Right here above my desk at home is a section of books by Christopher Hitchens, close at hand since they often repay revisiting. The titles will seem eclectic, but in fact there is a tight logic that threads them together: books on Thomas Paine and Mother Theresa, Henry Kissinger and Thomas Jefferson, the Clintons and George Orwell, alongside collections on literature and politics. Perhaps these are all tied together in Letters to a Young Contrarian.
I have no peroration or clarion note on which to close. Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the “transcendent” and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Dont’ be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.I shall leave you with a few words from George Konrad, the Hungarian dissident who retained his integrity through some crepuscular times, and who survived his persecutors by writing Antipolitics and The Loser, and many other lapidary essays and fictions. (When, after the emancipation of his country and society, they came to him and offered him the presidency, he said, “No, thanks.”) He wrote this in 1987, when the dawn seemed a good way off:Have a lived life instead of a career. Put yourself in the safekeeping of good taste. Lived freedom will compensate you for a few losses. … If you don’t like the style of others, cultivate your own. Get to know the tricks of reproduction, be a self-publisher even in conversation, and then the joy of working can fill your days.May it be so with you, and may you keep your powder dry for the battles ahead, and know when and how to recognise them.