Happy Birthday, Christopher Hitchens: A Letter to a Young Contrarian

Why you should speak now, or take your arguments with you to your grave

AP Images

Today would have marked the 63rd birthday of acclaimed author and professional contrarian Christopher Hitchens, who died of esophageal cancer last December. "One should try to write as if posthumously," he famously—prophetically even, were such a contention not to be blasphemous to him—declared three days before he became gravely ill in 2010. Perhaps he had this dictum in mind when he penned, on a challenge from his New School students, Letters to a Young Contrarian, condensing years' worth of his advice "to the young and the restless" into a series of letters written as if to just one of them—a form borrowed from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.

This particular excerpt distills a great deal of Hitch's lens on life in just one short paragraph:

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 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 your.

These words of wisdom join other astute advice to young guns from such cultural figures as John Steinbeck, C. S. Lewis, Albert Einstein, and Jackson Pollock's dad.

brainpickingslogo.jpg

This post also appears on Brain Pickings, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

Just In