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20th December, 2011

“Only division can cause progress” – Christopher Hitchens

I’ve admired Christopher Hitchens for some time so was very sad to hear of his death last week from cancer. While he probably inspired and appalled people in equal measure I was constantly intrigued by his position on issues that often set out a radically different outlook to the publicly accepted ‘norm’.

Many have argued that this is a celebration of free speech and the ability for anyone to say anything in the countries in which he lived. It is.

But I think it goes a step further too. Free speech is all well and good, but I firmly believe a tolerant society needs people like Christopher Hitchens who take advantage of free speech to offer viewpoints that upset the apple cart and make us think.

It’s the same reason why I think it is important to have outspoken people like Nick Griffin. In a startlingly honest and moving interview between Hitchens and Jeremy Paxman broadcast some time ago but repeated on Sunday (available temporarily here), Hitchens says the above quote. And it really resonates.

It is only when we are challenged that we fully realise how we truly feel. It is when we are confronted by something that we have previously accepted wholeheartedly that we are able to either confirm current beliefs or begin to accept a new way of looking at the world.

A contrarian viewpoint is frequently scary. But it is fundamentally important.

continue reading: Celebrating contrarianism...