Arguably: Essays

Christo­pher Hitchens
  • Review
By – June 13, 2012

It’s hard to argue with the ratio­nale for anoth­er vol­ume of the late Christo­pher Hitchens’s pugna­cious essays. Whether you read Hitchens because you vio­lent­ly agree with him or find him unut­ter­ably infu­ri­at­ing, he’s always excit­ing. Like many of his lit­er­ary heroes, you’re bet­ter for his vocab­u­lary, or for appre­ci­at­ing the art­ful­ly exe­cut­ed ver­bal swords­man­ship of a mas­ter. His fear­less­ness, his brava­do, his will­ing­ness to chal­lenge his own side in an argu­ment, is some­thing always in short sup­ply, but nev­er more than today. The care with which he wrote, evi­dent in every essay here, is at odds with our image of him with a whiskey in one hand and a cig­a­rette in the oth­er. But, like the great lions of Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture — Dr. John­son comes to mind — what­ev­er his pose, his com­mit­ment to his craft was supreme.

What’s not so clear is why Jew­ish Book World wants a review of these essays to be includ­ed in their pub­li­ca­tion. Christo­pher Hitchens learned in adult­hood that he was descend­ed from Jews on his mother’s side. He was brought up as a Chris­t­ian, though he aban­doned it quite ear­ly in life. His broth­er, Peter, is a believ­ing Chris­t­ian who has writ­ten as pos­i­tive­ly on reli­gion as Christo­pher has against it. In fact, it is as a lead­ing athe­ist, or as he puts it, an antithe­ist, that Hitchens has made his mark in recent years.

True, he has engaged the Jew­ish State from a crit­i­cal van­tage point. He refers to and dis­dains the Jew­ish-zealot set­tler,” and is frus­trat­ed by any­thing that stands in the way of the two-state solu­tion. But, almost unique­ly for a left­ist crit­ic, noth­ing in his locu­tions betrays a speck of Jew hatred. If any­thing, he tweaks the gen­teel anti-Semi­tism of Mearsheimer and Walt, and the occa­sion­al intel­lec­tu­al dis­hon­esty of his friend Edward Said. So, why should we look to under­stand Hitchens’s work through a Jew­ish per­spec­tive?

Per­haps, it’s because as we read him, we see the hyper-mea­sured, jus­tice-hun­gry dis­tinc­tion-mak­ing that we have long asso­ci­at­ed with Jews as prophets and pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als. A man of the Left, he sup­port­ed the Iraq war to end the cru­el­ty of Sad­dam Hus­sein. A Trot­sky­ist in his youth, he nev­er sup­port­ed the Sovi­et bloc, and he admired and wrote on Orwell, Jef­fer­son, and famous­ly, against Moth­er Tere­sa. His mot­to could have been Nev­er show trib­al loy­al­ty” and always be will­ing to draw a fur­ther dis­tinc­tion between us and them. It is this insis­tence on fol­low­ing the dic­tates of heav­en, while rush­ing to storm its gates, that just feels so Jew­ish, that won’t let us quite let him go. His final strug­gle with esophageal can­cer end­ed bad­ly, but was fought with aplomb, and whol­ly with­out deathbed con­ver­sion. Nev­er­the­less, we won’t let you go alone into the unknown, Christo­pher. If any Hebrew is required in the world to come, we’ll be there to trans­late for you.

Jeff Bogursky reads a lot, writes a lit­tle and talks quite a bit. He is a media exec­u­tive and expert in dig­i­tal media.

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