The true contrarian

Aaron Lewis, who hung out a couple of times with Christopher Hitchens, pointed out that the British assessments on the occasion of his death are rather more measured than what the Americans are saying.  Aaron alerted me to this comment from Alexander Cockburn on Hitchens:

He courted the label “contrarian,” but if the word is to have any muscle, it surely must imply the expression of dangerous opinions. Hitchens never wrote anything truly discommoding to respectable opinion and if he had he would never have enjoyed so long a billet at Vanity Fair. Attacking God? The big battles on that issue were fought one, two, even five hundred years ago when they burned Giordano Bruno at the stake in the Campo de’ Fiore. A contrarian these days would be someone who staunchly argued for the existence of a Supreme Being.

via Feature :: Eat The State!.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Pr Mark Henderson

    Yes, Hitchens was a Johnny-come-lately to the whole anti-Christianity thing by three centuries or so. That he gained such widespread notoriety in our own time for his opinions is surely another indicator of our era’s lack of historical consciuosness.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Pr Mark Henderson

    Yes, Hitchens was a Johnny-come-lately to the whole anti-Christianity thing by three centuries or so. That he gained such widespread notoriety in our own time for his opinions is surely another indicator of our era’s lack of historical consciuosness.

  • http://strangeherring.com Anthony Sacramone

    How’s this for a true contrarian: Tell the pope in the early 16th century No More Crusades, No More Purgatory, No More Indulgences, and that we are justified by faith alone. You’re going to need to go into hiding under an assumed name, assuming they don’t catch and burn you first.

  • http://strangeherring.com Anthony Sacramone

    How’s this for a true contrarian: Tell the pope in the early 16th century No More Crusades, No More Purgatory, No More Indulgences, and that we are justified by faith alone. You’re going to need to go into hiding under an assumed name, assuming they don’t catch and burn you first.

  • kenneth

    IN fact you should add all the matyrs since the inception of the church 2000 years ago. Christianity is counterculture not to say anti-world. Without it we have no History and Obama is a phantasm..

  • kenneth

    IN fact you should add all the matyrs since the inception of the church 2000 years ago. Christianity is counterculture not to say anti-world. Without it we have no History and Obama is a phantasm..

  • Tom Hering

    Some Americans, as well, are more measured in their assessment of Hitchens.

    From Corey Robin’s blog:

    http://coreyrobin.com/2011/12/16/christopher-hitchens-the-most-provincial-spirit-of-all/ (Follow-up link at the end)

    Then there’s Michael Lind over at Salon:

    http://www.salon.com/2011/12/20/hitchens_gossip_columnist_of_genius/

  • Tom Hering

    Some Americans, as well, are more measured in their assessment of Hitchens.

    From Corey Robin’s blog:

    http://coreyrobin.com/2011/12/16/christopher-hitchens-the-most-provincial-spirit-of-all/ (Follow-up link at the end)

    Then there’s Michael Lind over at Salon:

    http://www.salon.com/2011/12/20/hitchens_gossip_columnist_of_genius/

  • Wrigley Peterborough

    ‘A decade ago, a British diplomat told me that he was astonished at the reputation Hitchens had attained in the U.S.: “In Britain we think of him as a gossip columnist.”’

    This line from Lind’s piece sums up he sentiment in the Sceptred Isle about old Hitch. Surely we can’t begrudge Hitch of the living he made off of the gullibility of the Americans. It is a time honored tradition, beginning with the way London charmed Washington into the Great War.

  • Wrigley Peterborough

    ‘A decade ago, a British diplomat told me that he was astonished at the reputation Hitchens had attained in the U.S.: “In Britain we think of him as a gossip columnist.”’

    This line from Lind’s piece sums up he sentiment in the Sceptred Isle about old Hitch. Surely we can’t begrudge Hitch of the living he made off of the gullibility of the Americans. It is a time honored tradition, beginning with the way London charmed Washington into the Great War.

  • Tom Hering

    An unexceptionally clever man with a British accent can go far in the States. If Hitchens had been born an American, and talked like the average American, he wouldn’t have received a tenth of the attention.

  • Tom Hering

    An unexceptionally clever man with a British accent can go far in the States. If Hitchens had been born an American, and talked like the average American, he wouldn’t have received a tenth of the attention.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Tom – so true. As “folks with an accent”, we regularly find it quite hillarious to see how people on this continent react to people with other Anglo-accents. The latest craze is the educated Australian accent – it is starting to crop up more and more in advertising, TV voice-overs etc. – and I’m not talking about Australian produced material.

