I'm a little startled by how far out of the mainstream my complete lack of sorrow at the passing of Christopher Hitchens puts me.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not glad he's dead. I certainly did not wish him dead. But given his--how shall I say this?--fairly caustic nature, I'm surprised that there aren't more people mentioning, or at the very least alluding to, the less savory aspects of his character and opinions.
My introduction to "Hitch" was when he was touring in support of his anti-Clinton book "No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family" in, I believe, 2000 or so. I don't mind people disliking Bill Clinton, disagreeing with his policies, being appalled by his unbelievably stupid sexual peccadillos--I mean, he drove me bats to a certain degree, too. But that's not the tack Hitchens took--not only did he despise the Clintons, with a fury and scorn that he seemed to relish displaying to the mild-mannered Terry Gross--he actively encouraged others to hate Clinton, too. More, he all but stated that if you didn't hate Clinton--if you didn't agree with Hitchens, in other words--you were just this side of being a deluded fool.
It was detestable, odious, unpleasant, and disgusting. It was like being trapped with your crazy uncle at a party when he can't stop ranting on about the gold standard. I was staggered at the level of bile and vitriol. And, obviously, I never forgot.
Over the years, I occassionally read Hitchen's work, or saw him (or listened to him) on various talking-head shows, and while I rarely saw him reach the level of bile he displayed towards the Clintons, he still came across to me as a very unpleasant character. (Has everyone forgotten his anti-Mother Teresa screed?) Arrogant in his own intellect, disdainful of anyone who disagreed with him (even when his opinions were in direct contrast to opinions that he himself had held in the past), condescending, sarcastic, impatient, and astonishingly arrogant. Here was a man, it seemed to me, who knew he was very, very bright, had read a ton, had made up his mind on a topic . . . and clearly felt that if you had the temerity to disagree with him, you were a moron. Not wrong; not misguided; but genuinely stupid and ignorant.
This was not an affect that I found particularly pleasant, to say the least.
It's not that Hitchens held views opposed to mine; I don't have a problem with that. But take as an example when Hitchens (for want of a better word) found Atheism: he seemed to move into a zone where, if you weren't an atheist, too, you were a self-deluding fool. This was not the gentle intellectual atheism of, say, Richard Dawkins, but rather some bizarre proselytizing atheism, the kind of fierce loyalty to an ideal that one most often sees (ironically) in people newly converted to a religion. Dawkins thinks you're wrong if you disagree with him; Hitchens--his attitude implied--thought you were a boob.
And it was this side of Hitchens--the disdainful, scornful side--that I found so off-putting. No matter how many brilliant ideas he had, no matter how many interesting articles he penned, it always seemed to me that this was drifting there, just under the surface, often erupting into outright diatribes. And I don't know about you, but I find that damned unpleasant.
Add to this the many, many stories of Hitchens showing up in various venues quite drunk, making a spectacle of himself. Heckling speakers, acting out, and in general "behaving badly". This well-known side of Hitchens (just google "Hitchens drunk") was yet another factor that made it difficult for me to take him seriously as a writer or thinker--a side that seems totally unmentionable in the various eulogies to him. (I understand the "don't speak ill of the dead" idea; I just disagree with it. Hell, my uncle even pointed out some of my Dad's flaws in his eulogy at the funeral; and that was okay! It humanizes my Dad. This side of Hitchens is part of him, too; why not mention it?)
Look: there's no question the guy was intelligent and a sharp writer. Sometimes quite funny in person (well, on TV or radio), too, slipping in sly jokes almost absent-mindedly. He was--and is--lionized by a large number of people whose opinons I genuinely respect and admire. But the Hitchens I saw--the distainful, arrogant, dismissive, contemptuous-of-those-less-intelligent-than-himself dispenser of angry vitriol--is really so different from the one who is getting almost universal acolades at his passing that I feel almost dizzy with cognitive dissonance.
I am not glad Hitchens is dead. But neither do I mourn him. He was a complex, difficult person, and this is my dissenting opinion merely. Take it as you will.