The Personalist Project

A friend at Ricochet shared a link to Peter Hitchens' public response to the death of his famous, militant atheist brother, Christopher, yesterday. It's a beautiful and moving tribute from someone with a philosophical habit of mind.

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.

The relationship between the two was notoriously fraught with tension.  But Peter's admiration for his brother and his grief over the loss is real and palpable. 

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’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. 

He speaks of the meaasure of peace they found with each other in Christopher's final months, which came partly from the way death brings childhood vividly back to mind.  And he ends with some poetry that his brother would perhaps have scorned while he lived, but may (let us hope and pray!) recognize for Truth now.

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.

Comments (3)


#1, Dec 21, 2011 11:06am

I've been left wondering at the unexpected eulogies and vouchers of respect offered to the recently deceased Hitchens by many conservatives (not that that's what's going on here).

I found Hitchens to be too abrasive, and ultimatey with little to offer, so I generally ignored him. What has surprised me is the overt affection and respect with which many Christian conservatives comment on the man now. It reminds me of the weak rationalization I hear in conservative circles from time to time, "we trade with China, and even though China is bad, our trade-relations with them are slowly, subconsciously making China more like us." 

I mention this because now I'm not sure what is the best reaction to Hitchens. As a Catholic, I try to show love and respect to those created in HIs likeness and image. We are urged to pray for their conversion and for their souls. But was that the thing to do with HItchens while he was alive? As some of these conservative pundits fondly recall their charming, earnest, and totally unfruitful debates with Hitchens, I am left wondering if that civility was really helpful to Hitchens as a person.


#2, Dec 21, 2011 11:14am

Where should that virtue of tolerance, so often abused, make way to touch love or exclusion?

Hitchens was in love with the perverse idea that, after his death, there would be nothing. To fulfill his dying beliefs and wishes, maybe he should be erased from the history and philosophy books. Without devaluing his existence as a person, is there enduring value in his work and legacy? I'm not saying we should burn books, but maybe it is just as well that he's quickly forgotten.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Dec 21, 2011 11:18am

Laurence, Dec. 21 at 11:06am

As some of these conservative pundits fondly recall their charming, earnest, and totally unfruitful debates with Hitchens, I am left wondering if that civility was really helpful to Hitchens as a person.

I've had this thought too.  

Sign in to add a comment, or register first.

Forgot your password?