Pierce Spanks Douthat

You should read Ross Douthat's obnoxious eulogy for Christopher Hitchens just so you can enjoy this magnificent takedown from Charles Pierce, over at Esquire. Pierce writes:

For the sheer magnitude of its horsepucky, this column may well stand forever. Generations yet unborn will come and read it, just to stare out of the magnificent vista of presumption, self-regard, and tinpot piety the way people bring their children to look at the Grand Canyon. It takes an unusual amount of juice-box hubris to put your thoughts in a dead man's head. It takes towering presumption to put into a dead man's head your thoughts with which he would scabrously disagree. Here, we have a New York Times columnist, a god-bothering newsboy on his best day, presuming to think -- let alone speak -- for a guy who is no longer here to think or speak for himself. Ross Douthat now stands as the Pope Stephen VII of letters, digging up the recently deceased and putting his corpse on trial in Douthat's own, Colorforms version of the Cadaver Synod. I guess we can be grateful that Douthat only gums away futilely at his argument. Stephen threw the convicted remains of Pope Formosus into the Tiber. Douthat just tosses Christopher Hitchens's corpse into the shallow end of his intellect.

Pierce, if you are unfamiliar with him, is the author of a pretty good book called Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free. Well worth a read.

Also, for a more measured but equally effective reply to Douthat have a look at this post from Jean Kazez.


More like this

Pope Francis has been continuing his campaign of liberalization within the Roman Catholic Church. At the recent synod on the family, reform-minded bishops within the Church, many installed by Francis, proposed language that, while not changing doctrine, would have liberalized the Church's stance…
The City Pages, the arts and entertainment newsweekly in Minneapolis, had an article on the best artists of the year. One of the entries is jarring in its strange conclusions, the award to Christopher Hitchens: Fueled by cigarettes, alcohol, ego, and, most importantly, intellect, Hitchens employs…
Charles Pierce has expanded an essay into a full blown book on Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), soon available in fine bookstores everywhere, and I recommend it highly. You might be wondering what Idiot America is, and he explains it well…
Why do they waste their time with these idiots? Barack Obama has been struggling against the guilt-by-association of having been a regular member of a lunatic's church, this odious little ignorant rat-bag named Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Yet at the same time, McCain joyfully accepts endorsements…

Pierce also shows up sometimes on the NPR news quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 21 Dec 2011 #permalink

Charlie Pierce, right about Douthat, overly charitable towards Hitchens. Hitchens was a pretty dreadful journalist, his personal hatred drove most of what he wrote, not an interest in the truth. His repute won't outlive the fashions he championed at the end of his life, he having already trashed his previous positions, himself. Not to mention he was a pretty appalling misogynist, as Katha Pollit wrote.


The Kazez piece was well written but too soft in this case. It is simply vile to try and recruit the dead. There's no good excuse for it. If Douthat thought that Hitchens' atheism was inconsistent with his hope or positive outlook, then the right thing to do in that case is label Hitch as inconsistent. Many great people have their inconsistencies pointed out in obits - there would've been nothing unusual about doing so. Douthat's choice to instead claim Hitch as some sort of secret Christian is just the low road, nothing more.

"If Douthat thought that Hitchens' atheism was inconsistent with his hope or positive outlook"

Then maybe atheism isn't inconsistent with hope or a positive outlook.

It's funny how believing the only way to be hopeful or positive is to be a Christian indicates that the one making this leap of faith has no hope or positivism in themselves, they've had to batten on to another to create it in themselves...

There's no good excuse for it. If Douthat thought that Hitchens' atheism was inconsistent with his hope or positive outlook, then the right thing to do in that case is label Hitch as inconsistent.

The right thing to do in that case is to have a discussion about it with someone more clued in than yourself. You could start with distinguishing between the facts (existence or nonexistence of God) and one's emotional reaction to the facts. Half full, half empty, yada, yada. I shouldn't have to explain this to you.

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 21 Dec 2011 #permalink

@4 and @5 - you are missing my point. Even for someone who thinks only Christians can rationally have hope, its wrong to imply Hitch was some sort of secret theist. Sure you can argue that theological position is incorrect. But that has nothing whatsoever to do with whether Douthat's obit misrepresents Hitch or not.

Douthat was perfectly entitled to say something like "Hitch wasn't a nihilist. Hitch was atheist. I find those two positions inconsistent." If that's his opinion, let him say that. But he is not entitled to say "Hitch wasn't a nihilist. Hitch was atheist...but we all know that he deep down couldn't have been [nudge nudge wink wink secret Christian]." That's just being a vulture, picking over the corpse trying to find a little morsel for yourself.

What a surprise, Mr. McCarthy bad mouths Christopher Hitchens, just as he has previously bad mouthed James Randi and Martin Gardner.

Anthony McCarthy wrote:

Hitchens was a pretty dreadful journalist, ...

I suppose the national magazines who paid him a great deal for his journalism for many years were idiots. If only they had sought out your sage advice about Hitchens, they could have saved themselves a LOT of money, their reputations, and kept everyone from laughing at them behind their backs.

Or perhaps you could have volunteered your wisdom to them -- if they had a clue, they would recognize the intrinsic worth of your characterizations of Hitch's writing, and taken decisive action.

Or perhaps you're just a pathetic no-talent wannabe criticizing a vastly superior writer? (Does that ring a bell for you?)