First in lessons on letters to a young contrarian

I’m reading Letters to a Young Contrarian which is based on letters Hitchens wrote to his students.

Hitchens keeps showing off his mastery of the English language and assumes you have the familiarity to recognize references to a ton of shit. You are constantly expected to look up words, terms, or puzzle over certain references, and I think it was a first draft for God is Not Great. (The intermediary draft was the Portable Atheist, where he collected writings that he would cite in his most popular book.) If you are not a little familiar with what he has said about religion or politics, the first draft would be even harder to read.

Unless you went to Oxford then it isn’t for young people at all, and I would not recommend it to anyone who has not at oeast graduated college. I must be missing references to Marxism, and there is a page where he references 1776 and part of a quote about “the pursuit”, and expects you to know what the hell he is talking about (he is refering to “the pursuit of happiness” in the US declaration of independence.) If you were born in certain countries and have not heard the exact phrase or read about the American Revolutionary war, it could puzzle you. In fact, he doesn’t even include a glossary or citations to help you out. Here is how Hitchens writes pg 25:

>*(He talks about biblical heavenly bliss and happiness being awful tedium and pointlessness.)*

>Only one other sacred text mentions “happiness” without embarrassment. But even in 1776 this concept was thought to be mentionable only as the consequence of a bitter struggle. The beautiful word “pursuit'” however we construe it, would be vacuous in any other context.

>I close by saying, as I may well have occassion to say again: Always look to language.

I am still reading it because I am curious about if he had other useful realizations about politics. Even if it is not always accessible or his best work, (mainly because it tries to be coy, smug, clever or elusive,) it at least encourages you to add words to your use vocabulary and consider using rare recursive sentence structures


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