A Flower of Chivalry

 

I did not know Christopher Hitchens, and thus unlike everyone, and I do mean everyone else who recalls flirting, feuding, fighting fascism or drinking to the point of stumbling stupefaction with him, cannot offer any personal recollections of the man. But my father has written an obituary here:

His atheism nonetheless had a kind of shambling boisterousness that made Christopher Hitchens seem a Mirabeau to Richard Dawkins’s Saint Just or Sam Harris’s Robespierre. Hitchens was uninterested in subtle analysis. On the masthead of the Daily Hitchens, there is the legend: What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. The difficulty with this assertion is straightforward. If it has been asserted without proof, why should it be believed, and if not, where is the proof?

I asked Hitchens about this during a break in our debate. We had retreated to a forlorn hotel loading ramp in order to have a cigarette. “Well, yes,” he said, “it’s just a sentence.”

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Aodhan

    Thinking about it, I now understand that Hitchens was a living exemplification of the art of rhetoric.

    Not only–nor indeed, I would go so far as to say, not even primarily–in terms of the words he spoke–though his spontaneous eloquence was surely unrivalled.

    But rather in terms of his impeccable manners he showed whenever he spoke.

    The result was that, even when he was bitterly condemning opinions he abhorred, even when he was roundly lambasting opponents he despised, the response he elicited was always more than mere dismissal, and often more than mere grudging respect–even from opponents holding those opinions.

    Hitchens’s impeccable manners made people lend him an ear who wouldn’t otherwise have done so.

    So, such manners served as an effective rhetorical device. But, unlike many rhetorical devices, they are not to be decried as manipulative, but to be praised as moral.

    They implicitly reflect a commitment on the part of a speaker to the view that civilized debate over ideas should substitute for uncouth shouting contests; that intellectual opponents, even those espousing heinous opinions, deserve to be treated as rational beings; that decorum counts, even in argumentative extremis.

    Fare thee well, Hitch.

    • #1
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    @Herkybird

    If anyone is interested, C-Span is offering a replay of the debate between Christopher Hitchens and David Berlinski. Go to the BookTV section of their website and you can click on the video.

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    @Herkybird

    Oh…I if I was actually thinking, I would have posed the link:

    http://www.booktv.org/Featured/11840/Debate+Does+Atheism+Poison+Everything+with+Christopher+Hitchens+and+David+Berlinski.aspx

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    @tabularasa
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    His atheism nonetheless had a kind of shambling boisterousness that made Christopher Hitchens seem a Mirabeau to Richard Dawkins’s Saint Just or Sam Harris’s Robespierre.

    This has got to be a top-ten observation for 2011. I just read a couple of books on the French Revolution, and Dr. Berlinski’s observation is spot on. Mirabeau was a revolutionary who wanted to reach an accommodation with the crown (keep the central institution of the country, but see real change). The Robespierre clique got him in 1791. Robespierre and Saint Just were deadly serious, puffed-up men whose driving notion was the need to cleanse the earth from anyone who got in their way.

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    @LarryKoler

    Aodhan, the way that Christopher Hitchens treated the great Jerry Falwell can only be described as bullying. The things he said after Falwell’s passing were unforgivable and show what happens when people have no limits imposed on them by a traditional religion or ethical system.

    Hitchens was a unique individual. I’m glad that you linked this article by your father, Claire. I simply can’t think of a better way to write of him than is evident in the tone of this obituary. Hitchens would certainly cherish the title and would disagree with a few things said. But, he would love the clarity and the fact that your father used an obituary to assess him critically. This is just the right way to go about this and it is a lesson for me, too.

    Your father is a true mensch: always teaching, always setting an example.

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    @MollieHemingway

    Oh is that perfect.

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    @Pseudodionysius

    “Well, yes,” he said, “it’s just a sentence.”

    William of Ockham could not have said it better.

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    @flownover

    I love the venue. The select group of people who read the Evolution News will be treated to this, the legions of the other will miss it. And maybe more.

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    @Aodhan

    Okay, I take it all back. Hitch really lowered the tone.

    Larry Koler: Aodhan, the way that Christopher Hitchens treated the great Jerry Falwell can only be described as bullying. The things he said after Falwell’s passing were unforgivable and show what happens when people have no limits imposed on them by a traditional religion or ethical system.

    Hitchens was a unique individual. I’m glad that you linked this article by your father, Claire. I simply can’t think of a better way to write of him than is evident in the tone of this obituary. Hitchens would certainly cherish the title and would disagree with a few things said. But, he would love the clarity and the fact that your father used an obituary to assess him critically. This is just the right way to go about this and it is a lesson for me, too.

    Your father is a true mensch: always teaching, always setting an example. · Dec 18 at 7:49am

    Edited on Dec 18 at 07:50 am

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    @SouthernPessimist

    I loved your father’s sentence: “No man is obliged to be what he might have been.”

    • #10
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