But a decade after his death, technology and conformism stymie the free thinking that made him so compelling.
Good article, but you missed how he more or less predicted cancel culture well before it was a thing:
“There is a tendency on the left, to think if someone in any way disagrees with the left it must be for the lowest possible reason and if you found the lowest possible motive you have found the right one. Theres this whole culture of no one would leave us or quarrel with us if they weren't a sellout. It is actually a very sick mentality and very widespread.”
What was good about Hitchens: his talent as a writer, his insistence on thinking for himself, his opposition to what Orwell called "smelly little orthodoxies".
What was bad about Hitchens: his smug self-righteousness, his attitude (especially after 9/11) that anyone who disagreed with him could only be stupid or corrupt or evil, was at war with the tolerance and pluralism that's essential to the liberal democracy that he claimed to be fighting for.
Articulate, smart, delightful, a joy to read.
"And I believe that Hitchens was sometimes wrong for the right reasons."
Completely disagree, especially as it pertains to interventionism. We have had well-meaning (or smugly self-righteous) fools leading us on what catastrophic adventure after another for decades. They desperately need to worry less about the right reasons and more about being right.
The thing is that the 2008 crisis was not mainly a result of capitalism but of government intervention and bad politics. War against Iraq was not liberal interventionism but neo-conservative interventionism and requesting geopolitics. Hitchens did many good things in public debate. But he also ignored the problems with Islamophobia and cultural racism against Muslims. Nither was he always principal as for example by taking a different approach in his criticism towards Islam compared to Christianity. I think that your article is in several ways overblown and not in accordance with political theory.
Thanks for this
I hadn't thought of certainty as one of his shortcomings, though I can see why you say it was. It made me think of this passage from his autobiography, where he too criticizes certainty while drawing a distinction between certainty and conviction. (I transcribed this from the audiobook, so punctuation might be wrong).
"Over the course of the last decade I've become vividly aware of a literally lethal challenge from the sort of people who deal in absolute certainty and believe themselves to be actuated and justified by a supreme authority.
To have spent so long learning so relatively little, and then to be menaced in every aspect of my life by people who already know everything, and who have all the information they need.
More depressing still to see that in the face of this vicious assault so many of the best lack all conviction, hesitating to defend the society that makes their existence possible. While the worst are full to the brim and boiling over with murderous exultation."
Hitchens' defense of atheism did not involve any smug self-righteousness. When one considers both the absurdity and cruelty of an all powerful deity consigning people to eternal punishment regardless of how good they are, just for choosing the wrong belief system, such a being would be guilty of the worst possible atrocity: never-ending extreme suffering for people who don't deserve such a fate.
Different people have different strengths in the intellectual firepower that they bring to various issues. Hitchens certainly made it to the top of the heap when it came to lobbing on-target criticisms at religious dogma.