What needed to be said

Writing in Crisis, Sean Haylock has a remarkably good piece on Christopher Hitchens. An excerpt:

Hitchens took on matters of profound importance, and he did it with a fierce passion. But when I think of the rhetoric he deployed, and the vehemence with which he deployed it, I can’t help but see him as a demagogue and a charlatan. One of his most oft-repeated quotes is “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” This is, from the perspective of both science and philosophy, a recipe for obscurantism and intellectual irresponsibility, and a disastrous idea for anyone with an interest in truth to take to heart. Its appeal is the same as much of Hitchens’ rhetoric: when invoked it provides the intoxicating pleasure of putting your foot down in an argument. It’s a flashy rhetorical gambit that says, “I need say no more.” Though happy to present himself as a champion of science, Hitchens was clearly ignorant of the philosophy of science and its most important developments in the twentieth century; otherwise, he would not have uttered a remark so redolent of verificationism. Popperians must shudder when they hear that quote.

Hitchens was also an avowed advocate of irony, seeing himself as a participant in the “all-out confrontation between the ironic and the literal mind.” One wonders whether he would have appreciated the irony that a fierce critic of the cult of personality should have become the object of just such a cult. Today he is worshipped (if I said idolized it would be only a minor exaggeration) by multitudes of devotees who fiercely defend him against any criticism. It is not to doubt the sincerity of his unbelief to observe that his refusal to make any concessions to the faithful in the course of what was surely an agonizing and in some ways humiliating death has made him, for some, a kind of atheist martyr. I don’t imagine his death from throat cancer gives pause to those who thrilled (and thrill still) at the sight of him moodily sucking on a cigarette, or swilling whiskey in his palm. He is not the first iconoclast made icon, and he will not be the last epicurean undone by his appetites and yet emulated by the young.

(Emphasis supplied.)