Hitherto uncollected journalistic pieces, much along the lines of Arguably (2011), in which the late, great, much-missed Hitchens (Mortality, 2012, etc.) takes stock of the world.
Hitchens was famously a man of the left who, all the same, found reasons to support going to war in Iraq, a libertarian who nonetheless saw the uses of government, and an atheist who’d read the Bible more than most Sunday school teachers—and a contrarian through and through. “These things,” as he remarks of another matter entirely, “are worth knowing.” They are also things that introduce inconsistencies and contradictions into the conversation. Hitchens could be a fierce critic of the American theocracy that the majority seems to prefer and yet celebrate the splendid secular holiday that is Thanksgiving, despite its central feature: “that one forces down, at an odd hour of the afternoon, the sort of food that even the least discriminating diner in a restaurant would never order by choice.” In the same vein, speaking of a different Turkey, one of the most thoughtful essays in this casual gathering takes on the widely admired novelist Orhan Pamuk for not being sufficiently stalwart in his defense of the secular Turkish state against the Islamists who would ban literature immediately on gaining power. There are a few old tropes here but with new twists: predictably, there’s a piece on Hitchens’ hero George Orwell but with a defense for his having named the names of presumed enemies of the state, an act worthy (or unworthy) of Winston Smith. Whip-smart, Hitchens is at his best when skewering the political class, though with the understanding that what we have now is likely to be a sight better than what’s to come: “How low can it go? Much lower, just you wait and see.”
A parting shot? Just as with rock bands that seem to have done more farewell tours than pre-farewell performances, there’s probably more in the vault—but in this case, that’s a very good thing indeed.