A eulogy for Hitchens by Douglas Murray

December 17, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Christopher Hitchens died on December 15, 2011—ten years from last Wednesday.  There have been a lot of pieces about Hitchens since then, as well as postmortem collections of his own writing, but I haven’t read any eulogy for Hitchens as eloquent and touching as the one below (h/t Chris). It’s from conservative Douglas Murray in the 2011 Spectator, and you can read it by clicking on the screenshot (it’s a very short piece). If the link on the screenshot is paywalled, this one is archived and free. (By the way, I did read and like Murray’s anti-woke book The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity).

It’s a testimony to the expansiveness of Hitchens’s character that he and a pretty right-wing guy were friends—and according to Murray, they were pretty tight. At any rate, I’ll let you read this lovely piece for yourself—it’s ten years old and was clearly written in the moment right after Hitchens had died. I’ll give a few excerpts.

This is an excellent beginning:

Just one of Christopher Hitchens’ talents would have been enough for most people. In him those talents — like his passions — all melded into each other: as speaker, writer and thinker. Yet he was more than the sum even of these considerable parts, for he possessed another talent that was even rarer — a talent for making us, his readers, want to be better people. He used his abilities not to close down questions and ideas, but to open them up. In the process he made you, the reader, aware that you needed to do more, engage more, think more and know more. Writers often feel a need to impress their readers. Christopher made his readers want to impress the writer.

Murray describes Hitchens’s well-known capacity to travel and work at a pace that would drive others to a frazzle, and to drink Mr. Walker’s amber restorative copiously all the while. And even then, tired and besotted, Hitchens could turn out the most wonderful and thoughtful prose. Do read Murray’s account of how, after a bibulous day, Hitchens went home and wrote a brilliant piece.

One nice bit:

He was a master on the page. But on stage he perhaps excelled even further. As a mutual friend observed some years ago: ‘There is only one real rule in public speaking: never speak to an audience with, before or after Christopher Hitchens.’

That’s for sure!  And Murray has a touching ending that rings very true:

A couple of days before Christopher’s diagnosis we spent a day together at Hay. I was reading the memoir that he was promoting, Hitch-22, the opening chapters of which are among the most moving ever written. At the end of a long day he dropped me at my hotel. In the morning he would fly to the US. His schedule was always extreme but for the first time it seemed to be taking a physical toll. If we will keep on wishing that we had had another couple of decades of him, we will also have to concede that he lived his life exactly how he wished, burning bright and burning hard. That included working himself right up until the end for the things he believed in, the things he wished to fight for and — which was the same — the things he loved. As I waved him off that night I remember registering the thought that the day would come when we would have to live without Christopher. Now that day has arrived. It will be hardest of all for his wife, Carol, and for his brilliant children of whom he was so very — and justifiably — proud. But it is also something that, in an incomparably smaller way, the rest of us will have to manage too.

We have lost our sharpest wit, one of our finest writers and one of our best minds. There are no false consolations to be had. Only the truth that from now on, instead of knowing what Christopher thinks, we will have to consider what he would have thought. We will, in other words, have to think for ourselves. If we manage it then, in large part, it will be thanks to Christopher and the incomparable example — in life and work — that he provided.

There’s more, so go read the whole thing. Yes, he did live the life he wished, and I doubt that he spent much time doing things he didn’t love.  Even so, many of us wish he were here now, for the follies happening in America would surely provide ample fodder for his scathing wit. As Murray says, we’ll never know what he would have thought about things like cultural appropriation, transgender activism, pronoun usage, and the racial tension that’s permeating society. But we do know three things: he would have something to say, what he’d say would be interesting and thought-provoking (and perhaps contrarian), and the prose would get us hooked.

As for thinking for ourselves, that was the point of Hitchens’s last public speech, when he received the Richard Dawkins Award less than two months before he died. While he was clearly ill, Hitchens’s words are loud and clear (his bit starts at 12:10, and if you haven’t seen this video, watch the whole thing):

22 thoughts on “A eulogy for Hitchens by Douglas Murray

  1. “Writers often feel a need to impress their readers. Christopher made his readers want to impress the writer.”

    Precisely … as if he read my mind.

    1. The word just came to me :

      Challenging

      Hitchens’ writing challenges the reader to ask if they _know_, if they _understand_, and _how_ so.

