Christopher Hitchens’ Greatest Hits

August 26, 2010 | Heroes,Lists

“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself …  Picture all experts as if they were mammals.” Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is dying, but then, as he points out, so are we all — it’s just that he might be “leaving the party” earlier than he had hoped. His Vanity Fair column discussing his cancer diagnosis and the early stages of his struggle with “the blind, emotionless alien” inside him showed a remarkable and laudable consistency with much of what he’s written over the years — it was intellectually honest, and railed against cliche and the maudlin (even at a time when most would have forgiven him for both). It was also not without humor — indeed, if he hadn’t from an early age looked at the world in terms of grand political struggles and ideologies, he may have been one of the great humor writers of his time, and in many ways he is, regardless of the subject matter.

Back to consistency. Hitchens’ Vanity Fair piece was as deeply personal as anything he’s ever written, and as would be expected at such a time, he begins to ruminate on all that an early death will rob him of: “Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger?”

It’s a cold man, or possibly the prospective father-in-law of Mel Gibson, who wouldn’t want to see his children get married, and the reconstruction of the WTC would to Hitchens be a symbolic rebuke of the spirit of nihilistic religious zealoutry that brought the towers down in the first place — the type of fanaticism he deplores, and about which he cautions constant vigilance.  What those who aren’t familiar with Hitchens may have found surprising was his ruing of the fact, even at this dark hour, that he may not be there to raise his hand when the tributes roll in for Kissinger and the Pope — he wrote a book damning the former, and his screeds against the latter could likely be collected into a similarly long form — and say, “On the contrary.”

For Hitch fans, the lament was fitting. Hitchens has made a sideline of offering some of the most delicious skewerings of people in the public sphere to appear in print over the past 20+ years, and he has no problem putting revered feet into the fire. On the Penn and Teller episode devoted to questioning the accepted saintliness of Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Gandhi, Hitch was a natural choice as a guest as he was probably the only mainstream pundit who had bashed all three in print.

Here then is a collection of excerpts from Hitchens’ columns in Slate, Vanity Fair and some of his books that shows the Crown Prince of Pillorying  at work. These are Christopher Hitchens’ greatest hits!

(Note: All text below the name of the target is excerpted from Hitch’s writings [name linked to source where possible]. Notes in itals are the authors’.)

According to Hitch, a contender for worst president ever, with Hugo Chavez (see below).

Jimmy Carter

Almost always, when former President Jimmy Carter opens his big, smug mouth, he has already made the psychological mistake that is going to reduce his words to absurdity.

Hitch does not often agree with the foreign policy critiques of the peanut farmer from Plains, GA.

Prince Charles (on him becoming king)

From the aesthetic point of view it will matter a bit, because the prospect of a morose bat-eared and chinless man, prematurely aged, and with the most abysmal taste in royal consorts, is a distinctly lowering one.

Bill Clinton

Then the big white whale, Clinton. What about someone who is a war criminal, a taker of bribes from foreign dictatorships, almost certainly a rapist [plausibly accused, anyway, by three believable women, of rape], executed a black man [Ricky Ray Rector] who was so mentally retarded  that he was unable to plead or to understand the charges — You’re against all that, right? But you’re for it when it’s someone who you think is a ‘New Democrat’.

From  “Conversations with History: A Dissenting Voice”

Hitchens despised Clinton to the extent that he wrote a book condemning him. Even now, addled with cancer, Hitchens loathing for Clinton remains strong. In an interview with Charlie Rose, he seemed slightly stunned by the suggestion that it possibly could.

On the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming president:

What do you have to forget or overlook in order to desire that this dysfunctional clan once more occupies the White House and is again in a position to rent the Lincoln Bedroom to campaign donors and to employ the Oval Office as a massage parlor?

Hugo Chavez:

[Hugo] Chávez, in other words, is very close to the climactic moment when he will announce that he is a poached egg and that he requires a very large piece of buttered toast so that he can lie down and take a soothing nap.

Hitchens, after a trip to Venezuela with Sean Penn that left him questioning the mental fitness of that country’s leader. Hitch obviously enjoys the poached egg analogy, having used it more than once in his writings.

The Dalai Lama

In exactly the same way as a medieval princeling, he makes the claim not just that Tibet should be independent from Chinese hegemony — a “perfectly good” demand, if I may reder it into everyday English — but that he himself is a hereditary king appointed by heaven itself. How convenient! Dissenting sects within his faith are persecuted; his one-man rule in an Indian enclave is absolute; he makes absurd pronouncements about sex and diet and, when on his trips to Hollywood fund-raisers, anoints major donors like Steven Segal and Richard Gere as holy.

An excerpt from the “There is no eastern solution” chapter of Hitch’s book “God is Not Great”.

Jerry Falwell

Like many fanatical preachers, Falwell was especially disgusting in exuding an almost sexless personality while railing from dawn to dusk about the sex lives of others. His obsession with homosexuality was on a par with his lip-smacking evocations of hellfire. From his wobbly base of opportunist fund raising and degree-mill money-spinning in Lynchburg, Va., he set out to puddle his sausage-sized fingers into the intimate arrangements of people who had done no harm.

