My column is named after George Orwell's 1940s column in the British paper Tribune. With that in mind, I wanted to begin this column, and this semester, by paying brief tribute to a man who passed away a month ago and was heavily influenced by George Orwell.

Though he was only born in the last year of Orwell's life, the late Christopher Hitchens cited his predecessor in seemingly every essay he ever wrote, and considered him to be his most important political and intellectual ally.

Hitchens perhaps never matched Orwell's incredible prose, but he far exceeded Orwell in the range of topics that he covered. No writer, to my knowledge, has written with the same force of language and depth of reason on such a variety of subjects as has Hitchens.

Hitchens saw Orwell as a true freethinker, and sought always to be an individualist first and a member of any group second. This became quite clear when Hitchens abandoned the left, moving away from his Trotskyist past to embrace the Iraq War, perceiving the conflict as a battle against totalitarianism, similar to the kind that Orwell outlined in his later works, most notably in the anti-Communist parable "Animal Farm."

Hitchens wrote books praising Orwell, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. He wrote polemics against God, Mother Theresa, Kissinger, Reagan, the Clintons, Chomsky, and others. He wrote columns on virtually ever political and literary topic. He was one of those rare individuals who seemed to have read everything worth reading.

He was certainly one of the most aggressive and skilled debaters of his era. Richard Dawkins, one of Hitchens' fellow atheists, once said that "if you are ever invited to debate Christopher Hitchens, decline."

Hitchens lived and died by the dialectic, believing firmly that the way to find truth was to debate and argue to a correct conclusion.

With Hitchens gone, thinkers like him are becoming increasingly rare, and we run the risk of allowing public discourse to devolve even further. In the era of Fox News and CNN, when shouting and bending facts have become the norm, does there exist a role for intelligent and insightful commentary?

Ideology and party alignment have become more important than careful consideration of ideas.

Reagan's famous 11th commandment—thou shall not speak ill of other Republicans (insert any other ideology or group here)—is still the central maxim of American politics.

Today, there is a void, one that we should all seek to fill, that approaches issues without conforming to an ideology. Hitchens was but one example of this.

He was an intelligent, well-spoken individualist who argued persuasively on a wide variety of topics, both political and otherwise. He constructed negative arguments from evidence, and dismissed any claims of faith as a foundation for belief.

"What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence," he once quipped.

I only hope that the discourse in the United States can stop its seemingly constant decline. It has become all too easy to convince a significant portion of the American population to vote against its own rational interests through the shrewd use of talking points, money and fear.

Do we want an American public that holds everything on faith—be it in a party, a god, or a person? Or do we want an American public that looks at the world critically and seeks to engage with the world by trying to find the correct answers to important questions?

Hitchens inspired me to look beyond ideology and realize that one should never hold to a party line for the sake of loyalty.

The willingness to abandon the comfort of ideology in the name of pursuing what you believe to be the correct position on a given issue remains the true mark of a freethinker. We should all strive for this degree of individualism.

Sadly, Hitchens' death might indeed symbolize an end to the era of the freethinking public intellectual.

The fault in this does not lie in the intellectuals—there are plenty of brilliant people who could be educated to contribute to discourse in this way. The fault lies with the American public, when we validate endless noise and political pandering with our time, our focus and our votes.

We should demand better of our journalists, our writers and our commentators.

Only then will other Orwells and other Hitchens be given the opportunity to engage us all as a public intellectual. As for now, I salute the memory of a truly great essayist and thinker. Cheers, Hitch—and don't keep the faith.

Sean McElroy is a Member of the Class of 2012.