The first thing I started doing as I put Hitch-22 on my MacBook Pro and broadcast the voice of the man reading his own memoir into my bedroom, was start to clean up. Like many, I have the reflex of picking things off the floor and earnestly cleaning up when I'm taking a browbeating. It comes from childhood of course, as Mom delivered her 'cyclone hit it' harangue as I cleaned up that mess I'd been making all day - taking the bedsheet tent down from the top bunk and removing the staples from the carpet.
Except with Hitchens, the reflex was not defensive against his words, rather my own sort of browbeating I give to myself. After all, it has been five months since I last downloaded an audiobook from Audible and I have been falling back in my reading. It all started tumbling back, that odd state of mind - peaceful and restlessly hungry at once that I once possessed back when I subscribed to Granta and poured over the shelves at Waterstones on Newberry Street.
There is a great deal that I have to say about Hitch, and that is because I come somewhat late to having an actual living intellectual hero, and it took me quite some time to get Cornel West out of my system. West is a teacher I should have had in my undergrad years so that I might get in touch with the ideas of the Pragmatists and understand how much of what I actually believed to be transcendently true of life was actually welcome within the US. I suffered the neglect many students of 'social justice' do in recognizing virtues of Ralph Waldo Emerson were my own and not something, as multiculturalists would have us believe, completely alien to dead, white, European males. Since I spent my aculturative years in the streets and in the harder sciences, I didn't have much ammo to push back with, and so my tardiness and ignorance. So now having followed him and Amis, more or less for some time, I am convinced that he has the perspective often lacking in purer natural philosophers - which is the real world of dodgy and inspirational politics. Along with Niall Ferguson who provides the sensible attitude towards economics, I'm getting there. So there are places of coherence I would like to address Hitchens which will not be complete, but let me scatter my shot.
Firstly, by joining the Conservatives as a direct result of recognizing what Amis said so clearly about the evil excess of Stalin, I opened myself up to the Straussians. And so it comes as no surprise that I worry about Hitchens as an anti-theist, as God comes so clearly evident in the American Tory package. Suffice it to say that my model in this regard is John Adams. As brilliant and comprehensive a life as Hitchens has had, I don't think even he could consume enough of it to be charged by too many philosophies. Having read his memoir I understand that he simply couldn't be much more than a Trotskyite by study and habit, but it is a habit that might have been born by any other number of disciplines. At some point, you can't simply swap out your networks for an entirely new, and so his is what it is. Except that in the whole of his book with two chapters to go, I can't recall him quoting Trotsky at all. Rather, Hitchens is more appropriately a steward of the best impulses of Liberalism and is thus committed to the cause of Liberty itself. His is a character to be admired, and so he appropriately shines a light on those attributes of character which ought to be found in the leaders we want but more often exposes and excoriates those defects in the leaders we have. He does so without being small minded or petty and most importantly to a true Liberal without the godawful smugness of those with solutions to pimp. He is an intellectual who understands and respects moral and physical courage, something we seem to have lost in the scholar-squirrels of the postmoderen Left.
Reconciling Hitchens protest and Christianity is something it is important for me to do because it will always be the case that we'll have more time to hear the echoes of our Christian society (as distinct from a purported Christian Nation or even Christian Society) than we are to hear the dons of Balloil. And since there is clearly no better International Socialist movement than there is a Prophetic Christian movement, we all are going to have to take our enlightenment and moral reinforcement where we can get it. That we must get it, Hitchens surely cannot be, witness to horrors that he is, some slavish Rousseauvian seeking some holistic, tattooed Natural world. Christianity can and does civilize. But here's the key and the thing I think that suggests that Hitch protests too much. There are many a slip between the act and the law, and Christianity in America - despite its reactionaries, does not approach the Christian Nation. Our secular law is not threatened by canon law and Christians understand and respect that. It is the ease with which American law and Christian ethics coexist in this, his adopted homeland that gives us security and enables the People a moral check on the balances of power. It is surely not only Christian ethics, but it has integrated better than any other religion.
I'm not sure how much Hitchens would have the State he knows, polluted by the likes of his enemies Kissinger and Stanley Baldwin, take more responsibility for the moral instruction of the populous, and seeing that he mentioned no scathing indictment of our free educational system to inculcate the greater values of the Enlightenment one wonders if he might be satisfied simply by the right and proper Great Man. For surely, like few others, Hitchens recognizes how the American Left has been reduced to pettiness. There has got to be more satisfaction than mere irony. Not if America falters enough to be done in by the certainty of devils.
There is a gap between Hitchens and the soldier he inspired to go to Iraq. It is a mediation Hitchens doesn't appear to know or connect with - not that it's his responsibility. I think he had bridged the gap admirably as an individual of palpably tender integrity. But we can't all fall in love with such a lovely man as he and do the necessary work of upholding liberty thought such mechanisms as email and like buttons on Facebook. There must be a democracy between us that works, and Hitchens seems to exist on the periphery of that democracy - or at least at a level far above my head where people actually read literature and use it to inform their sensibilities.
So I have puzzles to figure out, and perhaps in time will do so. This is the first set of questions that itch me, and so I will continue on to get to know Auden a bit more, as well as immediately continue his Contrarian Letter. But I do understand the man much better now, and I will seek the company of his literary fellows, maybe McEwan, certainly Conquest, and more Amis, especially since the latter has pronounced his fondness for Merkel, whom I like too.
This is why to this Hayekian, he is my kind of writer, whose not inconsiderable love an talent with English ought to make those who speak of 'critical thinking skills' absent beauty's content pause and discover that they are actually defending nothing. Hitchens has found a world worth defending and celebrating, the texture of which can only be approximated by the finest of writers.