I first met him a long time ago: I was editor of a student newspaper and he came to interview me. His write-up was flattering, and he didn't choose to report that we carried nudes on page 3. Student life was more robust in those years: pitched street battles with the NF; open IRA meetings in pubs; it took (if I may say so) balls to be a rightwinger in them days. Many students are stroppy and angry now, but they are a bunch of wimps. (If anyone had taken against the statue of Cecil Rhodes back then - and they didn't - it would have been torn down and smashed the same evening. "Rhodes Must Fall"? Pah.) Students I meet nowadays say: it seems to us that you had more fun back then ... and indeed we did.
But I disgress. Hitchens wrote recently in opposition to a lock-down and associated regulations:
Is shutting down Britain – with unprecedented curbs on ancient liberties – REALLY the best answer? ... I see very little evidence of a pandemic, and much more of a PanicDemic ... Epidemic disasters have been predicted many times before and have not been anything like as bad as feared ... dissent at this time will bring me abuse and perhaps worse. But I am not saying this for fun, or to be ‘contrarian’ –that stupid word which suggests that you are picking an argument for fun. This is not fun. This is our future, and if I did not lift my voice to speak up for it now, even if I do it quite alone, I should consider that I was not worthy to call myself English or British, or a journalist, and that my parents’ generation had wasted their time saving the freedom and prosperity which they handed on to me after a long and cruel struggle whose privations and griefs we can barely imagine.No time to write a lengthy rebuttal, so let's cut to the chase. We All Know What He Means: and even the Grauniad (this is significant, subject of a later post perhaps) argued strongly for the sunset clause to be set at 6 months, not 48. True, what's happening now is, in large measure Fear of Fear Itself. But it's real, for all that, and needs to be addressed as such. To say that the population - the real 2020 population of individuals who routinely behave as though they expect and deserve to live forever, not the WW2 generation that knew better - could and should take a higher level of "avoidable" early deaths on the chin, is like saying that nobody alive today suffers from "Absolute Poverty" because they all have smart 'phones and housing benefit.
We all understand that argument, but it's irrelevant. Oh, and by the way, even the universally Godfearing populations of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries were not at all sanguine about the Plague.
So keep going with your articulate contrarian stuff, Hitchens - you're allowed to, and it's needed. (Peregrine Worsthorne had an even better line in columnar contrariness - really ingenous, he was.) But you've overcooked it this time.
And now I must go and bury a close relative. They tell us it wasn't the virus; but it was certainly pneumonia, and who knows these days?
Have at it in the comments. Fearlessly.