“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Memoriam, my courageous brother Christopher, 1949-2011

By Peter Hitchens

How odd it is to hear of your own brother’s death on an early morning radio bulletin. How odd it is for a private loss to be a public event.

I wouldn’t normally dream of writing about such a thing here, and I doubt if many people would expect me to. It is made even odder by the fact that I am a minor celebrity myself. And that the, ah, complex relationship between me and my brother has been public property.

I have this morning turned down three invitations to talk on the radio about my brother. I had a powerful feeling that it would be wrong to do so, not immediately explicable but strong enough to persuade me to say a polite ‘no thank you’.

Loss: Peter Hitchens, right, describes his relationship with his late brother Christopher, left, as 'complex' but adds the pair got on better in the last few months than they had in 50 years

And I have spent most of the day so far responding, with regrettable brevity, to the many kind and thoughtful expressions of sympathy that I have received, some from complete strangers.

Many more such messages are arriving as comments here. My thanks for all of them. They are much appreciated not only by me but by my brother’s family.

Much of civilisation rests on the proper response to death, simple unalloyed kindness, the desire to show sympathy for irrecoverable loss, the understanding that a unique and irreplaceable something has been lost to us. If we ceased to care, we wouldn’t be properly human.
So, odd as it would be if this were a wholly private matter, I think it would be strange if I did not post something here, partly to thank the many who have sent their kind wishes and expressed their sympathy, and partly to provide my first raw attempt at a eulogy for my closest living relative, someone who in many ways I have known better – and certainly longer - than anyone else alive.

Brotherly love: Peter, left, and Christopher, right, play in the sand during a holiday in Devon in the fifties

And in Scotland in 1954: Peter says his brother was courageous - a trait to be envious of

It is certainly raw. Last week I saw my brother for the last time in a fairly grim hospital room in Houston, Texas. He was in great pain, and suffering in several other ways I will not describe. But he was wholly conscious and in command of his wits, and able to speak clearly.

We both knew it was the last time we would see each other, though being Englishmen of a certain generation, neither of us would have dreamed of actually saying so. We parted on good terms, though our conversation had been (as had our e-mail correspondence for some months) cautious and confined to subjects that would not easily lead to conflict. In this I think we were a little like chess-players, working out many possible moves in advance, neither of us wanting any more quarrels of any kind.

At one stage – and I am so sad this never happened – he wrote to me saying he hoped for a ‘soft landing’ (code, I think for abandoning any further attempts to combat his disease) and to go home to his beautiful apartment in Washington DC.

Journey: Peter, right, says he is still baffled by how far he and his brother came from 'the small, quiet, shabby world of chilly, sombre rented houses and austere boarding schools'

There, he suggested, we could go through his bookshelves, as there were some books and other possessions he wanted me to have. I couldn’t have cared less about these things, but I had greatly hoped to have that conversation, which would have been a particularly good way of saying farewell.

But alas, it never happened. He never went home and now never will. Never, there it is, that inflexible word that trails close behind that other non-negotiable syllable, death.

Even so, we did what we could in Houston, as the doctors, the nurses, the cleaners, and who knows who else, bustled in and out.
I forgot, till I left, that I was wearing a ludicrous surgical mask and gown, and surgical gloves (I am still not sure whose benefit this was for, but it was obligatory) all the time I was sitting there, and – this is extraordinary – time seemed to me to pass incredibly swiftly in that room. I was shocked when the moment came to leave for the airport, that it had come so soon.

Early days: Christopher stands outside the offices of the New Statesman where he developed a fierce reputation as a left-wing writer in the 1970s

Changing camps: Christopher, right, with former British prime minister Tony Blair in Toronto last year, supported the Iraq war, much to the shock of his left-wing political friends

Here’s a thing I will say now without hesitation, unqualified and important. The one word that comes to mind when I think of my brother is ‘courage’. By this I don’t mean the lack of fear which some people have, which enables them to do very dangerous or frightening things because they have no idea what it is to be afraid. I mean a courage which overcomes real fear, while actually experiencing it.
I don’t have much of this myself, so I recognise it (and envy it) in others. I have a memory which I cannot place precisely in time, of the two of us scrambling on a high rooftop, the sort of crazy escapade that boys of our generation still went on, where we should not have been.

