Christopher Hitchens’ Honesty

The Literary Editor and National Editor of The Atlantic, Benjamin Schwarz recalled Christopher Hitchens’ honesty:

“Like his hero, Orwell, Christopher prized bravery above all other qualities–and in particular the bravery required for unflinching honesty. And as was true of the work of Orwell, the former colonial policeman, this devotion paradoxically lent a certain military coloring to Christopher’s intellectual, literary, and political pursuits. This most intellectual of men valued intelligence, but valued courage far more–or rather, he believed that true intellect was inseparable from courage. It’s commonly said that Christopher couldn’t stand stupidity. That isn’t true: He couldn’t tolerate stupidity married to pretentiousness or dishonesty. It’s also said that Hitchens was intolerant of his adversaries. True, he saw many of his adversaries–the shabby and dishonest–as beneath contempt. Rightly so. But he could be far more than tolerant of those honest men and women who were devoted to causes he found abhorrent: He paid honor to his enemies. We shared a great admiration for his friend Gene Genovese–a fervent Catholic, a man who at different times in his life was dedicated to a vision of the left and of the right that Christopher equally opposed. And we shared a fondness for one of Genovese’s rather martial and uncongenial passages:


In irreconcilable confrontations, as comrade Stalin…clearly understood, it is precisely the most admirable, manly, principled, and, by their own lights, moral opponents who have to be killed; the others can be frightened or bought.


“Just as Orwell, when an adult, was drawn to his old Etonian classmate, the high Tory Anthony Powell, not because of Powell’s literary promise, but because of his military bearing and position, so Hitchens most cherished what he called (quoting his father) “sand”–grit. Christopher was haunted by his father–whom he called “the commander,” and in a piece I asked him to write on Churchill, he wrote a throwaway line that I’ve always found hugely illuminating:


My father, a Royal Navy commander, was on board H.M.S. Jamaica when it helped to deal the coup de grâce to the Nazi warship Scharnhorst on December 26, 1943–a more solid day’s work than any I have ever done.


“Of course, in the end, even by these exacting standards, Christopher did perform that solid day’s work with the sand–and the grace–that his terrible death demanded.”




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