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15 Best Christopher Hitchens Quotes

Updated on April 20, 2015
Hitchens at his Washington, DC home with trademark cigarette and whisky (but red label rather than the famous black).
Hitchens at his Washington, DC home with trademark cigarette and whisky (but red label rather than the famous black).
Hitchens reading his memoir "Hitch-22” (2010).
Hitchens reading his memoir "Hitch-22” (2010).

Christopher Hitchens spent more than four decades writing and then increasingly proving himself to be the best speaker and debater of his generation.

Examining as many themes and contentious issues as he did, the reader will find some or many things with which they disagree but no other speaker (and often no other writer) has handled the topics as deftly and persuasively as he has.

That is one of the points he makes: that, while it is human nature to be factional and come down on one side of an issue, the way in which we get there, the way that we think about any topic or idea, as well as a certain reserve or humility that we must maintain in the face of how uncertain a belief must be, has to be approached with (insofar as we can do so) openmindedness and intellectual honesty.

As famous for his heavy smoking and drinking, Hitchens wrote on just about every topic, yet was especially known or distinguished for writings on earlier and contemporary politics and literature, wars within and between various nations, US and UK domestic and international policy, religion, royalty, the Clintons, Mother Teresa, voting rights, NSA surveillance, LGBT rights, gun rights, drug policy, capital punishment, abortion, civil liberties, torture (including undergoing waterboarding), Henry Kissinger, George Orwell, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, the American revolution, and other branches of these topics.

I will write more about Hitchens' work in another place (and one of his famous debates is linked here), because his approach and ideas have had a profound effect on the ways that I think about life as well as in certain respects what I believe. His work also relates to what I have written previously about writers and philosophers.

Without any further ado, here are 15 of my favourite Hitchens quotes (and the linked videos have even more to say, being Hitchens in his own words in the form in which he excelled most):

Hitchens' "The Trial of Henry Kissinger" (2001); he would say that his genuine and shared enmity with Kissinger, who he wrote should be put on trial for war crimes, was the most significant of his life.
Hitchens' "The Trial of Henry Kissinger" (2001); he would say that his genuine and shared enmity with Kissinger, who he wrote should be put on trial for war crimes, was the most significant of his life.

The Quotable Christopher Hitchens

1. If someone tells me that I’ve hurt their feelings I’m still waiting to hear what your point is.


2. What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.


3. The pleasures and rewards of the intellect are inseparable from angst, uncertainty, conflict and even despair.


4. 'How ya doin'?' I always think, What kind of a question is that?, and I always reply, 'A bit early to tell.’


5. You have to choose your future regrets.


6. Flaubert was right when he said that our use of language is like a cracked kettle on which we bang out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we need to move the very stars to pity.


7. For me, to remember friendship is to recall those conversations that it seemed a sin to break off: the ones that made the sacrifice of the following day a trivial one.

Hitchens and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Munk religion debate held in Toronto, November 2010.
Hitchens and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Munk religion debate held in Toronto, November 2010.

Here is the full debate:

“Mortality" (2012), comprising seven Vanity Fair essays about his struggle with, and posthumously published after his death from, oesophageal cancer.
“Mortality" (2012), comprising seven Vanity Fair essays about his struggle with, and posthumously published after his death from, oesophageal cancer.

8. It doesn't matter how obscure or arcane or esoteric your place of publication may be: some sweet law ensures that the person who should be scrutinizing your work eventually does do so.


9. The one unforgivable sin is to be boring.


10. The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.


11. The only people truly bound by campaign promises are the voters who believe them.


12. The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.


13. Our near absolute dominion over nature has, however, confronted us with one brilliant and ironic and inescapable insight. The decryption of DNA is not only useful in putting a merciful but overdue end to theories of creationism and racism but also enlightening in instructing us that we are ourselves animals.


14. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.


15. The discussion about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, and what is true could always go on. Why is that important? Why would I like to do that? Because that’s the only conversation worth having. And whether it goes on or not after I die, I don’t know. But I do know that it is the conversation I want to have while I am still alive. Which means that to me the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can’t give way is an offer of something not worth having. I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet, that I haven’t understood enough, that I can’t know enough, that I am always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I’d urge you to look at those who tell you, those people who tell you at your age, that you are dead until you believe as they do - what a terrible thing to be telling to children. And that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority. Don’t think of that as a gift. Think of it as a poisoned chalice. Push it aside however tempting it is. Take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.

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    • NonCopyBook profile imageAUTHOR

      Nicholas Daly 

      3 years ago from NSW Australia

      Hi thanks very much for your thoughts Thomas. Hitchens certainly went to town on religion, and was always aware of the limitations of both religion and science but derided throughout his career wishful thinking and supernatural claims (and perhaps you already know this), so it was an effort to keep things less antireligion on this page! Re #4 I've always been struck by the hollowness of "How are you?"/"How ya doin'?" - I had a colleague/friend who thought it's what holds society together, but given we are expected to reply "Fine, thank you," it is a society operating on the level of robots... I don't spice it up quite like Hitchens did, but I do try to mix things up! Thanks again- cheers..

    • Thomas Swan profile image

      Thomas Swan 

      3 years ago from New Zealand

      An excellent list. I like #4 and will use it in future! One that is especially relevant is #14 where has says "suspect your own motives". I think most erroneous conclusions, whether religious or scientific, are a product of motivated reasoning. Finally, #15 covers something I've often said: that religion is the greatest temptation of them all.

    • NonCopyBook profile imageAUTHOR

      Nicholas Daly 

      3 years ago from NSW Australia

      Hi FlourishAnyway, Hitchens' presentation style and the subjects he discussed were broad and fearless ones and he came from an old school of letters - perhaps (although he moved to America) an English and slightly raised and toffee-nosed form of expression - but (like Gore Vidal in the US say) this was part of his spoken and to an extent his written charm, and in speech in particular he had a way of approaching things and debating that was highly persuasive, as well as engaging. As well as above there are links to debates he participated in on YouTube that will show this better than written words to an extent and also that at heart he was humble about the examination of ideas - it's true he wielded words like a weapon and with exaggerated confidence at times (and was often held in the thrall of smoking and drinking addiction), but they did come from a place of solidarity with and caring about humankind, or at least the idea of making the lot of suffering people better.

    • NonCopyBook profile imageAUTHOR

      Nicholas Daly 

      3 years ago from NSW Australia

      Hi lions44, thanks and that's how I look at it- others used the word "contrarian" but really he followed his - the right word would be mind, rather than heart - and in his countless debates and interviews on TV he spoke more lucidly and eruditely than anyone I've ever seen on every topic you could think of and, as with the case of the Iraq war (the issue on which he was likely even less agreed with than the arguments he made against Mother Teresa), he was not afraid to publicly change his mind or views from what he had or seemingly had previously professed.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 years ago from USA

      I'm not aware of him but was intrigued by his quotes. He seemed a bit full of himself.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Although I disagreed with Hitchens on so many issues, I have to say he was never boring and made you think. Voted up.

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