A moment came when, unable to climb back over the steep slates, the only way down was to jump over a high gap on to a narrow ledge. I couldn’t do it. He used his own courage (the real thing can always communicate itself to others) to show me, and persuade me, that I could.
I’d add here that he was for a while an enthusiastic rock climber, something I could never do, and something which people who have come to know him recently would not be likely to guess.

Talking heads: Peter, right, wishes to thank the many who have sent their kind wishes and expressed their sympathy for him and his family

He would always rather fight than give way, not for its own sake but because it came naturally to him. Like me, he was small for his age during his entire childhood and I have another memory of him, white-faced, slight and thin as we all were in those more austere times, furious, standing up to some bully or other in the playground of a school we attended at the same time.

This explains plenty. I offer it because the word ‘courage’ is often misused today. People sometimes tell me that I have been ‘courageous’ to say something moderately controversial in a public place. Not a bit of it. This is not courage. Courage is deliberately taking a known risk, sometimes physical, sometimes to your livelihood, because you think it is too important not to.

My brother possessed this virtue to the very end, and if I often disagreed with the purposes for which he used it, I never doubted the quality or ceased to admire it. I’ve mentioned here before C.S.Lewis’s statement that courage is the supreme virtue, making all the others possible. It should be praised and celebrated, and is the thing I‘d most wish to remember.
We got on surprisingly well in the past few months, better than for about 50 years as it happens. At such times one tends to remember childhood more clearly than at others, though I have always had a remarkably clear memory of much of mine. I am still baffled by how far we both came, in our different ways, from the small, quiet, shabby world of chilly, sombre rented houses and austere boarding schools, of battered and declining naval seaports, not specially cultured, not book-lined or literary or showy but plain, dutiful and unassuming, we took the courses we did.
Two pieces of verse come to mind, one from Hilaire Belloc’s ’Dedicatory Ode’
‘From quiet homes and first beginnings, out to the undiscovered ends, there’s nothing worth the wear of winning but laughter and the love of friends’
I have always found this passage unexpectedly moving because of something that lies beneath the words, good and largely true though they are. When I hear it, I see in my mind’s eye a narrow, half-lit entrance hall with a slowly-ticking clock in it, and a half-open door beyond which somebody is waiting for news of a child who long ago left home.

And T.S.Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’ (one of the Four Quartets)

‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time’

These words I love because I have found them to be increasingly and powerfully true. In my beginning, as Eliot wrote elsewhere in the Quartets, is my end.
Alpha et Omega.


  1. It is an outrage to link Hitchens, as some have done, with Dime Store Atheist Charlatans like Dawkins. promote the Dime Store Leftist dismantling of everything that is great about our country, culture, and heritage.

  2. Vaclav Havel dead at 75, much bigger impact on the world than Hitchens.

  3. .

    It is an outrage to link Hitchens, as some have done, with Dime Store Atheist Charlatans like Dawkins. promote the Dime Store Leftist dismantling of everything that is great about our country, culture, and heritage.

    This makes no sense to me at all. What is the connection betwen Hitchens or Dawkins and the demise of Western Civilization?

    You are at least consistent Doug.

    Also, whimsically amusing.


  4. Isn't Dawkins one of the brights?

    Hitchens was humbug.

    Both were/are dims, and a waste of time.


  5. Just don't call the blog administrators lesser lights or you get banned. I remember well.

  6. The Believers Atheist

    Hitch seems a guy who when he has an idea that's been had a thousand times before still insists on thinking it's original with him.

    I don't get all the big ado.


  7. If the believers really did like Hitch perhaps he wasn't all that much of a threat and they realized it.


  8. Hitchens did point out that the Mormons alone solved the problem inherent in any revealed religion, which is how to account for the souls of the people who died before the revelation. The Mormons just baptize the dead.

  9. There you go, Miss T.

    Besides, as I've tried to show, they got one hell of a ripping Choir.

    One of my friends played cello for that wonderful Choir, for years, and is now playing at some fancy bar down south somewhere.

