Free Speech Champion Christopher Hitchens Dies

Christopher Hitchens was a master at offending just about everybody in the room.


Hitchens relished his role as a professional thorn in everyone's side.

Hitchens, who died Thursday from complications related to cancer, first earned his literary stripes as a political firebrand on the left. No cow was too sacred for Hitchens, an atheist who excoriated organized religion in God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything — and lambasted the previously untouchable Mother Teresa in The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. A longtime lefty, Hitchens alienated his former compatriots when he switched gear in the early aughts and defended the United States invasion of Iraq.

Whether you’re a lover or a hater on all matters Hitch, he deserves props as a lifelong free speech advocate. In a 2006 debate in Toronto, Hitchens endorsed the individual right to speak out even if — especially if — the opinion expressed is unpopular:

It’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard; it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen, and to hear. And every time you silence someone you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view. …

It’s always worth saying what would you do if you met a Flat Earth Society member? Come to think of it, how can I prove the earth is round? Am I sure about the theory of evolution? I know it’s supposed to be true. Here’s someone who says there’s no such thing; it’s all intelligent design. How sure am I of my own views? Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus, and the feeling that whatever you think you’re bound to be OK, because you’re in the safely moral majority.

Here is an excerpt from Hitchens’ speech in Toronto. His words are well worth listening to — particularly in light of how police around the country are busy trampling the First Amendment rights of journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street movement. As my colleague Josh Stearns has shown, we can never take for granted the right to free speech.

Photo credit: Ensceptico via Flickr