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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Getting Hitched

Christopher Hitchens is dead and the media throbs with glowing tributes.

I find this puzzling.

Why so much attention paid to a man who was, to the greater part of even educated people, so little known and who, in terms of journalism and thought, of such little consequence?

I had heard of him but he did not really attain much public profile until the time of the Iraq War when his support for the Bush/Blair adventure made him a figure of betrayal for the Left.

I admired his principled stand on that issue but, I have to say, I never really got Hitchens. His writing struck me as unremarkable and I always thought the rigour and originality of his thought was only that of a precocious sixth former. His atheism was saloon bar stuff, unleavened even by the entertaining peevishness of Dawkins.

However – and it’s a big however – he was plainly much loved by his many friends in the literary and media worlds who are unanimous in their appreciation of his personal warmth and kindness. That is no small thing. 
In that he reminds me of Samuel Johnson, though, as I have said, in the quality of his work, he was no Johnson.

For example, Matthew D’Ancona in the Telegraph writes:

“As a man of letters Hitch readily acknowledged the importance of this great text (The King James Bible) to the `common store of image and allegory’ without which a culture will be perilously thin’. But he also argued… that this example of scripture-by-committee showed that `religion is man-made with inky human fingerprints all over its supposedly inspired and unalterable texts.’’

Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs! And there was I thinking the Bible was the unmediated product of some divine hand, like that which wrote on the wall at Belshazzar’s Feast.

I’m sorry but this devotion to him on the part of his friends and admirers is such that they reverentially elevate the utterly prosaic as though it were some holy relic. Where Hitchens is concerned, they claim the most extraordinary qualities for what is plainly very ordinary indeed. The most staggering example of this is in Andrew Sullivan’s piece in the Sunday Times where he writes: “Hitch was alive when he died.’’

Surely, for any human, that’s as run-of-the-mill as you can get.


  1. That seems to be widespread in modern journalism. When someone, in any area, has many friends and dies we all get to hear upon death the qualities he/she never revealed in life.
    They are appraised as great actors, great politicians, great journalists and yet some of them are hardly known or his contributions were more negative than positive.

    With notable exceptions of course.

  2. Very true. Compare the huge coverage devoted to Hitchens to that given to Vaclav Havel.