Christopher Hitchens was nothing if not a polarizing figure. While he seemed to be genuinely interested in truth rather than conflict for conflict’s sake, he was also never one to run from an argument. Despite this, he was prolific enough and aware enough that it is not hard to find sentiments in his writings that almost everyone could get behind.
Of course, if he were to start expounding on many of these more agreeable points, paths would diverge again. In honor of his passing, however, instead of looking for points to fight about, here are almost 3 dozen quotes from Hitchens that very few of you will argue with or be offended by…
- The noble title of “dissident” must be earned rather than claimed; it connotes sacrifice and risk rather than mere disagreement …
- I became a journalist partly so that I wouldn’t ever have to rely on the press for my information.
- The finest fury is the most controlled.
- There can be no progress without head-on confrontation.
- Nonintervention does not mean that nothing happens. It means that something else happens.
- To what faults do you feel most indulgent? To the ones that arise from urgent material needs.
- I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.
- Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.
- Terrorism is the tactic of demanding the impossible, and demanding it at gunpoint.
- The essence of tyranny is not iron law. It is capricious law.
- You have to choose your future regrets.
- I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves.
- Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.
- What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.
- Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.
- We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.
- What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.
- To be against rationalization is not the same as to be opposed to reasoning.
- The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.
- To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase ‘terrible beauty.’ Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it’s a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else’s body.
- Cheap booze is a false economy.
- Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing.
- Flaubert was right when he said that our use of language is like a cracked kettle on which we bang out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we need to move the very stars to pity.
- “How ya doin’?” I always think, What kind of a question is that?, and I always reply, “A bit early to tell.”
- I am sometimes asked about the concept or definition of a ‘public intellectual,’ and though I find the whole idea faintly silly, I believe it should ideally mean that the person so identified is self-sustaining and autonomously financed.
- Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.
- Never ask while you are doing it if what you are doing is fun. Don’t introduce even your most reliably witty acquaintance as someone who will set the table on a roar.
- “You should be nicer to him,” a schoolmate had once said to me of some awfully ill-favored boy. “He has no friends.” This, I realized with a pang of pity that I can still remember, was only true as long as everybody agreed to it.
- Beware what you wish for, unless you have the grace to hope that your luck can be shared.
- Heroism breaks its heart, and idealism its back, on the intransigence of the credulous and the mediocre, manipulated by the cynical and the corrupt.
God, Faith, and Religion
- [O]wners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.
- My so-far uncancerous throat . . . is not at all the only organ with which I have blasphemed.
- Suppose there were groups of secularists at hospitals who went round the terminally ill and urged them to adopt atheism: “Don’t be a mug all your life. Make your last days the best ones.” People might suppose this was in poor taste.
- There either is a god or there is not; there is a ‘design’ or not.