Monday, December 19, 2011

Celebrity deaths, Hitchens and Havel

I have no need to note in any detail the passing of polemicist and atheist Christopher Hitchens.  There is nothing of significance to add to what has been said and will be said about the journalist.  I do, however, wish to link to Anne Applebaum's remarks on the passing of Vaclav Havel

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2011/12/vaclav_havel_dead_the_czech_leader_s_greatest_achievement_was_an_essay_the_power_of_the_powerless_.html

It might be an utterly rhetorical question to ask whether Hitchens or Havel did more to articulate a foundation from which to defy totalitarianism in the last forty years.  It might also be unfair but a polemicist has no need to consider what is, strictly speaking, fair.  Applebaum spells out at the end of her essay what distinguished Havel from others who took a stance against totalitarianism.  Anyone can adopt the stance of a dissident who wants to tear down the old.  Toppling an old regime is not the same as establishing institutions and symbols to replace it.  What you are for and how you work toward it is ultimately more important than what you're against and how you work against that. 

It may well be that a decade from now Hitchens will be a name remembered only by journalists and Havel's name will be almost entirely unknown.  I most clearly remember, at this point, that Hitchens went out of his way to write against the Salvation Army and his piece about why women aren't funny.  I know, as a former journalism student I should probably remember other, more salient polemics from Hitchens after all these years but those are the ones that stick.  I'm willing to guess that there are more than a few women who are funny enough to prove Hitchens wrong.  I'm also willing to guess that the Salvation Army, whatever Hitchens found wrong with them, have still probably done more to help people than Hitchens did.  A food pantry is still a food pantry even if it was run by religious people. 

Hitchens has enough people remembering him now that he's dead.  Consider Havel for a while instead. Besides, Hitchens was just contrarian enough that were he alive now he might have said that the passing of Havel might be more important to consider than his own passing. 

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