifestyle followed from his distaste for mystification. Watch the video below for a touching and worthwhile tribute to his life and his work as an atheist.
Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.