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Zachary Stockill Headshot

The Importance of Being Hitchens: Get Well Soon, Christopher

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Chances are that if you follow this or any other comprehensive news source, you are aware of Christopher Hitchens' rapidly declining health. I daresay I wasn't the only one to be taken aback by the speed with which illness has overtaken the author's physical form. His interviews with Anderson Cooper and Charlie Rose have displayed a once-virile human being worn down by cancer; that inexhaustible source of misery throughout the entire world. Though his intellect remains voracious and his wit razor-sharp, his face betrays a body exhausted by chemotherapy, and utterly bored by the prospect of an early exit from this party (and to his mind, almost certainly no entry into any "next"). Some sort of thinly-veiled, preemptive eulogy on my part would be both cheap and offensive. Instead, I offer a brief attestation to the influence he has had on one aspiring writer, in joining the chorus of well-wishes for one of the most important public intellectuals of our time.

Chances are also strong that, like myself, at least one of the people reading these words has been impacted by Hitchens' intellectual courage in a profound way. Like Hitchens, from a very young age my political sympathies have largely fallen under the umbrella of "the Left;" one half of the tedious, overly simplistic division of the political spectrum. However, I have always tried to overlook those Right-Left distinctions as arbitrary and largely irrelevant -- one person's politics should not be so simplistic as to fit so neatly into such categories. All too often the politically engaged revert to impulsive responses that fit neatly within their own "camp," be it liberal or conservative, Marxist or fascist, anarchic or libertarian, etc. For the subheadings of "liberal" and "conservative" largely overlook values common to all sides, and instead encourage partisanship and discord where cooperation is entirely within the realm of possibility. Likewise, these categories do not encourage the type of thoughtful and productive debate, at the political and popular level, necessary for a thriving democracy, and so sorely lacking from contemporary political discourse. For these reasons, I reject the impulse to qualify myself as entirely "liberal," tempting though, for purposes of simplicity, or even community, it is often to do so. Hitchens' own life and work was a major inspiration for me to adopt this position. If nothing else, Christopher Hitchens has always encouraged his audiences to think, which is the ultimate accomplishment of any writer.

His decision to support the 2003 Iraq War was extremely unpopular with his "base" of traditional readership (among those the Tea Party considers the "socialists," "Marxists," or my personal favorite, "Fascist-socialists." What a curious hybrid). Whether or not you agreed with Hitchens' position on Iraq, it is difficult to deny that quite aside from being the most articulate, his was the most intelligent call to arms; and at a time when it was sorely lacking on both the Right, and Left. I opposed the US-led incursion into Iraq, and still feel unequivocally that the war has been an absolute calamity for the Iraqi people, not to mention the thousands of coalition forces forced to pay the ultimate price. However, Christopher Hitchens challenged me and many others to consider the immense cost involved with leaving Saddam Hussein in power indefinitely at a time when it was extremely unpopular on "the Left" to do so. Jane Kenway and Johannah Fahey describe an important public intellectual's thought as "provocative.. it unsettles, inspires, invites untrammeled thought." Using the limited example of Iraq, Hitchens meets, and exceeds all of these criteria.

His recent memoir, Hitch-22, while no doubt sympathetic to its main subject, reveals a man who has usually taken the time to fully consider, and more importantly reconsider his political positions time and time again. In an age where any thoughtful reconsideration of one's positions is caustically deemed "flip-flopping" by punditry on the Right and Left, "Hitch" is a rarity. Posterity will primarily champion Hitchens as a major force in confronting religious extremism and terrorism in all forms. But more than that, Christopher Hitchens remains one of the foremost champions of independent judgment; an accomplishment, I argue, far more impressive and ultimately valuable for humanity.

Thus, it is with this in mind that I wish Christopher Hitchens a swift recovery, and many more years of inspiring me, and many others, to truly consider our positions.