    The Choir only takes you till you're sixty, then you are out, age discrimination.


  10. Sensible folk, them Mormons, honest, hardworking, and musical too, just like I always did say.


  11. Yep, baptizing the dead. How sensible can you get?


  12. ALL Religions are inherently nonsensical, and dangerous.

  13. What Hitchens is really saying is that the whole thing is a gyp, no matter how courageous he makes out to be. It's a gyp. We are given a glimpse, and a momentary experience, only to have it, O Alas, all take way from us forever and forever.

    It's all a gyp.

    That's Hitchens.


    Tebow is up at 1:15 Pacific.

  14. Hitchens = the big city atheist.

    Rufus = the village atheist.



    Tebow is up today, Rufus, he can teach you how a real Christian man prays, without shame, in front of millions.

    Been getting good results lately, too.

  15. They are not magic undies.

    Maybe a reminder to keep you pecker in your pants, till heaven intervenes, but nothing magical about them.

    The whole thing is a real blockage to a guy like me becoming a Real Mormon, undieless as I have always been.

    I truly dread the thought......



    Tebow The Dual Threat Quarterback



  17. I'm glad the young man is doing well. He seems like a good guy.

    As long as he uses his religion to encourage his own best angels, and doesn't try to use it to send my kids off to war I'll root for him all the way.

  18. Thanks for the Stinker Alert.

    Saves me having to disinfect my computer. :)

  19. Ah, they're playing the Patriots. Might be good game.

  20. It can be dangerous to pray in public. Jesus' advice was pray in a closet.

    Regardless of the exact reasons, there is evidence suggesting that Newbery's admittance of Smart into the mental asylum was not based on "madness".[82] However, there is also evidence that an incident of some kind took place in St. James's Park in which Smart started to pray loudly in public until he had "routed all the company" (Jubilate Agno B89).[82]

    An Old Example Of What Praying In Public Can Get You



    by Theodore Roethke


    A kitten can
    Bite with his feet;
    Papa and Mamma
    Have more teeth.

    Sit and play
    Under the rocker
    Until the cows
    All have puppies.

    His ears haven't time.
    Sing me a sleep-song, please.
    A real hurt is soft.

    Once upon a tree
    I came across a time,
    It wasn't even as
    A ghoulie in a dream.

    There was a mooly man
    Who had a rubber hat
    The funnier than that, --
    He kept it in a can.

    What's the time, papa-seed?
    Everything has been twice.
    My father is a fish.


    I sing a small sing,
    My uncle's away,
    He's gone for always,
    I don't care either.

    I know who's got him,
    They'll jump on his belly,
    He won't be an angel,
    I don't care either.

    I know her noise.
    Her neck has kittens.
    I'll make a hole for her
    In the fire.

    Winkie will yellow I sang
    Her eyes went kissing away
    It was and it wasn't her there
    I sang I sang all day.


    I know it's an owl. He's making it darker.
    Eat where you're at. I'm not a mouse.
    Some stones are still warm.
    I like soft paws.
    Maybe I'm lost,
    Or asleep.

    A worm has a mouth.
    Who keeps me last?
    Fish me out.

    God, give me a near. I hear flowers.
    A ghost can't whistle.
    I know! I know!
    Hello happy hands.


    We went by the river.
    Water birds went ching. Went ching.
    Stepped in wet. Over stones.
    One, his nose had a frog,
    But he slipped out.

    I was sad for a fish.
    Don't hit him on the boat, I said.
    Look at him puff. He's trying to talk.
    Papa threw him back.

    Bullyheads have whiskers.
    And they bite.

    He watered the roses.
    His thumb had a rainbow.
    The stems said, Thank you.
    dark came early.

    That was before. I fell! I fell!
    The worm has moved away.
    My tears are tired.

    Nowhere is out. I saw the cold.
    Went to visit the wind. Where the birds die.
    How high is have?
    I'll be a bite. You be a wink.
    Sing the snake to sleep.


    Kisses came back,
    I said to Papa;
    He was all whitey bones
    And skin like paper.

    God's somewhere else now.
    Don't tell my hands.
    Have I come to always? Not yet.
    One father is enough.

