Christopher Hitchens Is Dead

Has the theory of the solar system been advanced by graceful manners and conversational tact?
--George Eliot

If I can't fuck up Ann Coulter before lunch then I shouldn't be in this business. 
--Christopher Hitchens

 I think this says so much:

He also professed to have no regrets for a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking. "Writing is what's important to me, and anything that helps me do that -- or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation -- is worth it to me," he told Charlie Rose in a television interview in 2010, adding that it was "impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle."

I highlight that because so few people achieve that sense of clarity of purpose. I think once you have that, the prospect of death--and even the prospect of great vast empty--becomes an easier proposition.

Regrettably, I never met Hitchens. But two moments stand out for me. First, reading Letters To A Young Contrarian, which really was an eye-opener for me. I think I'm actually going to have my son read it in the next year or two. And, oddly enough, this encounter with Ralph Reed on the death of Jerry Falwell, where Hitchens refused to shrink into the tempting embrace of false compassion. Again, when you have that clarity of purpose, this sort of necessary incivility comes a little easier.

With that in mind, it would be disrespectful for us to resort to pieties. When I think of Hitchens I also think of this outstanding piece from The New Yorker by Ian Parker and particularly this moment

Such performances of masculinity don't appear exclusively on the page. Not long ago, in Baltimore, I saw Hitchens challenge a man--perhaps homeless and a little unglued mentally--who had started walking in step with his wife and a woman friend of hers while Hitchens walked some way ahead. Hitchens dropped back to form a flank between the women and the man, then said, "This is the polite version. Go away." The man ambled off. Hitchens pressed home the victory. "Go away faster," he said.

What you get in that piece is a Hitchens generally spoiling for fights, but rarely discriminating among them--and that ugly scene you get a bully. I suspect it wasn't first (or last) offense.) Is that what it takes to make a theory of the solar system tell? Can you have one without the other?

Probably not. But I remain grateful for having studied at Hitchens virtual foot. I would salute his ascent into Valhalla. But I think that just be defiling a warrior's grave. I think this clip will do just fine.

Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

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


Before Tinder, a Tree

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


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

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


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

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


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

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


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 National

From This Author

Just In