As deeply objectionable as I find Christopher Hitchens’ politics — and hoo boy, do I ever — I’ve been finding myself more and more drawn to his more apolitical works. Say what you will about him, but the man is a tremendous writer and formidable thinker. And in Letters to a Young Contrarian, which I finished reading a few nights ago, I found myself sympathizing a little more with his worldview than I had before
I guess part of the reason why is that I’m sort of a reflexive contrarian myself. Ever since elementary school I’ve felt this pseudo-masochist (and, I must admit, more than a little arrogant) impulse towards disagreement with the people around me; towards solitude, towards black-sheepitude. It’s probably made me pretty insufferable at times, and I have no doubt that I let myself have a more difficult social experience growing up than was entirely necessary.
But Letters to a Young Contarian describes how that impulse can be guided in a useful direction. And I believe Hitchens is correct when he says that it can be. Of course, one should never object to the convention wisdom solely because it’s conventional wisdom; and by the same token, even the most reflexive contrarian should never believe himself or herself to be wholly immune to the seductive draw of the crowd. But there’s always something to be said for the individual who firmly believes that the arguments of his or her allies should be treated with just as much skepticism — if not more skepticism — as those of his or her opponents. No one can live by that credo all the time, and lord knows I stumble with alarming regularity, but it still seems like a worthwhile rule to live by.
If you feel the same way, you might want to give this book a shot. Maybe you, like me, will have moments where it feels like Hitchens is addressing you directly.