    Maybe God has a house.
    But not here.

    Roethke Alert


  22. The world can run after Hitchens "but it doesn't get any better than this. Shakespeare and Donne might agree."

    No Better

    Kingfisher Press, always have liked that.

    Torture at the Mall time.....


  23. The thing about Hitchens, which may be truly admired, he chose to become an unhyphenated American.

    Why Christopher Hitchens Called Himself a Trotskyist

    He saw Trotsky as an anti-totalitarian. Both anti-Stalin & anti-Hitler, tambien.

    Not what I'd expected, though thoroughly, consistently Hitchens.

  24. I went over to Wiki, and read up on Trotsky. I wasn't impressed. Just looked like another Communist to me.

  25. You can tell them fuckers by the wire rimmed glasses.


  26. Without listening to that video I bet he is recycling Berty Russell's Why I Am Not A Christian.


  27. Trotsky died an unusual death, almost creative in a macabre sort of way.

    Ice pick to the head.....

    In sunny ice free Mejico.....


  28. Muzzie Brothers and Associates get about 70% of the vote (and, they didn't have to cheat) in second round of elections. Egypt's finished itself off. Such a short time ago The O made a big speech there.


  29. What's brown and black and looks GREAT on a Mormon?

    A Doberman

  30. Tebow starts out with a miracle run for TD!


  31. Laughter for T's joke, not Tebow's smoke. :)

  32. The grace of the Lord is with New England.


  33. The Lord is changing sides over to NE.

    Things are getting serious, if this continues, I may have to pray myself.


  34. Hitchens was a blow hard and an insufferable bore. Why was he courageous? Only a brother would think so.

  35. Ah well, the Denver guy tries to field the kickoff when he should have let it go, fumbles it and NE gets a field goal.

    Things might be setting up for another miraculous Tebow comeback.


  36. Looks like God has changed teams.

    Spread probably got out of whack on Denver. :)

  37. Let's face it, Rufus.

    Tebow is just another in a long line of false prophets.


  38. New England has the stronger magic.


  39. He's a good quarterback, and a strong leader, Bob.

    But, New England is a hell of a Team.

    "Prophetin's" got nothing to do with it.

  40. Someone who knows more than I help me out with this --Gingrich says he wants to send Federal Marshals to arrest non - cooperative judges.

    Am I nuts, or do not the Marshals work for the judges?

    I knew a Fed Marshal once. He was always delivering warrants, writs and shit from the courts to whomever.

    Gingrich is going to foment a constitutional crisis!!



  41. Gangrene is borderline crazy, Bob. He's lost in the olden days when his constituents were mad at Judges.

    He's confused, trying to win a nomination, and harkening back to the "Olde Playbook."

  42. "Looking back, and hindsight is always 20-20," Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked, "should we have invaded?"

    "Oh boy, that's a big question," Romney responded. "And going back and trying to say, given what we know now, what would we have done?

    Would we have invaded or not? At the time, we didn't have the knowledge that we have now.

  43. I don't think he'll hear the end of this shit.

    He's pulled the pin on his own handgrenade.


  44. Gingrich kinda reminds me of Hitchens. A sort of "College Sophomore's intellectual."

    Both had/have an "authoritarian" streak.

    Both like(d) to hear themselves talk. Both go/went for shock value.

    No one with the worldliness of a 3rd year college student, or a normal sixth grader, could possibly conceive of Communism being anything other than a method of enslavement, and no sane, non-psychopathic American Citizen could imagine congress trying to subpoena Judges over their rulings.

  45. Gangrene is right.

    The Marshals Service is part of the executive branch of government, and is the enforcement arm of the United States federal courts. The U.S. Marshals are responsible for the protection of court officers and buildings and the effective operation of the judiciary. The service also assists with court security and prisoner transport, serves arrest warrants, and seeks fugitives.


    Obama wants a bottom's up revolution, R. Paul wants to say the hell with the legislature by adopting 'jury nullification', and now Gingrich wants to use the courts own officers to arrest the judges.

    Chill out with NLP!


