Saturday, December 17, 2011

Musings on Saint Christopher...

Christopher Hitchens, the noted polemicist and apologist died of pneumonia after a long struggle with cancer on the 15th of December 2011. The rush to turn him into a kind of secular saint by the media, old and new, is moving at typical contemporary advertising, MTV, and post Jaws and Star Wars action adventure Hollywood speed.

There were things I admired about Hitchens, his intelligence and public speaking and debating skills amongst them. I admired Hitchens criticism of Israel and his criticism of anti-Semities. As an apologist and polemicist Hitchens stands kilometres above demagogues like Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Ann Coulter, and others of that ilk. But there are things about Saint Christopher that trouble me. Hitchens defence of the war in Iraq was pathetic. Afghanistan, I can understand, but Iraq? Hitchens tendency to make far too great a use of English public school boy ad hominems (shades of a BYU political scientist) is disturbing. Hitchens love of the aristocratic lifestyle even while masquerading as a socialist makes one wonder whether Hitchens was more of an intellectual chameleon or a zelig or even a hedonist than someone committed to social justice. Hitchens sometimes seemed to have been more interested in hobnobbing with Britain's and America's aristocratic and intellectual elite and with his favourite brand of whiskey than almost anything else. Hitchens self confidence seemed sometimes to border on narcissism, another characteristic of English public schoolboy and aristocratic culture perhaps.

Hitchens was, in may ways, the embodiment of the myth and even the reality of English public school culture. He even seems to have modeled and patterned himself, zelig like, after another product of English public school culture, that old Etonian, public intellectual, and iconoclast George Orwell. But Hitchens never, as far as I know, took on all of Orwell's traits. Unlike Orwell, Hitchens never named names to the intelligence apparatus of the British and American state. He just, like Orwell, called his opponents names (including "homosexual" in Orwell's case). But unlike Orwell, again as far as I know, Hitchens never fully committed to a more just and less exploitative society.

So before we turn Hitchens into a secular intellectual saint lets look at Hitchens the man in all his glory, inglory, and vain glory. Celebrate the real man not the manufactured saintly illusion being purveyed by friends and media, who tend to, in the first flush after death, turn a flesh and bone human being into an inhuman non flesh and bone saint. I think even Hitchens himself would have, or should have, wanted this given his take on religion and saints like Mother Teresa. But perhaps I am wrong.

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