    What makes it extra funny is that the Australian accent sounds a lot like an accent from a certain unnamed Industrial area in SA – you now, a “lesser educated”, blue collar accent. It is as if people in Britain suddenly started fawning over a “Jersey Shore” accent. It gives us the giggles…..

    No, I’m not being hard on Aussies – I like ‘em. But the situation can be funny….

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Tom – so true. As “folks with an accent”, we regularly find it quite hillarious to see how people on this continent react to people with other Anglo-accents. The latest craze is the educated Australian accent – it is starting to crop up more and more in advertising, TV voice-overs etc. – and I’m not talking about Australian produced material.

    What makes it extra funny is that the Australian accent sounds a lot like an accent from a certain unnamed Industrial area in SA – you now, a “lesser educated”, blue collar accent. It is as if people in Britain suddenly started fawning over a “Jersey Shore” accent. It gives us the giggles…..

    No, I’m not being hard on Aussies – I like ‘em. But the situation can be funny….

  • Tom Hering

    Yes, Klasie, I’ve noticed this trend too. An example would be the StoneDine cookware commercial, where the pitch man mentions the grueling “teest” [sic] the pots and pans undergo. Obviously, it’s thought that accents grab attention – though my first thought was that the off-gassing from the non-stick coating affects the speech centers of the brain. Not to mention killing parakeets.

  • Tom Hering

    Yes, Klasie, I’ve noticed this trend too. An example would be the StoneDine cookware commercial, where the pitch man mentions the grueling “teest” [sic] the pots and pans undergo. Obviously, it’s thought that accents grab attention – though my first thought was that the off-gassing from the non-stick coating affects the speech centers of the brain. Not to mention killing parakeets.

  • Dust

    Tom at 6….spot on, old chap! Have always thought a Brit can say the rudest, crudest things but still sound polite and/or cultured perhaps, while doing so, while the French can cuss you out in the most vulgar of terms, or just repeat a phone number, yet it somehow sounds sexy and romantic….oui :)

    Cheerio!

  • Dust

    Tom at 6….spot on, old chap! Have always thought a Brit can say the rudest, crudest things but still sound polite and/or cultured perhaps, while doing so, while the French can cuss you out in the most vulgar of terms, or just repeat a phone number, yet it somehow sounds sexy and romantic….oui :)

    Cheerio!

  • Luckiest Day!

    And a German, proffering an apology, can sound like he has ways to make you talk. So we associate accents with particular qualities. In the case of the British accent, with an intelligence expressed by literary excellence. Because of the decades-long influence of Masterpiece Theater, I’m guessing. (Hitchens deserved a Leonard Pinth-Garnell!) Or maybe just a persisting American inferiority complex viz-a-viz the Mother Country.

    I was shocked (initially) by the George Steiner quote at Corey Robin’s blog. Lots to chew on:

    The simple yet appalling fact is that we have very little solid evidence that literary studies do very much to enrich or stabilize moral perception, that they humanize. We have little proof that a tradition of literary studies in fact makes a man more humane. What is worse — a certain body of evidence points the other way. When barbarism came to twentieth-century Europe, the arts faculties in more than one university offered very little moral resistance, and this is not a trivial or local accident. In a disturbing number of cases the literary imagination gave servile or ecstatic welcome to political bestiality. That bestiality was at times enforced and refined by individuals educated in the culture of traditional humanism. Knowledge of Goethe, a delight in the poetry of Rilke, seemed no bar to personal and institutionalized sadism. Literary values and the most utmost of hideous inhumanity could coexist in the same community, in the same individual sensibility …

    … I find myself unable to assert confidently that the humanities humanize. Indeed, I would go further: it is at least conceivable that the focusing of consciousness on a written text which is the substance of our training and pursuit diminishes the sharpness and readiness of our actual moral response. Because we are trained to give psychological and moral credence to the imaginary, to the character in a play or a novel, to the condition of spirit we gather from a poem, we may find it more difficult to identify with the real world, to take the world of actual experience to heart…The capacity for imaginative reflex, for moral risk in any human being is not limitless; on the contrary, it can be rapidly absorbed by fictions, and thus the cry in the poem may come to sound louder, more urgent, more real than the cry in the street outside. The death in the novel may move us more potently than the death in the next room. Thus there may be a covert, betraying link between the cultivation of aesthetic response and the potential of personal inhumanity.

    - George Steiner, “To Civilize Our Gentlemen,” in Language and Silence

  • Luckiest Day!