  46. It's going to get worse. This decade is going to drive a lot of people batshit crazy.

  47. It was the end of the day when I parked my police van in front of the station. As I gathered my equipment, my police dog, Jake, was barking, and I saw a little boy staring in at me.

    'Is that a dog you got back there?' he asked.
    'It sure is,' I replied.
    Puzzled, the boy looked at me and then towards the back of the van. Finally he said, 'What'd he do?'

  48. I'm pledged to leave if Obama gets re-elected.(which doesn't mean I would, for sure, I'm just pledged to)

    If the President starts trying to arrest Supreme Court Justices with the Marshal's Service, I may end up in a hut on the shores of Babine Lake, B.C., Canada, and skip the new Civil War.


  49. Newt "Grenade" Gingrich says he wants to send Federal Marshals to arrest non - cooperative judges.

    What's a non-cooperative judge?

    Why do judges have to cooperate?

  50. Remember, the last four letters in Republican is I Can.

  51. Debt as a fraction of gdp same as '50.

  52. Self- Neutered Newt Gangrene has pulled the pin on his own hand grenade.

    This is Bachmann's big chance!

    Newt's just a crazy old man, a recycled white wall tire, in a nice suit, with a broken zipper, and a Napoleonic attitude.

    Iowans, call your local pastors now, have them put out circulars demanding the pew folk vote Bachmann!!! (or they can damn well forget about communion)


  53. 10 Factors That Could Determine Neuters Fate In Iowa

    And, a newly added #11 -- Blows own self up with own hand grenade.


  54. Why Bob, Newt is just nuts; Bachmann is certifiable. Start thinking with the "Big" Head.

  55. I want a skirt in there, just for once.

    And I think all the rest are nuts, too.

    It's either that, or NLP, for me.


  56. Where's Maggie Thatcher?

    Would she still be available?

    You don't have to be a natural born citizen any longer, you know.


  57. This will tell a lot of tales, if you let it. Chart

    BTW, that's up to Sept. It continues down through Dec., at least. Probably be quite a while longer.

    The question, kiddos, is: how does GDP keep going up while this chart is going down?

  58. You have to click on the chart to make it large enough to be meaningful.

  59. The most telling thing that happened, today ...

    Newt went to a book signing.

    That was, still is, his Primary mission.

    The Primary mission never was to become President of the United States.

  60. The fact that Newt shot to the lead of the pack, as shocking to him as it was to the Party elites.

    Back to the book stores and the "real" money. He has little interest in paltry Federal paychecks.

    Not when there are fees to collect, for being an on call historian.

  61. Yeah, that historian stuff seems ta pay pretty good. :)

  62. Man, the Clinton years were happy times.

    Look at the string of recession-less years.

  63. Clinton was actually one of the luckier people to ever live.

  64. Ain't that somethin' rufus.

    It's all those folk workin' from home, in the digital age?

    Or just all those folk not workin', at all?

    When half of the residents of the US are "low income", there is a lot less frivolous driving.

    Fewer folks takin' road trips, they're not out seeing the USA, in their Chevrolets.

  65. Why is there necessarily a connection between miles driven and GDP?

  66. It's always fit like a glove, Doug. 3/4 of our economy is "consumer spending." That's always correlated with "Driving."

    Now, however, the bifucation of income has become so acute that the economy can still expand while 50% of the country is taking it in the shorts.

  67. But, common sense tells you "that can't last."

  68. It's an indicator of economic activity, doug.

    For both work and play.

    As helping folks play, is quite a lot of jobs, in a state like AZ. I'd imagine in Hawaii, too.

    The reality that no one ever road tripped, to Hawaii, may skew your view.

    But the vehicle count in Williams, AZ, that is an indicator of how well, or not, businesses in town are doing.

    Restaurants, motels and such.

  69. "Now, however, the bifucation of income has become so acute that the economy can still expand while 50% of the country is taking it in the shorts."


    You oughta see Maui.
    Looks like Boom Times in the stores.
    Never did slow too much for too long.

    DC is ten times worse:
    California Gold Rush type environment.

    Govt trolls have yet to not get all their all allotted raises and new hires.

