The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens has died. The world has lost one of its most luminous minds.

He will be acclaimed for his literary criticism, his political stances, and his raw physical courage as a writer-journalist, entering dangerous battlespaces from Belgrade to Baghdad. Not to mention his wit, occasional rudeness, his filthy limericks, and his dignified and reflective meditations on his coming death. His greatest work, I think, was Why Orwell Matters – a penetrating study of another brave and ferociously sharp Englishman.

I was lucky enough to meet him a few times, and interview him. He drank a whole bottle of whiskey and actually got sharper as the conversation went on. And it was great to witness his public fight with George Galloway at Baruch College in New York, an exhilirating showdown between the different tribes of the Left.

Some obituaries are summarising Hitchens’ politics crudely as an evolution from Left to Right. That is misleading. Like some other former revolutionaries, Hitchens came to believe that the most revolutionary force in world politics – the only viable remaining revolution – was the United States, and the most liberating instrument was its military power. We have seen the limits of that power, and the tragedies that flow from a utopian politics, but Hitchens believed himself to be on the side of revolution until the end.

I’ll never forget walking around the Quadrangle at Christ Church College Oxford with him for a few minutes, and arguing about whether it was religion or dogmatism of any stripe that was the true problem. It was a bit rash to pick an argument with the man who had been voted the world’s second ranked intellectual.

But it was a sparkling little moment, culminating in drinks at the Bear pub nearby. A drink and a row about God. He wouldn’t ask for anything more.

Well met, Hitch. It was good for the world that you were here.

Cross-posted at Offshore Balancer

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Patrick Porter is Professor of International Security and Strategy at the University of Birmingham. He is also Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, London. His research interests are great power politics, grand strategy, realism, the causes and consequences of major powers’ decline, the Iraq war of 2003, foreign and defence policy in the US and UK, and the intellectual life of major powers and their foreign policy establishments. He has written four books. His book Blunder: Britain's War in Iraq (Oxford University Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the British Army Military Book of the Year Prize, 2019. His most recent book is The False Promise of Liberal Order: Nostalgia, Delusion and the Rise of Trump (Polity, 2020). He also wrote The Global Village Myth: Distance, War and the Limits of Power (Georgetown University Press, 2015) and Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes (Columbia University Press, 2009.