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The Quotable Christopher Hitchens

Some will be surprised to learn of the disgust that Hitchens, that famous atheist, harbors for abortion: “I have always been convinced that the term ‘unborn child’ is a genuine description of material reality. Obviously, the fetus is alive, so that disputation about whether or not it counts as ‘life’ is casuistry. The same applies, from a materialist point of view, to the question of whether or not this ‘life’ is human. What other kind could it be?” Yet if you agree with all of this, and are willing to make an issue of it, you incur equal Hitchensian wrath: “The whole case for extending protection to the unborn, and to expressing a bias in favor of life, has been wrecked by those who use unborn children as well as born ones, as mere manipulable objects of their doctrine.” So trying to save lives counts as sinister manipulation, amounts to treating people as “objects”?

Never mind. The book is arranged by subject, and if you flip to “consistency” you will learn that Hitchens has said, “Consistency is not a virtue in itself” and that “nobody human is ever consistent.” So that’s settled.

Think of Hitchens the way Amis apparently does -- as the world’s cleverest child -- and you’ll have a delightful time thumbing through the quips, bons mots, and takedowns. The section on Bill Clinton alone is worth the price of the book. Take this pithy dismissal of Clinton’s defenders in the Lewinsky affair: “‘It’s a private matter.’ Well, then, who claims the Oval Office as private space? ‘Why all this fuss about sex?’ But the president says it wasn’t sex. ‘Let’s get on with the agenda.’ Excuse me -- what f***ing agenda?” Swatting down husband and wife in a single sentence, Hitchens writes, “One feels almost laughably heavy-footed in pointing out that Mrs. Clinton’s prim little book, ‘It Takes a Village,’ proposes sexual abstinence for the young, and that the president was earnestly seconding this very proposal while using an impressionable young intern as the physical rather than moral equivalent of a blow-up  doll.” Hitchens also has choice words for Al Gore: “Where he isn’t robotically normal, he is abnormal in an abnormal way.” On hatred? “A terrific way of getting you out of bed in the morning.” Identity politics? “People who think with their epidermis or their genitalia or their clan are the problem to begin with.” On insults? “In this country and culture, invective and repartee have almost no place at all. On any given day you may read an account of destabilizing ‘mudslinging’ that consists of ‘“This behavior is inappropriate,” he thundered,’ or “‘I’ll need to see the full text,” he shot back.’” Hitchens livens up the day, starts the argument, stirs the drink. He’s a tireless gladiator who asks us all, “Are you not entertained?” Always, Christopher, always.


PJM FLASHBACK: Christopher Hitchens’ Example to America