    And a German, proffering an apology, can sound like he has ways to make you talk. So we associate accents with particular qualities. In the case of the British accent, with an intelligence expressed by literary excellence. Because of the decades-long influence of Masterpiece Theater, I’m guessing. (Hitchens deserved a Leonard Pinth-Garnell!) Or maybe just a persisting American inferiority complex viz-a-viz the Mother Country.

    I was shocked (initially) by the George Steiner quote at Corey Robin’s blog. Lots to chew on:

    The simple yet appalling fact is that we have very little solid evidence that literary studies do very much to enrich or stabilize moral perception, that they humanize. We have little proof that a tradition of literary studies in fact makes a man more humane. What is worse — a certain body of evidence points the other way. When barbarism came to twentieth-century Europe, the arts faculties in more than one university offered very little moral resistance, and this is not a trivial or local accident. In a disturbing number of cases the literary imagination gave servile or ecstatic welcome to political bestiality. That bestiality was at times enforced and refined by individuals educated in the culture of traditional humanism. Knowledge of Goethe, a delight in the poetry of Rilke, seemed no bar to personal and institutionalized sadism. Literary values and the most utmost of hideous inhumanity could coexist in the same community, in the same individual sensibility …

    … I find myself unable to assert confidently that the humanities humanize. Indeed, I would go further: it is at least conceivable that the focusing of consciousness on a written text which is the substance of our training and pursuit diminishes the sharpness and readiness of our actual moral response. Because we are trained to give psychological and moral credence to the imaginary, to the character in a play or a novel, to the condition of spirit we gather from a poem, we may find it more difficult to identify with the real world, to take the world of actual experience to heart…The capacity for imaginative reflex, for moral risk in any human being is not limitless; on the contrary, it can be rapidly absorbed by fictions, and thus the cry in the poem may come to sound louder, more urgent, more real than the cry in the street outside. The death in the novel may move us more potently than the death in the next room. Thus there may be a covert, betraying link between the cultivation of aesthetic response and the potential of personal inhumanity.

    - George Steiner, “To Civilize Our Gentlemen,” in Language and Silence

  • Tom Hering

    Oops! Forgot to change my user name back again. :-D

  • Tom Hering

    Oops! Forgot to change my user name back again. :-D

  • John C

    ‘Teest’ does not sound too dinky di to me. Are you sure you’re not confusing an Australian for a Kiwi accent?
    You could have Van Gough’s ear for accents, Tom.

  • John C

    ‘Teest’ does not sound too dinky di to me. Are you sure you’re not confusing an Australian for a Kiwi accent?
    You could have Van Gough’s ear for accents, Tom.

  • Tom Hering

    Australian? Kiwi? There’s a difference? :-D (But yes, my example involved a Kiwi pitch man.)

  • Tom Hering

    Australian? Kiwi? There’s a difference? :-D (But yes, my example involved a Kiwi pitch man.)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ah, Tom, there is a difference. A Kiwi sounds like an educated Aussie (sorry John :) , couldn’t resist). Of course the real fun thing here in the middle of the North American continent is that not that many people know the SA accent: Thus my accent get confused with either Australian, or British, and sometimes Kiwi. Once someone said Belgian, which was interesting, because my mother tongue isn’t English, alhough 95% of people don’t realise it unless I tell them.

    But I’m often told that my accent is “cool”, whatever that means. But it is defintely different than the slight prairie roll you hear around here (which changes from the city to the country, and from here to the north). From all the American accents I hear, people here speak like folks from MN, MT or ND, which is to be expected.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ah, Tom, there is a difference. A Kiwi sounds like an educated Aussie (sorry John :) , couldn’t resist). Of course the real fun thing here in the middle of the North American continent is that not that many people know the SA accent: Thus my accent get confused with either Australian, or British, and sometimes Kiwi. Once someone said Belgian, which was interesting, because my mother tongue isn’t English, alhough 95% of people don’t realise it unless I tell them.

    But I’m often told that my accent is “cool”, whatever that means. But it is defintely different than the slight prairie roll you hear around here (which changes from the city to the country, and from here to the north). From all the American accents I hear, people here speak like folks from MN, MT or ND, which is to be expected.

  • Tom Hering

    I’d recognize your origin right away, Klasie. I’ve seen Lethal Weapon 2. :-D

  • Tom Hering

    I’d recognize your origin right away, Klasie. I’ve seen Lethal Weapon 2. :-D

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Tom@15: Hahaha – but that accent was a horrible imitation. It was more Dutch than SA. But you could also try Arnold Vosloo as the Mummy :)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Tom@15: Hahaha – but that accent was a horrible imitation. It was more Dutch than SA. But you could also try Arnold Vosloo as the Mummy :)


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