I was going to write something about the death of Christopher Hitchens earlier today, but (appropriately enough) I was feeling a bit rough around the edges on account of the Johnnie Walker Black Label I’d been drinking the night before – my toast and one-man tribute. I’m not sure there’s much more I can add here to the wealth of obituaries, reminiscences, essays, editorials and think-pieces that have dominated the papers over the last couple of days, online and in print (I thought Christopher Buckley’s essay in the New Yorker was wonderful). In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that Hitchens’ death has been literally front page news; there was even a lengthy tribute to him on the Today programme on Radio 4 yesterday. It’s rare that a writer, of any stripe, registers to that extent with the public, but Hitchens had over the last few years gone from being a respected and effortlessly talented essayist admired (or loathed) by the cognoscenti, to an internationally recognised figure admired (and loathed) by many. Most of this was down to his startlingly entertaining, if occassionally irregularly argued, polemic ‘god is Not Great’ and his dominance of what has been termed the ‘new’ atheism. Not the least of his talents was the ability to engage in robust, erudite and near-unanswerable debate with political and religious opponents, giving no quarter when challenged and more often than not demolishing them with embarrassing ease. Public speaking is an art form like any other, and Hitchens was a master of it; even a cursory YouTube search will reveal some gems.
In the end, I think Hitchens will be remembered not for a particular line that he took or position that he adopted. He will be remembered for inhabiting an intellectual stance that was based always on passionate independence, something remarkably rare, and to be cherished. There is simply no one now writing who can claim the same kind of space that Hitchens made his own. He will be greatly missed.