Hitchens vs. Strunk and White

I am quite curious how top tier writers square the circle of Strunk and White’s demand for being concise and avoiding long, complex sentences, and Hitchens’ ability and inclination to do so beautifully.

An example from a Hitchens essay:

I have heard arguments about whether it was Milton Friedman or Gore Vidal who first came up with this apt summary of a collusion between the overweening state and certain favored monopolistic concerns, whereby the profits can be privatized and the debts conveniently socialized, but another term for the same system would be “banana republic.”


There was a sort of half-truth to what they said. But they would have been very much nearer the mark—and rather more ironic and revealing at their own expense—if they had completed the sentence and described the actual situation as what it is: “socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the rest.”

This to me seems flagrantly opposite to Strunk and White’s philosophy. Yet I, and much of the world, love to read Hitchens.

Does anyone have any guidance on this?

I have a few thoughts on possible answers:

  1. Nobody has rules, just guidelines.

  2. The actual rule is to vary your tempo, which Hitchens did. He would give long, beautiful, complex sentences and follow up with two-worders, to great effect.

  3. It’s still a rule, but the greatest among us can break rules. You can’t. Don’t try.

Which do you subscribe to of these explanations? And have I missed any?


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