The Corner

Jonah Remembers Christopher Hitchens

From today’s G-File:

Christopher Hitchens is dead.

I knew Hitch pretty well (certainly well enough to never repeat the mistake of calling him “Chris”). For starters, we lived in the same building for a couple years. He had a palatial apartment on the top floor of the Wyoming (a great big pile of bricks in D.C.). My wife and I had something more modest on the ground floor. He got along famously with my parents, not least because all three kept alive the ancient journalistic tradition of punctuating their drinking with smoking. But also because my Dad could talk about forgotten dead Communists and my Mom about their shared animosity for Bill Clinton. Over the years we saw each other, if not often, then often enough. We weren’t close friends, but that was never an impediment for Hitchens to start a conversation — or an argument. I was even a referee of sorts to one of his many fights over God, when I wrote the introduction for this book.

Nobody who knew Hitch even a little lacks stories. Some have better ones than others. My friend Matt Labash has tales about getting booze in the war-torn Middle East. I have stories about my new dog — yes, a very young Cosmo — peeing in his apartment. Or getting absolutely pickled with him because, after all, it was a Wednesday. And there was that time Peter Beinart invited my wife and I and the Hitchenses to his house for a Sabbath dinner and Hitchens proceeded to go on an anti-Israel, anti-religion, anti-God tirade that made everyone check their watches a lot. It was an odd occasion for Hitch to bust out that whole shtick. Why go to a Shabbat dinner in the first place if you’re going to spout all that stuff? It was like going to a tailgate party at Notre Dame and badmouthing the Irish.

I once wrote somewhere around NRO that I thought that maybe — just maybe — Hitchens could be considered a “man of the Right.” He was no conservative. You can’t really be a conservative in the Anglo-American tradition and hate religion. You can be a non-believer, I think. But you have to at least have respect for the role of religion and maybe a little reverence for the role of transcendence in people’s lives. Hitch had nothing but contempt. It was one of the last truly asinine Marxist things about him.

But a man of the Right is something different. A man of the Right is not a doctrinaire conservative. What a man of the Right is, however, is something harder to define. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

I first got the idea that Hitchens might be a man of the Right after watching him on C-Span discussing the Odyssey. He was on with, among others, Jody Bottum and a left-wing female academic who (at least as far as I remember it) had little to offer other than blah-blah-blah-white-males-blah-blah (I’m paraphrasing). Hitchens had no use for the woman and really had nothing to say to her. Meanwhile, he could have a real argument with Bottum because they could at least agree that the text matters and that indictments of the heterosexist norms of the Pale Penis People were not that interesting. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that Hitch — who believed in the importance of Western Civilization (he said he’d rather defend Western Civilization than denounce John Ashcroft), gloried in the splendor of the Canon, admired other cultures but rejected utterly the asininity of multicultural leveling — was certainly not a man of the contemporary Left, or maybe not of the Left at all.

I no longer think Hitch was really a man of the Right, chiefly because you can’t be a man of the Right and reflexively, perhaps even childishly, reject the label. I’m not inclined to sugarcoat my take on the man given how he could be absolutely cruel when spouting off about the deaths of others. He could be mean, pigheaded, and insensitive (though never dull!). He could also be generous and kind. He was a brilliant and gifted polemicist who sometimes took the easiest way out by going after his opponents’ weakest arguments rather than their strongest. He defied easy categorization while having a gift for categorizing others. He’ll be missed because he was so damn good at being Christopher Hitchens.


NRO Staff — Members of the National Review Online editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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