  2. Douglas Murray was willing to praise a very talented writer with whom he disagreed politically, while The Guardian (in its review of Murray’s “anti-woke” book), described it as a “right-wing diatribe” consisting of “the bizarre fantasies of a right-wing provocateur blind to oppression.”

  3. Clicking on the screenshot just goes to the image and the “If the link on the screenshot is paywalled, this one is archived and free” link gives a server error (at least here in the UK, anyway). It looks to be a good and moving piece judging by the quoted extracts. Hitch is sadly missed.

  4. If we’re to speculate on what Hitch would say had he survived to this day, let’s not imagine that he would have been a disinterested commentator through all this elapsed time. I imagine he would have been in the thick of things during the presidential campaigns of 2015-2016 and would have laid into Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders with all the force of his formidable intellect. I imagine that, because of Hitch’s biting criticisms, none of them would have been elected president. I can’t speculate who would have been elected, but my point is that we would be living in a different world now if we still had Hitch with us. Intellectual lightweights like Kendi and DiAngelo would have been scorched by him, and they would have retreated to the YouTube fringe like William Lane Craig did. We would have been saved from High Wokism. Ah, what if!

    1. I imagine that, because of Hitch’s biting criticisms, none of them would have been elected president.

      Optimist.

      I think the effects of applied psychology (viz : the advertising industry) would have worked – either by drowning him out, or by killing (financially) publications that did widely publish him. Safely on the fringe he would have remained.

  5. On the issues that count, Douglas Murray is no more right wing than Hitchens was, except perhaps for his economic views. He is a libertarian in the good sense and one of our strongest defenders of
    both civil liberties and social responsibility, a man of principle who doesn’t tolerate the dangerous follies of ideologues of left or right. I am surprised to find him labelled right wing on this blog, which prides itself on looking at issues critically and objectively. I count Murray as a worthy successor to Hitchens and one of a growing number of independent thinkers who don’t follow a party line and who are a model for the rest of us to follow in our political judgments.

    1. I’m with you, Lorna. Murray and Hitchens are from the same school of liberalism and independent thought. Murray is a great speaker as well. No wonder they were friends.

  6. Watching the video, hearing his voice after such a long while, I didn’t realize how much I miss him. Hearing him speak always makes me feel reassured that, yes, there is a voice of reason, a deep vein of sanity, a stable platform of truth and knowledge on which we all can rely. Having lost him, I fear for freethinkers everywhere, as he seems impossible to replace. The chaos of the last decade, especially on the U.S. political stage, only deepens my angst and makes me miss him all the more.

  7. I do miss Hitch. My father, who just passed away last month, and I were big admirers of him. Dad and I flew out to LA to hear him and Sam Harris in person debate two rabbis not long before he passed away. I intend to quote Hitch at dad’s memorial next week which will have zero religious aspects to it.

    One of the things I most admired about Hitchens was his chutzpah/balls/bravery. Conversely, one of the things that drives me crazy about the left is how wimpy and ineffective they tend to be. Apologetic, fearful of causing offense to the tiniest demographic, use of tepid language diluted with caveats, and lack the courage of their convictions and the strength imbued by the nobility of their causes. Hitch was the exact opposite. He went on offense and was a fearless adversary with righteous intensity on his side backed by unimpeachable arguments. He was a leader of the left who articulated its best political and social positions with confidence and remained unapologetic about it.

    I think we miss him because he was so effective. The left now seldom even makes arguments and seems to dismiss data and evidence in lieu of appeals to identity and feelings of empathy or guilt. *puke*

  8. “Tradycja to dąb, który tysiąc lat rósł w górę. Niech nikt kiełka małego z dębem nie przymierza! Tradycja naszych dziejów jest warownym murem. To jest właśnie kolęda, świąteczna wieczerza, to jest ludu śpiewanie, to jest ojców mowa, to jest nasza historia, której się nie zmieni. A to co dookoła powstaje od nowa, to jest nasza codzienność, w której my żyjemy.” -“Miś ” 🙂

      1. Nesnesitelná lehkost výklad, aneb jak se vysmívat chlapovi, který si myslí, že je chytrý.A chlap je prostě průměrný.
        Ó Ježíši, neporovnáváš dva Kryštofy, malého a velkého?Ale který z nich je velký?

        Jazykem odpovědí je čeština.
        (The answer is in Czech.)

    1. This has the air of poetry (a subject I can barely get a stranglehold on), in a language I don’t understand. Can you explain it’s relevance to Hitch?

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