I can’t say that I am particularly struck by the loss of Christopher Hitchens but its in the same way that I was not moved by the death of Steve Jobs. Like Jobs, Hitchens was something of a presentation of himself – not a bad thing in itself but it does distract from whether the output was as valuable as claimed. That being said, David Frum has an excellent memorial to the man in the National Post that captures bits of his appeal:
As the event broke up, a crowd of questioners formed around him. I created a diversion thinking it would help him escape for some needed rest. But Christopher declined the offer. He stood with them, as tired as I was, but ready to adjourn to a nearby bar and converse with total strangers till the bars closed. Hitchens was not one of those romantics who fetishized “dialogue.” Far from suffering fools gladly, he delighted in making fools suffer. When he heard that another friend, a professor, had a habit of seducing female students in his writing seminars, he shook his head pityingly. “It’s not worth it. Afterward, you have to read their short stories.”
Frum called him “a man of moral clarity.” I would have thought “amoral” or perhaps ethical was more the proper word. The man he most reminded me of was Mencken. Both had that sort of rhetorical skill that aligned well with their failure to actually meaningfully participate in anything that added to the public good. Both were keen observers and skilled reporters. The sort of person who can tell you what a poor job someone, anyone, yourself even has done but would not actually engage with the doing themselves. Both were famous drinkers.
I am sure that we benefit somewhat from these columnists, folk who can sharply report on the human condition. But they never really get to anything of value as to the why of it all. They have their own belief system which is immune to denting and judge all from that place on the orb with skill, charisma and something of an ultimate pointlessness. Humans already know life is hard and confused, that our leaders make many bad calls. Directing us to that obvious state of affairs, however insightfully or entertainingly, is not the stuff of heroes.