Christopher Hitchens is known as one of the greatest essayists since Orwell, but also one of the world’s greatest polemicists – his oppositionist views ranging from history, religion, politics to art. Almost no subject is unknown to him and he masters the art of rhetoric like no other, every sentence comes out full of poignancy and rigour – in terms of debate he has no equal, his adversaries have mostly failed against him even in his last days, weakened by the disease that stole him much too early.
It would make sense that when looking for someone to write a book in the Art of Mentoring series no one would be more equipped to tackle this than him, even if he was opposed to the idea of being called a contrarian – he delivers a lesson in what it means to bring consistency to opposition, the art and toil one must muster in order to criticise and go against something – especially if that something is already rooted in history and minds. Not an easy feat, but necessary and important if we are ever to progress and leave behind the preconceptions developed in the infancy of our species.
Offering a history of what contrarianism is, Hitchens goes to lengths in explaining what he considers not only and art form, but an obligation. Ranging from Socrates to Emile Zola the book offers us a glimpse into what is needed for an objective opinion – what tools are needed but, more importantly, what state of mind is to be better suited for the job.
Coming from Christopher there is the inescapable feeling of being inferior, how will I ever rise to the task as well as him? But although he uses examples from his own experience which, in all fairness, coming from anyone else would seem just a gross lack of modesty, but in his case just the simple and honest truth of a life served for the pursuit of truth, it is a bit hard to relate and the idea of following in the author’s footsteps seems unlikely. However, the lessons are very useful and clear cut – you don’t need to be an expert, you just need to go through the process of informing yourself and finding your voice, as these are the absolutely necessary in performing a contrarian’s job.
Reading the book now, especially if you are a fan, is extremely hard – it just shows how much humanity has lost when Christopher has passed away – he has a voice and clarity that so unique that it will make you shudder from the very first sentences. Every topic and every lesson is treated as the most important thing and given every bit of attention it requires – nothing is left to chance. This type of rigour is one of the hallmarks that have made Hitchens so loved and so despised.
How to have and defend, or go against, an opinion is an extremely valuable lesson and an area that the twenty-first century must learn how to cherish, protect and inspire if we are ever overcome the struggles that lie ahead.