While Hitch may miss out on writing obits for Kissinger and the current pontiff, he can take some consolation in having been around to write the above, part of a Slate column after the “Reverend’s” death, and to make statements such as the following to counter some of the tributes rolling in:

“If you gave Falwell an enema, he could be buried in a matchbox.”

“Hannity and Colmes”, Fox News

Gandhi

To state the matter shortly: he wanted India to revert to a village-dominated and primitive “spiritual” society, he made power-sharing with Muslims much harder, and he was quite prepared to make hypocritical use of violence when he thought it might suit him … [Gandhi] rhapsodized about the Indian village, where the millennial rhythms of animals and crops would determine how human life was lived. Millions of people would have mindlessly starved to death if his advice had been followed, and would have continued to worship cows.

From the “There is no Eastern Solution” chapter of Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great”.

Mel Gibson

One does not abruptly decide, between the first and second vodka, or the ticks of the indicator of velocity, that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are valid after all … He has told interviewers that his wife, the mother of his children, is going to hell because she subscribes to the wrong Christian sect (a view that he justifies as “a pronouncement from the chair”). And it has been obvious for some time to the most meager intelligence that he is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred.

From a column following after Gibson’s DUI arrest and anti-Semitic tirade, which he later blamed on the effects of drink.

Jesse Helms

I make no apology for calling him a provincial redneck, because that, to be fair to him once more, was how he thought of himself and even described himself. It was a scandal that a man with so little knowledge of the outside world should have had such a stranglehold on American foreign policy for so long … The way to mark Helms’ passing is to recognize that he prolonged the life of the old segregated South and the Dixiecrat ascendancy and that in his own person, not unlike Strom Thurmond, he personified much of its absurdity and redundancy.

In probably the only obit about Helms titled, “Goodbye to a provincial redneck”.

Bob Hope

The sexlessness of Hope’s routines, however, was just another clue to their essential conformism and cowardice. Eye-rolling and wolf-whistling are among the weakest forms of crowd pleasing that we possess. And Hope never stretched or challenged an audience in his life. For him, the safe and antique moves were the best, if not the only. The smirk was principally one of risk-free self-congratulation … A Bob Hope joke was no laughing matter: It was a bland attempt at what we would now yawningly call inclusiveness.

Written shortly after the passing of the English-born comedian. Includes a hilarious excerpt taken from the New York Times obit in which Hope’s laugh-defying jokes are quoted. The above quote can also apply to Jay Leno.

Mike Huckabee

But when real political racism rears its head, our easily upset media fall oddly silent. Can you guess why? Of course you can. Gov. Huckabee is the self-anointed candidate of the simple and traditional Christian folk who hate smart-ass, educated, big-city types, and if you dare to attack him for his vulgarity and stupidity and bigotry, he will accuse you of prejudice in return.

On Mike Huckabee’s comments alluding to support for the confederate flag.

The Kennedy “dynasty”

It must take some ingenuity at the networks, even so, to simply airbrush the fascist sympathies and bootlegging background of Joseph Kennedy Sr., his sons’ murder campaigns in Cuba, the recruitment of the mafia for same, the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem  in Vietnam, the increasingly frantic and pathetic narco-addictions of JFK, the exploitation of unstable broads like Marilyn Monroe, and so much else besides.

The above was included in Ted Kennedy’s obituary, which was surprisingly kind to the last of the Kennedy brothers. Hitch was not so charitable when it came to the memory of JFK:

John F. Kennedy

“If this vulgar hoodlum president had not been survived by a widow of exceptional bearing and grace, his reputation would probably now be dirt.”

Henry Kissinger

A good liar must have a good memory. Kissinger is a stupendous liar with a remarkable memory.

In the realm of American politics, only Henry Kissinger rivaled Bill Clinton as a target for Hitchens’ contempt. Quote from Hitchens book, “The Trial of Henry Kissinger”.

Michael Moore

Europeans  think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they’ve taken as their own, as their representative American, someone (Michael Moore) who actually embodies all of those qualities.

“Scarborough Country” on MSNBC. Hitchens lost what respect he had for Michael Moore with the making of Farhenheit 9/11, which he critiqued on Slate.

New York

I never expected to see a day when it would become a plastic-imitation Disneyland, with the mirthless smirk of the uniformed attendant making sure that everyone had a boring and wholesome time and was tucked up in bed before two in the morning.

In the above piece, Hitchens had fun going around NYC and racking up all of the infractions he could against the city’s innumerable by-laws. He also had a chance to offer his opinion on that city’s mayor:

Michael Bloomberg

This current Niagara of pettiness and random victimization may well be Bloomberg’s attempt at a wannabe reputation as heroic crime-fighter and disciplinarian. Who knows what goes on in the tiny, constipated chambers of his mind? All we know for certain is that one of the world’s most broad-minded and open cities is now in the hands of a picknose control freak.

