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Christopher Hitchens

The current, 16 October, issue of The New Yorker, devoted  to media matters, is full of good stuff, but even more compelling than Malcolm Gladwell's report on computerized movie plots is Ian Parker's profile of Christopher Hitchens. Mr Hitchens belongs to the elite squadron of preposterously gifted English writers that also includes Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. I remember rather liking him when I first saw his byline, but I was brought up short by the piece in which he discussed the discovery that his mother, long dead, was Jewish. There was something not quite right about it; in Mr Parker's profile, Mr Hitchens is quoted as "being pleased to find that I was pleased" by the "tidings." That's the sort of thing that I might say to a friend, or even write in a letter; putting it in front of the public is reckless. Then I was startled by his campaigns against Henry Kissinger and Mother Teresa. Again, I agreed with him - particularly about Mother Teresa - but I didn't share his passionate engagement. Most recently, of course, Mr Hitchens has tilted toward the neoconservatives, resigning as a columnist at The Nation and becoming a regular on Fox News. I have no use for the man now, at least as a commentator, although I shall probably have a look at his forthcoming God Is Not Great.

Although I am about the same age, Mr Hitchens's bluster gives me an insight into the revulsion that "baby boomers," taken collectively, inspire in younger people. There is the imperious idealism that can't be bothered with practical matters, such as driving carefully and giving up smoking. Mr Parker works in a few mild zingers, and the best of them is on point:

At times, Hitchens can look like a brain trying to pass as a muscle. He reads the world intellectually, but emphasizes his physical responses to it. Talking of jihadism, he said, "You know, recognizing an enemy - it's not just your mental cortex. Everything in you physically conditions you to realize that this means no good, like when you see a copperhead coming toward you. It's basic: it lives or I do."

Mr Hitchens is an ardent advocate of human rights; one might say that dedication to that cause is his leading edge. But his determination to force recognition of them upon various sovereign states is unlikely to foster something more important than human rights: human happiness. Idealists never seem to care about happiness other than their own.


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