  70. Makes sense 'Rat.
    I forgot that folks spend when they go.
    ...even when not by air.

  71. Isn't part of the GDP just like the stock market, bouyed by the Bernanke printing presses?

  72. This is a "rolling type brownout." Knocking off the weakest first. The weakest countries. The weakest people in the stronger countries.

    But, inasmuch as the root cause isn't going to improve (not for quite a while, anyway,) the next victims will be the slightly stronger that depended on the spending of the "weak."

    And, onwards, and upwards.

  73. The printing press will keep us afloat for awhile, Doug. But, at some point . . . . . .

  74. Sure, doug.

    GDP, the total spent on goods and services, throughout the economy.

    The more money is flowing, the greater the GDP.

    But ...

    The deflationary pressure brought on by the real estate collapse, certainly is a drag on GDP.

    So all of the "printing", has not even kept US even. Now they are going to ease up on the "Quantitative Easing", because of fears folk have of non-existent inflation, brought on by politicians looking to promote fear and loathing.

  75. Des Moines Register has endorsed Romney.

  76. Sobriety, wisdom and judgment.

    Those are qualities Mitt Romney said he looks for in a leader. Those are qualities Romney himself has demonstrated in his career in business, public service and government.


    The Des Moines Register has been publishing presidential endorsements before general elections for more than 60 years. However, we didn’t endorse in the caucuses until 1988.


    The Des Moines Register’s editorial board met with all of the candidates competing in next month’s Iowa caucuses with the exception of Jon Huntsman, who never responded to our invitation.

  77. Will there be a NORK spring?

    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Kim Jong Il, North Korea's mercurial and enigmatic leader, has died. He was 69.

    Kim's death was announced Monday by the state television from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

  78. Inflation/Deflation are monetary phenomena. Inflation is easier to fix than deflation; but both can be cured.

    Economies heat up, boom, overheat, and bust/contract. It's the nature of the beasties.

    What we have, here, is an entirely different animal. One we haven't seen in the U.S. before. I'll leave you to guess what that might be.

  79. Rufus,
    Sun Dec 18, 09:56:00 PM EST


    "Nature Red in Tooth and Claw"

    Quirk is right:

    Dawkins is Gawd.







  80. Frackings gonna save our asses if we let it.

  81. Global Oil Production in 2011 is running slightly below 2005.

  82. I demand we send Federal Marshals and arrest Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan immediately.


  83. Fracking ain't gonna save nobodies' asses. Too small output, too slow, too inefficient. Too many expensive complicated wells, for too little output, that play out too fast.

  84. I would aaaaalmost bet that "fracking" will never produce more than 7% of the oil used in the U.S.

    I'd bet my grandkids on 10%.

  85. Anyway, all of our solutions, if pursued Immediately, would take between 5 and 10 years to really take effect.

    It's going to be frustrating.

  86. PPP - Ron Paul takes the lead in Iowa with 23%. Romney 20%, Gingrich 14%.

    PPP Poll

    Iowans are good folks, but looney as hell.

  87. RCP has Gingrich +1.0 in Iowa.

  88. Meghan McCain is no fan of Newt Gingrich– this she has made as public as can be. With new attacks surfacing at Gingrich for his treatment of Rep. Michele Bachmann a Thursday’s debate– namely, that such treatment was sexist– McCain appeared on MSNBC today to confirm that his behavior “can obviously be interpreted as sexist,” and that, while she was no Rep. Bachmann, she had been on the other side of it herself.

    Now here's an airhead that tells it like it is - I am taking my political talking points from Meg McCain the rest of this cycle.

    Obviously Sexist

    can obviously be interpreted as sexist

    Damn straight it can be.


  89. “It can obviously be interpreted as sexism,” McCain noted, adding that, “not that I would compare myself to Michele Bachmann, but he did say‘how would someone like her have a clue?’

    Damn straight, the old philanderer, he said it, he owns it, damned sexist shit.


  90. Goldie Taylor started off the conversation arguing that the criticism of Gingrich was not fair, and that “Michele Bachmann might be a lunatic, but she is not the lunatic Newt Gingrich thinks she is.”



    You go Goldie!!!