Sarah Palin

What price the courageous frontier huntress now—an empty-headed echo chamber for rumor-mongers and freaks who shoots from ambush and then runs away? Some condescending right-wing intellectuals are calling her style “populist” and comparing it with Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan. The true name for it is demagogy, descending from Joseph McCarthy, Robert Welch, and the nastier elements of the old Nixon gang—people to whom slander and defamation was second nature.

Hitchens lambasted Palin in more than one Slate column as she continued to give offense during her vice-presidential bid.

Ronald Reagan

The fox, as has been pointed out by more than one philosopher, knows many small things, whereas the hedgehog knows one big thing. Ronald Reagan was neither a fox nor a hedgehog. He was as dumb as a stump. He could have had anyone in the world to dinner, any night of the week, but took most of his meals on a White House TV tray. He had no friends, only cronies. His children didn’t like him all that much.

Hitchens strays from the pack again in this write-up following the death of the former president and Bedtime for Bonzo star.

Cindy Sheehan

As well as being a vulgar producer of her own spectacle, and an embarrassment to her family, Cindy Sheehan is at best a shifty fantasist.

Hitchens here was writing about Sheehan’s denial of anti-Israeli statements in a letter she had written (which she later claimed had been doctored).

Mother Teresa

[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. …Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud…

Hitchens also wrote a book-length critique of the woman he dubbed the “ghoul of Calcutta”, a book that would likely win the prize for more gasps induced at a bookstore by its title alone: “The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice”.

Gore Vidal

Vidal in his decline has fans like David Letterman’s, who laugh in all the wrong places lest they suspect themselves of not having a good time.

Hitchens rues some of the more crackpot notions of his one-time mentor.

There’s just one Hitch and for his readers – who have

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Comments

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  1. The thing is, when Hitch does die (and I hope it won’t be for a long, long while), it will present a real dilemma for obituarists. They know they can’t offer bland, polite platitudes, as the subject would have hated that. But they also know they can’t dance on a grave with the clever glee that he exhibited.

    (That said, I bet he’s already written the Ratzinger and Kissinger screeds, and if he does beat them to the departure lounge, he’ll have left them as kickings from beyond the grave.)

    Reply

  2. This article and Tim’s comment just completely made my day. Thanks.

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  3. It will indeed be a sad day when Hitch dies because he will die as he lived, a sad and bitter, albeit brilliant, man. He has created a life and career out of being bitter and ultra-critical. How he has garnered such a cult-like following is only a testament to our culture, a testament of cowardly men who hide behind their rhetoric and accomplish nothing in their lives except for providing fodder for those who share his sad state.

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    • You missed the entire point of this entire piece. He is not more morbid than anyone else, he is merely stating the ‘facts’ as he sees them. He opens his mouth and speaks the truth. Something that is rarely done for fear of reprisal. RIP Christopher, ya done good.

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  4. I love Hitch but he’s a tiny bit smug isn’t he? I know everyone wants to praise him and not to bury him. But he ain’t gone, yet sure that spleen of his has a lot more venting to do.

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  5. Contrary to his own cherished beliefs, Christopher Hitchens is just a vacuous word-smith. Commentator would credit him with too much intelligence and insight. A read of his writings would show he had little of either, but lots of invective. He would like to believe he is a misunderstood genius, ala, Ignatius J Reilly, but the only thing he shares with the great literary character is pomposity and obesity.

    There are any number of people in the world who will not only dance with glee on his grave, but also hope for a long drawn out and painful struggle against cancer which he will eventually lose. I am not one of those.

    Good riddance.

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  6. Outstanding compilation.

    If you’ve not yet read Hitch-22, I highly recommend it.

    If you’ve read it, you are likely to agree with me that it is one of his finest works and the best book of 2010. I highly recommend you give it to a friend so that he/she can read it as well.

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  7. He may appear smug and to the desperate, a pseudo-intellectual but IMHO, he is brave. He doesn’t pretend to be anything else than a man with a well research based opinion. People can call him a pisshead or whatever and he’d never deny that they’re correct but that’s the laziest of attacks. Hitchens has a trapdoor for an intellect that means he can debate morons like Reverend(?) Al Sharpton and leave them in his dust and wondering what-the-funk happened. For want of a better turn of phrase, I feel blessed for having Hitchens in my life and I’ve read nowhere near enough of his words.

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  8. RIP

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  9. What a cunt, Good job he’s dead. Now he’ll find out the truth. I’d love to see his face now. (NOTE: this is a very profound observation). Best wishes, Chris old mate.

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  10. What a cunt, Good job he’s dead. Now he’ll find out the truth. I’d love to see his face now. (NOTE: this is a very profound observation). Best wishes, Chris old mate.

    Reply

    • To the above: how christian of you. You have just proven hitchens right. What a disgusting thing to say

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  11. He made religion look rediculous. I ask any religous person to read god is not great and then still claim that their religion is a peacefull one. Hitchens you were and stil are a legend who spoke the truth with REAL evidence.

    Reply

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