RIP Christopher Hitchens: Provocateur and Damn Good Writer

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA Press

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Christopher Hitchens died today at 62, which is terrifyingly young to people past about 35. He’d been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus while on book tour in 2010 and wrote often about his impending demise, including in his last column for Vanity Fair, written while in treatment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Hitchens spent much of his writing career taking on sacred cows—you know, Mother Teresa, God—challenging authority, and taking positions infuriating to his friends on the left. Having come into politics as a Trotskyite, he defended Margaret Thatcher (for taking on the Argentine junta during the Falklands War), freaked out pro-choicers by noting that “obviously, the fetus is alive” (a position he explained in Mother Jones in 1995), and lambasted Bill Clinton in, among other places, this MoJo piece: “In all essentials, the Clinton-Gore administration has been Republican, and not all that moderate. On matters of political economy it has pursued the strictest Wall Street and Federal Reserve orthodoxy…”

And, of course, he came out guns blazing in favor of the Iraq War and against what he called “Islamofascism,” for which he’d developed a hatred going back to the Iranian fatwa against his friend Salman Rushdie. Not long before the invasion, in a MoJo piece titled “Rogue Nation USA,” he’d called out the Bush administration for demanding that other countries abide by international treaties while reserving America’s right not to.

It really was all of a piece. Hitchens was fiercely loyal to his friends, to the point where following “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” dictum put him in some strange-bedfellow positions. He loved pissing people off when they least expected it. And he wrote like a fiend, even at the expense of…himself. “Writing is what’s important to me, and anything that helps me do that—or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation—is worth it to me,” he told Charlie Rose in 2010, in a quote that made his New York Times obituary. It was, he said “impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle.”

Judge him if you will. But try doing it it as effectively as he did.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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