From bestselling author and provocateur Christopher Hitchens, the classic guide to the art of principled dissent and disagreement
In Letters to a Young Contrarian, bestselling author and world-class provocateur Christopher Hitchens inspires the radicals, gadflies, mavericks, rebels, and angry young (wo)men of tomorrow. Exploring the entire range of "contrary positions"—from noble dissident to gratuitous nag—Hitchens introduces the next generation to the minds and the misfits who influenced him, invoking such mentors as Emile Zola, Rosa Parks, and George Orwell. As is his trademark, Hitchens pointedly pitches himself in contrast to stagnant attitudes across the ideological spectrum. No other writer has matched Hitchens's understanding of the importance of disagreement—to personal integrity, to informed discussion, to true progress, to democracy itself.
Hitchens, a columnist for the Nation and Vanity Fair, and author, most recently, of The Trial of Henry Kissinger, has made a career of disagreement and dissent, of being the thorn in search of a side. "Only an open conflict of ideas and principles can produce any clarity," he observes. Hitchens's views, also part of the Art of Mentoring series (see Dershowitz, above), unfold in the form of an ongoing correspondence with an imaginary mentee whom he advises on modes of thought, argument and self-determination, on how to "live at an angle to the safety and mediocrity of consensus." The threats to free will are many, some predictable: establishment powers, the media, religious edicts, the manipulation of language, polls, labels, people with answers. Less obvious corrosives: the Dalai Lama, harmony, the New York Times claim to publish "all the news that's fit to print" ("conceited" and "censorious"). Indeed, the supply of enemies to rail against seems endless. Over a short span, Hitchens sounds off on a variety of topics irony, radicalism, anarchy, socialism, solitude, faith and humor, to name a few propelling readers through both time and space, from the Bible to Bosnia. At times, the argumentative positions seem offered up for their own sake which the author argues is justified and may inadvertently raise the question of how far we can define ourselves by what we are not. But this mini-manifesto, despite the somewhat mountainous terrain, should provide readers interested in current events and anti-establishment philosophy with a clearer view into one of today's more restless and provocative minds.