Leading article: Death and the contrarian

There is something poignant in the fact that Christopher Hitchens – author, journalist, contrarian and adamant atheist – departed this life just as the festive season went into full swing.

And something admirable about the speed with which the announcement was made. Hitchens was brutally up front about his passions, and they came to include the pitiless advance of the cancer that was to kill him.

Hitchens thrived on verbal combat, of which he was a master, and deployed his gifts to devastating effect, challenging the comfortable consensus, telling the powerful things they did not want to hear, and smashing taboos, right, left and centre (but mostly on the right). Bold, forthright, a seemingly effortless stylist, he was a modern polymath in the best sense of those words. Some of his more shocking judgements – Mother Teresa, Henry Kissinger – laid bare unpalatable truths. Only his latter enthusiasm for George Bush seemed out of place in an intellectual life otherwise all of a piece.

For doing so wholeheartedly what journalists should do, Hitchens deserved the accolades that came his way yesterday – but also for the honesty with which he met his fate. Accepting the inevitable, without euphemism and without flinching, is becoming a bit of a hallmark of this generation. Having lived life to the full, they are facilitating a new frankness about death.